Senate Estimates: Human Rights Abuses in West Papua

estimates
05 Jun 2013 | Richard Di Natale

From Senate Estimates, 5 June 2013

Senator DI NATALE: I want to follow up the questioning from Senator Madigan. I find it deeply offensive that somebody who is, as Senator Madigan is, concerned about the human rights abuses being perpetrated in the region—a region where there are mass killings, where people's right to protest peacefully is being suppressed—is somehow regarded as endangering the safety of the West Papuan community. It is a very deeply offensive inference to describe as smug our advocacy for people whose basic human rights are being deprived.

Senator Bob Carr: I did not say that at all. I did not say anything remotely like that. What I did say is something I stick to absolutely, and that is: we raise human rights. It is the Australian government position to raise human rights in Papua. Our ambassador does it regularly. Our ambassador has formal meetings with the Indonesian government to pursue our policy of talking about rights in the Papuan provinces. That is the first point. That is our policy. It is the Australian government policy, so do not attempt to arrogate it. It is the Australian government policy to pursue human rights issues in Papua. What I did say is that people who hold out to the people of Papua the promise of success in secessionism—

Senator DI NATALE: But who is doing that?

Senator Bob Carr: The people who fly Papuan flags and the people who talk the language of secession and independence. They are planting in the minds of people who actually live in the place the notion that this campaign has some kind of international resonance, and that is a cruel deceit by self-indulgent people safe in their own beds, safe in a democracy. It is a cruel deceit about the potential of a demand for secessionism. Australia and the world recognise Indonesian sovereignty over West Papua.

Senator DI NATALE: I suggest to you that it is incredibly patronising and incredibly arrogant that you would suggest that a movement within a nation of people who are able to make decisions for themselves are somehow being controlled by people externally. 'Planted the seed of secessionism'? This is not a seed that has been planted by anyone. This is—

Senator Bob Carr: This is the Greens Party cause of the day.

Senator DI NATALE: Can I finish my question, please?

Senator Bob Carr: It is cause de jour. That is what you would use it to, for fun. It is a game for the Greens Party. It is a little game.

Senator DI NATALE: Can I finish my question, Senator Carr?

Senator Bob Carr: But its implications on the ground for Papua can be very serious.

Senator DI NATALE: Again, I find the notion that somehow standing up for the democratic rights of a people is a cause for the day. That is, again, deeply offensive. I personally have never stood up for independence for the West Papuan people. I have stood up for the right of the West Papuan people to make decisions for themselves.

You talk about the Australian government raising the issue of human rights with the Indonesians. Let us talk about some specific examples. On 1 May, there was a peaceful protest to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Indonesian control over the province. We had the Australian media reporting that police reacted violently to the protest. Two people died as a result. Many more were wounded. How did you raise those concerns with the Indonesians?

Senator Bob Carr: I will confirm to the committee in the next few hours but, to the best of my recollection, that was one of the cases raised by our embassy. Our embassy sought further information and continued to express Australian concerns about the behaviour of security forces, including police, in West Papua. But we do it routinely. That is the Australian government position. We do it in the context of accepting Indonesian sovereignty over the territories as a matter of international law.

Senator DI NATALE: You put to me that the Australian government stands up for human rights abuses. I am now putting to you that a number of human rights abuses have occurred. I seek documentation as to the response from the Australian government.

Senator Bob Carr: You give me the list and I will take it on notice.

Senator DI NATALE: A second rally on 30 May was called to protest the events where people had died. During the rally, we saw local groups claim that security forces arrested four protesters, including Victor Yeimo, who is the Chairman of the West Papuan National Committee. What was the response of the department to those arrests?

Senator Bob Carr: I will give you a response when we have them. Again, I underline the fact that we have regularly responded by pursuing cases like those. I would suspect we would have raised precisely those cases.

Senator DI NATALE: I would prefer more than suspicions. I would like some documentation, thank you.

Senator Bob Carr: You will get them. I will take it on notice.

CHAIR: The minister has given that undertaking. Are there other issues you are pursuing?

Senator DI NATALE: There are. I would like to know if you are aware of the current status of Victor Yeimo? Do you know where he is being held and does DFAT have any specific concerns for his welfare?

Mr Cox : We are aware of a variety of reports of the incidents you cite—the 1 May shootings and reported deaths. We have not confirmed those yet. We have been seeking confirmation of them. We do not have advice yet on the specific whereabouts of those people. We are seeking that advice. The Australian government is not in a position independently to investigate them, but we are in a position to ask questions. We are asking those questions through our embassy in Jakarta. When we get answers, we will provide them to you.

