Veronica Koman: defending the West Papuan indigenous people of Indonesia
Today, the 9th of August, is the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. On this day, Lawyers for Lawyers would like to take this opportunity to draw attention to the work of lawyers around the world who represent indigenous peoples and might face difficulties because of this work.
For this occasion, we have interviewed Veronica Koman, a prominent, independent human rights lawyer from Indonesia. Veronica Koman represents a group of Papuan students who were mistreated by the police on or around 17 August 2019. In relation to this case, she posted information on the attack against her clients on social media. In September 2019, she was charged with four criminal offenses by the Indonesian authorities and she received multiple rape and death threats.
Can you tell us more about your work as a lawyer for the West Papuan indigenous people in Indonesia?
“Before being judicially harassed, I used to represent West Papuans charged on treason articles in court, and other human rights advocacy. I also used to act for them during demonstrations that often ended up in forced dispersal and mass arrests. I also monitor, document, and disseminate information about human rights abuses in West Papua.
What has inspired you to defend the West Papuan indigenous people of Indonesia?
The fact that I used to not know about what was happening in West Papua due to information restriction and propaganda by the State. Since I found out about the massive human rights abuses and colonisation in West Papua, it has become my personal mission to expose it to the world and fellow Indonesians.
Which problems do lawyers face who are defending indigenous peoples in Indonesia?
There are so many indigenous peoples in Indonesia so I can only speak about defending the West Papuans. The number one challenge is security issues. To defend West Papua means you will be intimidated and attacked by the State at some point. We, the defenders, understand this from the start, that this comes in one package with the work. What happened to me is just one fraction of the systematic attacks against human rights defenders for West Papua. We continue anyway because once you have seen the sufferings and oppression, you simply cannot look away anymore. I learn resilience from West Papuan defenders who are in the frontline.
How are you now, almost one year after charges were filed against you by the Indonesian authorities for conducting your professional duties? Are you able to continue your work from Australia?
The Indonesian State is still pursuing me by imposing financial punishment. They have been asking me to return the state scholarship money for my masters degree in Australia, in the amount of USD 50,000. Now that I live on self-imposed exile, I focus my work on international levels. Unexpectedly, the pandemic brings webinar season, which has enabled me to speak and campaign to national audience in Indonesia as well. I am still close to the grassroots and often give legal advice from afar”.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this interview are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect those of Lawyers for Lawyers.
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