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UK government cannot say if it has trained Indonesian police forces implicated in human rights abuse

The British Armed Forces and police may have trained Indonesian security forces linked to human rights abuses against people in West Papua. 

Although the Government has claimed that it “does not provide training to Papua-based units”, a Freedom of Information (FOI) request revealed that the Ministry of Defence (MoD) does not hold information about the units it trains. 

This means that it cannot know for sure if the units it has worked with have been implicated in the conflict with West Papua, which has killed up to 500,000 Papuans since Indonesia’s invasion in 1962. It also means that it cannot prevent enabling human rights abusers in the region.

The MoD said that the “information that is held notes whether attendees served in the Indonesian Armed Forces or Police” and that “the service in which the Indonesian course attendees served is simply not collected”.

Government data shows that, between October 2015 and February 2020, 55 Indonesians were trained across facilities in the UK and at the British jungle warfare academy in Brunei.

Training included the ‘international jungle warfare instructor course’ for Indonesian police in Brunei; ‘guided weapons control’ for the army; and ‘advanced staff and command course’ for the air force at Shrivenham Defence Academy in the UK.

The lack of transparency over which Indonesian forces the UK trains raises serious questions about whether it has facilitated human rights abuses in West Papua. 

Violations against Papuan civilians are reportedly on the increase, as the conflict has escalated over the past year.

In April, the conflict intensified as Papuan independence fighters were labelled terrorists by the Indonesian state. Thousands of troops, including special forces, were deployed to West Papua to eliminate resistance to Indonesian rule. The UN estimates that more than 50,000 civilians have been displaced since 2018 due to military operations in the central highlands of Papua.

On 4 June, three unarmed Papuan civilians were killed in a military operation in Nipuralome Village in Puncak. The attack was conducted by a combined security force called the Nemangkawi Task Force – military units and Brimob, a counter-terrorism police force.

Papuan human rights activist Yones Douw said that “the shootings by the Nemangkawi Task Force didn’t distinguish between children, women, or village heads” and that “the village head showed them his identity card and was also dressed in his official headdress and uniform, but they shot him dead like an animal”.

The military killed Papuan village chief Patianus Kogoya, 45; along with Erialek Kogoya, 55, a Papuan farmer; and a 43-year-old woman named Paitena Wakerka. Three others were injured including a five-year-old boy, Mendinus Murib, who was shot in the leg.

“The Indonesian military said it targets the West Papua National Liberation Army,”  Douw told Byline Times. “In actuality, the Indonesian military does not distinguish between all Indigenous Papuans. People they suspected were all arrested or shot to death. Many civilians fled. The number of displaced people has reached many thousands.”

The Nemangkawi Task Force denied killing the villagers, claiming that the West Papua National Liberation Army was responsible.

The force also arrested grassroots activist Victor Yeimo for his role in organising anti-racism protests in 2019. He has been held in solitary confinement at Brimob headquarters where his health has seriously deteriorated. Peaceful protests to demand his release were violently dispersed on 16 August by Brimob, which fired shots killing Papuan civilian Ferianus Asso, and arrested 48 other protestors.

Indonesian police, including Brimob, are trained in counter-terrorism at the Jakarta Centre for Law Enforcement Cooperation (JCLEC).

The internationally-funded facility was established in 2004 following the Bali bombings. Police forces from around the world travel to the facility to train the Indonesian police. 

The UK is the JCLEC’s second-biggest funder after Australia. According to the JCLEC annual data, in 2017 and 2019 the UK provided £998,214 in funding. In 2018, the UK also provided 59 training programmes – making it the largest contributor of training programmes to the facility.

The JCLEC stopped publishing data on its course providers in 2019. However, a FOI request to London’s Metropolitan Police Service revealed that it provided five training programmes at the JCLEC in 2019.

The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office refused to reveal how much funding it has provided to the JCLEC since 2018, stating that it “would be likely to prejudice relations” with Indonesia. The “ability to protect and promote UK interests through international relations will be hampered,” it added.

In August, it was reported that a police chief trained at the JCLEC, Untung Sangaji, was in charge of a Brimob operation whereby Papuans were forced to undress, beaten and tied up. Sangaji is also reported to have said that “we will chop them up if we have to”.

Last November, Labour MP Alex Sobel asked the Department for International Trade if the Government would stop the sale of arms and the provision of training programmes to Indonesia. The Government said that the UK “supports counter-terrorism training for the Indonesian National Police, through the JCLEC” and that “we do not provide training to Papua-based units but continue to monitor the situation in Papua closely”.

Jennifer Robinson, an international human rights lawyer, believes that “the UK is or should be aware of the ongoing, widespread and systematic abuse of human rights perpetrated by the Indonesian military against Indigenous Papuans in West Papua” and that it should “not be complicit in this abuse by training or selling arms to the Indonesian military”.

The FOI also revealed that eight Indonesians have so far been accepted for military training in 2021. The MoD declined to specify the nature of the training courses, which facilities they will take place at, or the size of the remuneration the UK will receive.

“West Papua is unlawfully occupied by Indonesia and the UK has international obligations not to support or contribute to Indonesia’s unlawful occupation and the human rights violations of the Indonesian military in maintaining this unlawful occupation” Robinson said.

The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, the Ministry of Defence, and the Department for International Trade did not respond to requests for comment.