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Estimates: Richard Di Natale questions DFAT about human rights in West Papua

Estimates & Committees
Richard Di Natale 18 Oct 2012

Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee - 18/10/2012 - Estimates - FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND TRADE PORTFOLIO - Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

Senator DI NATALE: I have a few questions about the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties Report 84, which was tabled on 6 December 2006, based on the Agreement Between the Republic of Indonesia and Australia on the Framework for Security Cooperation—that is, the Lombok treaty. I want to ask a few questions about the review of the treaty. In particular, JSCOT's Report 84 outlines two very specific recommendations about human rights. Recommendation 1 reads:

The Committee recommends that the Australia Government continue to address widely expressed concerns about human rights in Indonesia with the Indonesian Government and in appropriate international fora.

The Indonesian army and police have recently been implicated in serious human rights abuses in Papua, most recently in the burning of a village near the remote town of Wamena and in the death of the independence activist Mako Tabuni. I want to know whether both of these issues have been raised with the Indonesian government.

Mr R Smith : In short, yes. We have discussed with the Indonesian government our concerns about that outbreak of violence, the series of violent incidents that took place in the Papua provinces at that time. We have underlined a point that we make often in our discussions with the Indonesian government on human rights matters, and that is our expectation that allegations of violations of human rights be properly investigated and perpetrators dealt with according to the law. That is a position that is very well understood by the Indonesian government and indeed is one that, in terms of the intentions of the Indonesian government, has been echoed by the President himself, who has said it is the government's position to properly investigate and deal with, according to the law, perpetrators of human rights violations.

Senator DI NATALE: I will get onto the specifics of that in a moment. The first recommendation also talks about raising those concerns 'in appropriate international fora'. Have we done that?

Mr R Smith : We certainly engage in international fora on questions of human rights in Indonesia in general terms, particularly in the UN Human Rights Council, where we join with others in what is a very constructive discussion about challenges on human rights, and through that process we make our views known through a statement to that council.

Senator DI NATALE: Have we specifically addressed the issue of West Papua in those fora?

Mr R Smith : I would have to check when the last hearing on Indonesia took place in the Human Rights Council. The council works on the basis that individual countries come up for consideration in the council, as I am sure you are aware, and whether or not Indonesia has been considered since those events in West Papua I would have to check.

Senator DI NATALE: You mentioned earlier that you regularly raise these concerns with the Indonesian government. What does 'regularly' mean?

Mr R Smith : As you know, Senator, we have a very deep and substantial relationship with Indonesia. We deal closely with them on a whole range of issues, and human rights are a very integral part of the dialogue that we have with them.

Senator DI NATALE: Would you say that you have noted any improvements in Indonesia's human rights record as a result of that dialogue, specifically on West Papua?

Mr R Smith : I think it is very hard to attribute improvements or changes in a human rights environment to any particular thing. It is obviously a complex issue, particularly the situation of Papua. There are a number of factors at play. We are concerned about the situation there, as indeed the Indonesian government is, and we do raise that with them.

Senator DI NATALE: Recommendation 2 of the JSCOT report, titled 'Cooperation provisions of the Agreement', recommends:

… that the Australian Government increase transparency in defence cooperation agreements to provide assurance that Australian resources do not directly or indirectly support human rights abuses in Indonesia.

Does the department agree that transparency in defence cooperation agreements of this nature is an important principle?

Mr R Smith : I think that is a question best addressed to the Department of Defence.

Senator DI NATALE: This was a recommendation from a treaty, an agreement between Australia and the Republic of Indonesia. The recommendation specifically talks about transparency in our defence cooperation. Given that the treaty lies within DFAT's purview, I would have thought it was something that DFAT would take into consideration.

Ms Bird : There would have been a government response, no doubt, to that recommendation. I just do not have that at hand. I would like to refresh myself on that.

Senator DI NATALE: There was bipartisan agreement on the committee.

Ms Bird : That is right. I do remember the Lombok treaty, I remember it was recommended and I remember the recommendations. I am sure there was a response to those recommendations and we could refresh ourselves on those if you do not have it to hand.

Senator DI NATALE: The questions that I want to ask you relate very much to that recommendation and whether any specific provisions were included as part of the recently signed defence cooperation agreement with Indonesia.

Ms Bird : You would need to get the details from Defence.

