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The United Nations' human rights chief has called for Indonesian authorities to engage in dialogue with the people of Papua and West Papua after weeks of violent protests and riots in many parts of the region.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said her office was "disturbed" by escalating violence in Papua and West Papua in the past two weeks, especially the deaths of some protestors and security forces.
“This is part of a trend we have observed since December 2018, and we have been discussing our concerns with the Indonesian authorities,” Bachelet said in a statement on Wednesday.
The country’s easternmost provinces have been rocked by protests and rioting since Aug. 19 following an incident of perceived racism in the form of physical and verbal abuse by authorities and members of local mass organisations.
Some protestors have also demanded a referendum on independence, something the government has ruled out.
At least five civilians and one soldier died during a clash at a rally in Deiyai regency on 28 Aug, while a member of an unidentified armed group was reportedly killed in a gun battle with authorities in Papua's Wamena on 23 Aug.
Most recently, Papua police confirmed four civilians died at a rally in Jayapura on Monday, but an internet blackout across the island has made verifying information more difficult.
“There should be no place for such violence in a democratic and diverse Indonesia, and I encourage the authorities to engage in dialogue with the people of Papua and West Papua on their aspirations and concerns, as well as to restore internet services and refrain from any excessive use of force," Bachelet said.
“Blanket internet shutdowns are likely to contravene freedom of expression and limiting communications may exacerbate tensions."
Bachelet also said she welcomed the appeals made by President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo and other high-level figures against racism and discrimination, noting that it was a long-standing, serious issue in Papua and West Papua.
“I note that some arrests have been made and some members of security forces have been suspended in relation to the original violent attacks on Papuan students in Surabaya and Malang, but I am concerned about reports that nationalist militias and groups are also actively involved in the violence. Local human rights defenders, students and journalists have been facing intimidation and threats and should be protected,” she said.
SOURCE: THE JAKARTA POST/PACNEWS
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