Dear Prime Minister Abbott,
I write to you today as an Australian citizen who is currently residing in Dili, Timor-Leste, a country that not so long ago, was under the brutal control of the Indonesian government. A country that suffered decades of gross human rights abuses, including rape, torture, starvation and mass killings, at the hands of Indonesia. A country that today still bears the scars of a vicious and violent history – a history in which previous Australian governments were complicit.
It was with great disappointment and horror that I read your comments regarding the three West Papuan men who climbed into grounds of the Australian consulate in Bali on Sunday, October 6th 2013 and called on your government to urge Indonesia to release all Papuan political prisoners and open the province to foreign journalists.
As I’m sure you’re aware, in 1961, then-Indonesian President Sukarno declared a military mobilisation and threatened to invade what we now call West Papua and annex it by force. The US government, led at the time by the Kennedy invasion, feared that opposing the Indonesians would push the country towards communism and sponsored discussions between the Netherlands and Indonesia that resulted in the 1962 New York Agreement. This Agreement awarded Indonesia control over West Papua, but obliged the Indonesian’s to hold an election on self-determination by 1969. Under the articles of the Agreement, all adult Papuans had the right to participate in an act of self-determination. From July to August, 1969, officials from the United Nations conducted the election – termed “Act of Free Choice”. Despite the articles of the Agreement, approximately 1000 West Papuans were chosen by Indonesian authorities to vote via a musyawarah, or ‘consensus of elders’. As such, Indonesia failed to meet its international obligations, and the Papuans that were chosen were coerced into voting unanimously to remain part of Indonesia.
What has followed in the years since 1969 is not dissimilar to what occurred in Timor-Leste under the Indonesian regime – rape, torture, imprisonments and forced disappearances are all too common in West Papua:
- A 2004 paper written by the Yale Law School for the Indonesian Human Right Campaign found that there was a strong indication that the Indonesian government has committed genocide against the West Papuans;
- A University of Sydney study found that the continuation of current Indonesian practices in West Papua may pose grave threats to the survival of Papua’s indigenous peoples;
- Al Jazeera and other news networks have broadcast documented evidence of the use of torture by Indonesian forces against the Papuans;
- In a 1999 report to the UN Commission on Human Rights, the Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women concluded that Indonesian forces used rape to torture and intimidate West Papuan’s, noting that the practices were widespread;
- In 2010 the International Red Cross were expelled from West Papua and in 2012 Peace Brigades International were also forced to leave. International human rights organisations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have been denied access to the country.
The aforementioned reports and incidents have all occurred under the rule of the current Indonesian President, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono – a man who you today acknowledged with the following statement: “I want to acknowledge the work that President (Susilo Bambang) Yudhoyono has done to provide greater autonomy, to provide a better level of government services and ultimately a better life for the people of West Papua”.
President Yudhoyono is a man with a long and violent history. A man who is well known to stand accused of crimes against humanity during his reign as platoon commander in the 305th Battalion in Indonesian-occupied East Timor. A man who appointed his close friend, Sjafrie Sjamsoeddin, as Indonesia’s deputy defence minister, shortly after Mr. S Sjamsoeddin was refused entry to the United States for suspected involvement in terror activities and extrajudicial killings in Timor – among them being responsible for directing the Santa Cruz massacre that claimed the lives of more than 250 Timorese people.
With all due respect, Prime Minister, President Yudhoyono is not a man who aims to better lives. He is not a man that respects the human rights of West Papuans, in the same way he did not respect the rights of the Timorese. He is a brutal dictator with a lengthy list of gross human rights abuses to his name.
The grave human rights situation in West Papua at the hands of Indonesian forces has been extensively documented by a number of leading nongovernment organisations:
- Human Rights in Papua – Asian Human Rights Commission
- Out of Sight – Endemic Abuse and Impunity in Papua’s Central Highlands – Human Rights Watch
- Protest and Punishment – Political Prisoners in Papua – Human Rights Watch
- Papua Digest – Amnesty International
Prime Minister Abbott, for you to tell reporters at the APEC Summit that “We have a very strong relationship with Indonesia and we are not going to give people a platform to grandstand against Indonesia,” is not only abhorrent, it is, in my opinion, a direct support of violations against human rights. It is telling the world that rape, torture, forced disappearances and mass killings are acceptable.
When you offered the following advice “and people seeking to grandstand against Indonesia, please, don’t look to do it in Australia. You are not welcome” you did not speak for me, Prime Minister. Your support for terror, torture and murder will not be in my name.
With great power comes great responsibility, Prime Minister Abbott. With your stance on the three West Papuan men and your support of an inhumane Indonesian regime, you have failed not only in the power stakes, but the responsibility too.