GENEVA (Reuters) – United Nations rights experts have urged Indonesia to investigate accusations of violence by police and military in Papua after a video showed officers using a live snake to intimidate a suspect during questioning.
Reports of human rights abuses by security forces often trickle out of the easternmost region of Papua, where a separatist movement has simmered for decades.
The former Dutch colony, the resource-rich western part of the island of New Guinea, was incorporated into Indonesia after a widely criticized U.N.-backed referendum in 1969.
“We urge the government to take urgent measures to prevent the excessive use of force by police and military officials involved in law enforcement in Papua,” the experts said.
“We are also deeply concerned about what appears to be a culture of impunity and general lack of investigations into allegations of human rights violations in Papua,” they said in a statement.
Papuans had been treated in “cruel, inhuman and degrading” ways, added the experts, who include several special rapporteurs on indigenous and human rights.
In response to the UN statement, a foreign ministry spokesman said the police had taken “firm action” over the use of a snake on the Papuan suspect.
“The police are undertaking investigation and have stated that disciplinary action will be taken in accordance with rules and regulations as well as the police code of ethics,” said the spokesman, Armanatha Nasir.
Police in Papua sparked outrage this month by draping a snake around the neck of a suspect to persuade him to confess to petty theft.
A video circulated online showed a man being questioned about stolen mobile phones while seated with his hands tethered behind his back, yelling in distress as an officer pushed a snake towards his face.
The national police have since apologised and pledged disciplinary action.
The case reflected “a widespread pattern of violence, alleged arbitrary arrests and detention, as well as methods amounting to torture used by the Indonesian police and military in Papua,” the experts added, however.
President Joko Widodo, who is up for re-election in April, has pledged to develop Papua, Indonesia’s poorest region, but faces criticism for not doing enough to investigate accusations of rights abuses by security forces there.
(Reporting by Tom Miles in GENEVA and Kanupriya Kapoor in JAKARTA; Writing by Kanupriya Kapoor; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)