Senator DI NATALE: Further questions on the cooperation agreement, I expect you will indicate, will need to be dealt with by Defence—

Ms Bird : Yes.

Senator DI NATALE: so I will not pursue that line of questioning. A submission to the JSCOT inquiry by Professor Clinton Fernandes said that a number of senior members of the Indonesian security forces were identified as having received military training in Australia and then went on to be implicated in a range of very serious human rights abuses. I am happy to discuss with you a number of those but, for example, we have people like Major-General Sutiyoso, who is involved in operations in East Timor. He was deputy commander of Kopassus. He was implicated in the attack on pro-democracy activists in in Jakarta. He issued shoot-on-sight orders.

We have Major-General Toisutta, again involved as deputy commander in East Timor. He was promoted and given the job of military commander in West Papua. We have General Ryakudu, who was again implicated in the death of the Papuan leader Theys Eluay, who was basically strangled by Indonesian soldiers. The general went on to say that he believed that the soldiers were heroes because they killed the rebel leader. So a number of these people have been implicated. The question is: do we keep a database of all the members of the Indonesian security forces that we train in Australia?

Ms Bird : Again, matters to do with the training of security forces would really need to go to the Department of Defence.

Senator DI NATALE: Let me ask you: was DFAT actually involved in the negotiations at all leading up to the signing of the agreement?

Ms Bird : Absolutely. We were very closely involved in the negotiation of the Lombok treaty, as we were in the JSCOT hearings on that treaty.

Senator DI NATALE: I am talking specifically about the new defence cooperation agreement.

Ms Bird : Sorry. Questions on that really should go to Defence. It would have had—

Senator DI NATALE: No, the question is: was DFAT involved in establishing that new agreement in any way?

Mr R Smith : The negotiations were principally defence-to-defence negotiations. Certainly the embassy in Jakarta was involved in the broad framing of the arrangement, and it is an arrangement, not an agreement.

Senator DI NATALE: Yes, I noted that. Can you tell me the difference?

Mr R Smith : The lawyers may want to correct me, but an agreement would be a treaty level agreement and an arrangement is a less than treaty level arrangement.

Senator DI NATALE: What does that mean in practical terms? Is one enforceable and the other is not? What does it actually mean?

Ms Bird : It has a few implications. We can get our legal advisers to go through that, but there is a difference between a treaty level and a non-treaty level in terms of a range of things, such as their binding nature. It sometimes goes to dispute resolution. There are a number of things but yes, that is the essential thing.

Senator DI NATALE: If you can provide us with some information on that, that might be helpful.

Ms Bird : Sure.

Senator DI NATALE: Let us come to the issue of Minister Carr who, upon the shooting death of Mako Tabuni, the Papuan independence leader, called for an inquiry into that death and yet when the defence cooperation arrangement was announced at a joint press conference with the Indonesian defence minister, Dr Purnomo Yusgiantoro, when defence minister Smith was asked about the incident he said that human rights violations were discussed only in passing and that he had no concerns in terms of that agreement. So Minister Carr on one hand has said that he was concerned enough about the allegations to call for an open inquiry, and yet we have Minister Smith who has no concerns about Indonesia's human rights record when it comes to signing this new arrangement. What is the department's position as to whether Mr Tabuni's death should be the subject of an open inquiry?

Ms Bird : I think you might be verballing the ministers. There is no inconsistency in the government's approach to this.

Senator DI NATALE: I am not verballing; I will happily provide you with quotes.

Ms Bird : I will ask my colleague to answer your specific question.

Mr R Smith : As I said at the beginning, for a long time it has been a consistent position of successive governments that when there are allegations of violations of human rights they should be investigated. That is a view that I think is accepted by the Indonesian government, and that is reflected in comments that the President himself has made. When these events took place, we encouraged the Indonesian government to conduct a proper investigation into the circumstances of the death of Mako Tabuni. We did that first on 22 June, we did it subsequently on 25 June, and there have been some further discussions about the process since then. It has been a consistent view we have had that incidents of this kind should be properly investigated.

Senator DI NATALE: I understand that the Indonesian defence Minister said that the killing of Mr Tabuni was legal and required no investigation, so I am a little confused about the status of the investigation.

