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Indonesia: Life of jailed West Papuan activist in danger without urgent medical care – UN expert

20 September 2021

GENEVA (20 September 2021) – Indonesia must provide West Papuan human rights defender Victor Yeimo with proper medical care to keep him from dying in prison, a UN human rights expert said today.

Despite repeated requests from his lawyers for a delay on medical grounds, Mr. Yeimo went on trial in a Jayapura court at the end of August on charges of treason and incitement related to his peaceful involvement in anti-racism and self-determination protests in 2019.

“I’ve seen it before: States deny medical care to ailing, imprisoned human rights defenders, which results in serious illness or death,” said Mary Lawlor, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders. “Indonesia must take urgent steps to ensure the fate does not await Mr. Yeimo.”

For months, Indonesia authorities have restricted his access to medical care, “and now his health is critical and his life could be in danger,” she added.

As part of his work, Mr. Yeimo, 39, had provided information to the international media about human rights in West Papua in his capacity as international spokesperson for the West Papuan National Committee (KNPB) and the Papuan People’s Petition (PRP). He was imprisoned in May 2021.

In June, Lawlor and other UN experts raised with the Indonesia government their concerns about the charges against Mr. Yeimo and the level of medical care he was receiving.
“We expressed concern at reports we were receiving that he was being held in solitary confinement, without medical care, in a cramped, poorly ventilated cell, and with limited access to his family and lawyers,” Lawlor said. The Indonesian Government disputed these allegations.

Lawlor said his prison conditions “may have amounted to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.” Once his trial started last month, “it took a court order to eventually get him the treatment he badly needed.”

However, “I believe that now we’re seeing the consequences of his treatment in prison,” Lawlor said. “He has recently been diagnosed with a condition requiring daily, supervised medication and well-ventilated living quarters, which if he does not receive, could have fatal consequences.”

Lawlor said the treatment of Yeimo appeared to form part of a pattern of retaliation against defenders of human rights in Papua and West Papua, an issue UN experts have previously raised with the Indonesian government. Since conflicts in the two provinces in August and September 2019, Lawlor has written to the Indonesian Government expressing concern that human rights defenders are being treated like criminals.

“Now I beg Indonesia to protect Mr. Yeimo’s life, health and well-being by providing him with the basic care he so desperately needs.”

Ms. Lawlor’s call was endorsed by Clément Nyaletsossi Voule, Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association; Tlaleng Mofokeng, Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health;and E. Tendayi Achiume, Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance


Ms. Mary Lawlor (Ireland) is the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders. She is currently an Adjunct Professor of Business and Human Rights in Trinity College Dublin. She was the founder of Front Line Defenders - the International Foundation for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders. As Executive Director from 2001-2016, she represented Front Line Defenders and had a key role in its development. Ms. Lawlor was previously Director of the Irish Office of Amnesty International from 1988 to 2000, after becoming a member of the Board of Directors 1975 and being elected its President from 1983 to 1987.

Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Proceduresof the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council's independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures' experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

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