Senator DI NATALE: Can I confirm that you are not aware of the whereabouts of Victor Yeimo, who has been arrested?

Mr Cox : No. I am not specifically aware of that at this time. But I shall find that out.

Senator DI NATALE: But have you asked the question?

Mr Cox : Yes. I am sure the post, as part of its regular dialogue, is seeking advice about the circumstances of a range of people who have been listed on various lists. But we will find that out specifically.

Senator DI NATALE: Thank you. I also draw your attention to reports about a number of killings in the Puncak Jaya region since April, with up to 11 people dead and 40 people missing. The West Papuan National Committee is alleging that Kopassus troops were involved in reprisals against civilians from the 1 May protests. We have also seen some photographic evidence that has been provided. Has DFAT raised specific concerns about that issue?

Mr Cox : Again, we are aware of reports of those 11 deaths. At this stage, we do not have verification of that information. Our post is seeking further details, but we are aware of those reports. We can get that further advice to you in the context of the other report that I just said we will try to get for you.

Senator DI NATALE: The report from the NGO Papuans Behind Bars, during the period 30 April to 13 May indicated that three Papuan activists were killed in Sorong and that there were 36 arrests in Timika and a number of other regions, with 30 remaining in detention. A number of injuries resulted from those attacks. Has DFAT raised those specific concerns with the Indonesian government?

Mr Cox : Again, they fit into a pattern of cases that we would need to get you further advice about. These are raised by our embassy in Jakarta through their contacts both in the provinces and in Jakarta. We will need to get specific advice back through them. This is not something that DFAT does in Canberra. This is done through our post in Jakarta.

Senator DI NATALE: The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed concerns over what she described as a crackdown on mass demonstrations across Papua. She described in particular the protests on 1 May as an unfortunate example of the ongoing suppression of freedom of expression, and excessive use of force in Papua. She urged the government of Indonesia to allow peaceful protests and hold accountable those involved in abuses. Those concerns were also expressed by Amnesty International and a range of other academics. Has DFAT expressed those concerns to the Indonesian authorities?

Mr Cox : Yes. As the minister has said, the Australian government—from the Prime Minister and the minister himself to the ambassador and others—continues to raise our concern about evidence of the cycle of violence in the Papuan provinces. This is something we are concerned about. We want to encourage President Yudhoyono's program of special autonomy to give the Papuan people a greater sense of autonomy and ownership in their own provinces. The issues that the Special Rapporteur raised are issues we share. Indeed, they are issues that the Indonesians themselves share. President Yudhoyono shares them. This is why, as Senator Carr says, the Indonesians raise these issues with us themselves. The answer is yes, we do share those concerns: they are part of our regular dialogue on human rights and human rights conditions in the Papuan provinces.

Senator DI NATALE: On that point, do you think that Indonesia has made any progress in this area? Are we seeing any progress in the area of allowing peaceful protests in West Papua?

Mr Cox : I think the situation—and this is something that the Indonesian government itself recognises—in the Papuan provinces remains less than satisfactory. President Yudhoyono, the foreign minister and others in the government of Indonesia recognise that as a fact. This is why they have formed organisations to promote autonomy and economic development to try to improve the situation on the ground—the rights of people on the ground—in the Papuan provinces. Yes, it is correct to say that the situation is not adequate yet. The Indonesians themselves recognise that, including on issues of freedom of expression and so forth. I think if you ask any of the Indonesian officials and people concerned with this policy area they will say, 'Yes, it is not yet where we want it to be.

Senator DI NATALE: Is the department aware of any successful prosecutions of Indonesian soldiers for human rights abuses in West Papua?

Mr Cox : No. I am not aware of any specific prosecutions recently, but it is quite possible that such cases have taken place. I will certainly take that on notice. We can ask our post. Indonesia is, as you know, now a democracy. Indonesia has military and civilian courts where those who have been found guilty of crimes, including in the military, have been brought before military tribunals and tried. So, yes, it is quite possible. I will get a specific answer for you on that on notice.

Senator DI NATALE: I suppose what I am getting at is that we have repeatedly raised concerns about many of these allegations and it appears that we are having no discernible impact. It does not appear that there is any significant progress being made in the region. It does not appear that there are—at least we are not aware of—any successful prosecutions for human rights abuses, but I will await that information to confirm that. What are the other options for the Australian government and for the department that might allow us to exert some influence over the hugely concerning situation in the region?

