Thursday, April 24, 2014

Background to Australian involvement in West Papua

Background to Australian involvement in West Papua
Australia originally  supported the Dutch in trying to hold onto West New Guinea, as we preferred another colonial power to act as a buffer zone between Australia and any potential invader from the north. However, once the US decided to back Indonesia, Australia also decided to support Indonesia’s takeover of West Papua.  In fact, Australia  acted against the wishes of the West Papuan people, who always wanted independence. One example is the case of  two West Papuan leaders, Clemens Runawery and Willem Zonggonao who were removed by Australian officials from a plane just weeks before the UN supervised vote. (in Australia’s then colony of PNG). This was at the request of the Indonesian foreign minister. They were on their way to the UN in New York carrying testimonies from many West Papuan leaders calling for independence. Because of Australia’s involvment, they never had a chance to plead their case. 

Defence Force may have known of West Papua atrocities
Two recent accounts by former Australian defence force personnel who worked in the Indonesian province of Irian Jaya (now West Papua) in 1977 suggests there was ADF knowledge at that time of alleged atrocities committed by Indonesian troops.
The Defence Department has issued a qualified denial of a claim made by the Asian Human Rights Commission that military aircraft supplied by Canberra were used in bombing runs over Papuan villages resisting Indonesian rule.

Comments: Australia's Helicopter team joined UNTEA to assist with the conduct of a cholera eradication program. The detachment was withdrawn near the end of the program after one of the helicopters crashed. There is however, no record from the UN of Australia joining the UNTEA team. 

The Lombok Treaty
This treaty between Australia and Indonesia, officially titled “Agreement Between the Republic of Indonesia and Australia on the Framework for Security Cooperation”, is  commonly known as the “Lombok Treaty”. Former Foreign Minister Alexander Downer and his Indonesian counterpart, Hassan Wirajuda, signed the agreement on the Indonesian island of Lombok on the 13 November 2006.  On the 7th February 2008 in Perth, Former Foreign Minister Stephen Smith  (now defence Minister) and his Indonesian counterpart finalised the formalities in an exchange of notes bringing the Lombok Treaty into force.
Article 1 of the treaty states that the main objectives of the treaty are 
1. to provide a framework for deepening and expanding bilateral cooperation and exchanges as well as to intensify cooperation and consultation between the Parties in areas of mutual interest and concern on matters affecting their common security as well as their respective national security.

The treaty has 10 articles covering a number of areas including cooperation on
defence, counter terrorism, maritime security, emergency preparedness and transnational crime. A number of articles in this treaty are of concern and in particular, parts of article 3 covering defence ties with the Indonesian military.

Also of concern is Article 2.3 which states,
"The Parties, consistent with their respective domestic laws and international obligations, shall not in any manner support or participate in activities by any person or entity which constitutes a threat to the stability, sovereignty or territorial integrity of the other Party, including by those who seek to use its territory for encouraging or committing such activities, including separatism, in the territory of the other Party;"

Although not stated this article (2.3) is likely a direct reference to West Papua. The impact the treaty would have on the issue of West Papua and ties with the Indonesian military was raised in a large number of the submissions to the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties   (JSCOT).

Sensitivities over West Papua
The background to why West Papua is of such significance in this treaty although never mentioned, is the fact that in January 2006, 43 West Papuan asylum seekers arrived in Australia causing a   deterioration in relations with Indonesia when they were granted Temporary Protection Visa’s.   Jakarta was becoming concerned about growing support for West Papua in Australia and with the memories of the Australian lead International Force for East Timor (INTERFET), Indonesian was guaranteeing its sovereignty over West Papua, thus article 2.3 (above).  This article is also a potential attack not only on freedom of speech in Australia but also on the right of civil society organisations to protest. In fact the Indonesian embassy in Canberra has tried to invoke the Lombok Treaty  in August 2008, when Embassy officials tried to stop a West Papuan cultural event in Canberra. In a Radio Australia report (Ist August 2008), the Australian Capital Territory government confirmed the Lombok treaty was raised in a meeting about a cultural event being held by people in Canberra from Papua and West Papua.

In October 2013, Prime Minister Abbott was in Bali for the APEC conference and made the usual statements we have come to expect from Australian governments i.e. he reiterated his support for Indonesia's sovereignty over West Papua.  At the time three West Papuans climbed into the Australian consulate in Bali calling on the Abbott government to pressure Indonesia to release all Papuan political prisoners. The activists left the consulate soon after entering it.  Tony Abbott said the activists left the consulate of their own accord  after a “lengthy discussion” and warned Australia would not be party to protests aimed at undermining Indonesia's authority over West Papua. “We have a very strong relationship with Indonesia and we are not going to give people a platform to grandstand against Indonesia.”

However, in November an article in the Guardian (21 Nov.) reported that
“Officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade have now confirmed consular staff in Bali threatened to call the police if a group of West Papuan activists did not leave the Australian compound”. The article reported that DFAT officials conceded the West Papuans were in fact told police would be called if they refused to leave the consulate. They officials were appearing before a Senate estimates hearing in November and that answer came in response to a series of questions from the Greens senator Richard Di Natale, who has expressed concern about the safety and wellbeing of the activists since the incident

On his first visit to Indonesia the Prime Ministeralso  said the ''government of Australia takes a very dim view, a very dim view indeed, of anyone seeking to use our country as a platform for grandstanding against Indonesia. We will do everything that we possibly can to discourage this and to prevent this.''

Before it lost office, Labor was also attacking activists who support West Papua. Sen. Bob Carr accused people who advocate self-determination rights for West Papuans of misleading the indigenous people of Indonesia’s Papua region. Carr made the comment during a Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee hearing on his government’s response to ongoing human rights abuses in West Papua.

In an article on the Lowly Institute’s blog, The Interpreter, Peter McCawley wrote an item on “Peter Cosgrove's views on Indonesia”. A piece which also mentioned Ambassador Greg Moriarty:

Our ambassador to Indonesia, Greg Moriarty believes '...a stable, strong and prosperous Indonesia is also vital for Australia’s prosperity and security. Indeed as a neighbouring country – Indonesia's continued stability and unity is a core interest for Australia'.

Of course not many people would disagree that we should try and get on with our neighbours but the question is how much can we ignore human rights abuses that are going on next door?  For all the talk about spying on Indonesian and asylum seekers, there is really only one major  'rub point' in our relationship with Indonesia and that will be West Papua. Yes, Indonesia has made great progress towards democracy since the fall of Suharto but not in West Papua.  Prime Minister Abbott also said on his visit to Indonesia in September last year, 'I admire and respect what you and your government have done to improve the autonomy and the life of the people of West Papua and I am confident that they can have the best possible life and the best possible future as a part of an indissoluble Indonesia, as an integral part of Indonesia.'

The Papuans would not agree with our Prime minister.  AWPA urges the Australian Government to call on the Indonesian Government to release all West Papuan political prisoners unconditionally, as a sign of good faith to the West Papuan people.

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