Mr R Smith : We understand that Indonesian police are investigating the death of Mako Tabuni, and we will continue to consult with Indonesian authorities on that process.

Senator DI NATALE: So the defence minister said that it was legal and required no investigation—are we to assume that those comments are not correct and that there is an investigation?

Mr R Smith : I am not aware of the comments by the Indonesian defence minister and it would be quite inappropriate of me to comment on that.

Senator DI NATALE: My point is that we can be reassured that the Indonesian police are currently investigating the death of Mako Tabuni?

Mr R Smith : The advice we have from the Indonesian government is that there is a police investigation into Mako Tabuni's death.

Senator DI NATALE: Have any reports on the progress of the investigation been provided to DFAT?

Mr R Smith : We do not have any details on where they are in that investigation.

Senator DI NATALE: Will you be given details as progress is made through the investigation.

Mr R Smith : We will continue to discuss that with the Indonesian government.

Senator DI NATALE: Is it a concern for the department, given the burning of the village, the death of Mr Tabuni, the implication of the Indonesian security forces?

Mr R Smith : Yes, it is. As I said earlier, it is a concern for the Indonesian government as well. They would very much like to see, as would we, a more stable and secure and peaceful environment in the Papuan provinces and they would like to see, as would we, development and prosperity come to the provinces. There are difficult tensions, many of them deep-seated, within the communities there, and these are not easy issues to deal with. We certainly hope that they do not flare up in the ways they did in late May and June with these sorts of violent incidents, but clearly the Indonesian government is very committed to doing what it can to restore greater stability to the provinces and to bring economic development. We are very supportive of those efforts—we support them in many ways, including through the Australian aid program.

Senator DI NATALE: As I said, I think there might be differences of opinion about the view of the Indonesian government, particularly when their defence minister states that he believes it is legal and does not require investigation. I am still a little concerned about that, but I am reassured that the department is pursuing that actively with the Indonesian authorities. Has the department received any communication outlining further allegations of intimidation of activists in West Papua, most recently from the Australia West Papua Association, who wrote to Minister Carr?

Mr R Smith : I would have to check.

Senator DI NATALE: So what would be the normal process where an allegation is made of human rights abuses in West Papua? How would the department normally follow that up, given we might have, for example, eyewitness accounts that have been relayed through the Australia West Papua Association to the minister? I suppose what I am asking is: is there some sort of process that DFAT undertakes to investigate the veracity of such claims? Do you normally make contact with the people who have made the allegation? What is the normal process for following that up?

Mr R Smith : I think an important point to understand, first of all, Senator, is that we do not investigate. We do not have a capacity to investigate and we do not have the authority to investigate developments in Papua. When incidents and allegations of human rights violations are brought to our attention, we refer them to our embassy in Jakarta. The embassy will take up those issues in the course of its ongoing dialogue with Indonesian authorities. We also stay in contact with other groups that monitor, as we do, these developments. The International Crisis Group is one, and there are a number of other non-government organisations that look at these issues. The ICG, I am sure you are aware, put out a report recently on those events in Papua. So we stay in contact with the ICG and other groups so that we have the best possible understanding of those events.

Senator DI NATALE: Okay. My final few questions are about the third recommendation in the review of the Lombok treaty by JSCOT, which said:

The Committee recommends that the Australian Government encourage the Indonesian Government to allow greater access for the media and human rights monitors in Papua.

I point to the fact that, in May this year, the UNHCR issued a 30-point recommendation in relation to Indonesia and that, essentially, all of those recommendations were rejected outright by the Indonesian government—in particular, that it allow foreign journalists free access to West Papua and United Nations special rapporteurs entry into West Papua. What steps would the department undertake to implement that third recommendation of the JSCOT report?

Mr R Smith : Broadly, this is something we do on an ongoing basis. We have for many years encouraged the Indonesian government to allow freer access to Papua both for the media and for human rights monitors, and indeed for NGOs, who are doing some very valuable work there. That process of encouragement is one that we consistently engage in.

Senator DI NATALE: Do you see that access for journalists and human rights monitors as a necessary precondition for improving the protection and promotion of human rights in West Papua?

Mr R Smith : I am not sure I would characterise it as a precondition, but it is something that we think is important and valuable.

Senator DI NATALE: I am aware that I am being hurried by the chair, so I will put my remaining questions on notice. Thank you.

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