Mr Cox : I do not agree with you that there has been no progress. Consider the situation in the Papuan provinces now compared to the situation in, say, the nineties. The recognition by the Indonesian government that there are significant problems of the economic, social and political marginalisation of people is significant. The fact that the government has brought in a special autonomy package is a recognition—and President Yudhoyono and others are fully cognisant of that—that there are significant problems in those provinces. So there has been a qualitative shift in the Indonesian perception of the fact that there is a problem on the ground in the provinces. This is very different from the time under the New Order government of President Suharto. So I do not agree with you that there has been no change. Sure, there are still human rights problems on the ground. There are still problems where people seek to raise political issues and there are problems between local security forces and people who support some sort of process for political separatism on the ground. But if you look at the broad swathe of development—political, social and economic—and the recognition of those problems in Indonesia, it is quite different. So I do not agree that there has been no improvement.

Senator DI NATALE: It is one thing to recognise the political dimension of the problem, but what if that recognition leads to the deaths of two people in the 1 May protests? Many more wounded. There has been the arrest of the Chairman of the West Papuan National Committee and four others, the welfare of whom is unknown at this stage. Eleven people have died and 40 people are missing in the Puncak Jaya region. There were 36 arrests and three killings in Sorong and surrounding areas. If that is the response to recognising the autonomy of the West Papuan people, that is not progress.

Mr Cox : First of all, I would have to say that all of those cases are reports from a variety of people on the ground that are not fully verified. I am not disagreeing that there are elements of such incidents that may have happened. But the first thing I would say is that we need to find verification for you. I am getting you those answers on notice. The second point to make is that, yes, I did say that there are still human rights problems on the ground. I think the Indonesians themselves would recognise that. But looking at the situation today in 2013 and comparing it with the situation 20 years ago—say, in 1993 or even 10 or 15 years ago—the situation is quite different in terms of—

Senator DI NATALE: How about 60 years ago? Sixty years ago?

Mr Cox : There is the need for change and there is a special autonomy package which gives the people of the Papuan provinces the ability to run their own affairs. It is not easy to implement. It is a long way from the centre in Jakarta. There are a lot of socioeconomic and other complex issues to work out. But there has been a change. I am not saying that it is all fixed. The Indonesians themselves do not say that. That is why, as Senator Carr mentions, the Indonesians themselves raise this issue with him and with the Prime Minister, because they themselves know that there is a job to be done. They want to do it. We would like to work with them to make that effective. As you say, you support Indonesian territorial sovereignty over Papua. So do we, and we want to make that effective in the interests of the people of the two provinces.

Senator DI NATALE: I support the West Papuans having a right to determine the future that they see for themselves.

CHAIR: Thank you, Senator Di Natale. At this stage, we are due to go to a break. Do you have further questions?

Senator DI NATALE: I have a couple more. I can try and be quick.

CHAIR: If you could be quick, we will delay our break by five minutes.

Senator DI NATALE: In an answer to a question on notice to Defence last estimates, I was advised that over the past financial years, Defence has spent approximately $38 million on our defence engagement with Indonesia. It seems to be that none of this money has been conditional on human rights improvements in the region. Is there any impediment to attaching some conditions to that money and essentially asking our Indonesian neighbours to comply with the bipartisan recommendations of the JSCOT report, which were essentially allowing human rights monitors into the region and allowing access to independent media?

Mr Cox : Let me answer the second part of your question first, Senator. Certainly in our dialogue with the Indonesian authorities, we continue to argue to them that part of the special autonomy package and part of their policy should be an openness to the media and to independent human rights monitors. We say to them that the more openness and the more capacity there is for outsiders to observe what is going on, the better it would be for them. So certainly we continue to advocate for that. I think that the Indonesians hear that argument, but there are different views within the Indonesian system about that. But certainly we continue to advocate for that.

Senator DI NATALE: This is a final question to Minister Carr, who called for a thorough and open inquiry into the shooting of independence leader Mako Tabuni. At supplementary estimates last year, I asked about progress on that investigation. Could I have an update on the status of that investigation? DFAT had asserted that the Indonesian police had launched an investigation into Mako Tabuni's death. What is the status of that investigation? Has the department raised the matter with the Indonesian authorities since I last asked those questions?

Senator Bob Carr: I will have to take that on notice.

Mr Cox : I can answer some of that question. Certainly we understand that that investigation has been underway. It may now have finished. It is a question of whether the Indonesian authorities, the police authorities, are prepared to make the details of that public. But at this stage we are still seeing whether that process is finished and what the status of it is.

Senator DI NATALE: But can I expect an answer to that, or at least a response on notice, to any further details?

Mr Cox : Yes. We will bring you further details.

CHAIR: Thank you. We will take our break now, but we will resume at a quarter to four. Thank you.