The Australian Government should take a leadership role in promoting and protecting human rights in the troubled Indonesian province of West Papua say two leading human rights organizations in a Joint Letter to the Foreign Minister, the Hon Kevin Rudd MP. Ahead of the 50th anniversary this Friday of the first raising of the West Papuan ‘Morning Star’ flag, the Human Rights Law Centre and Human Rights Watch have called on Minister Rudd to publically and unequivocally condemn the excessive use of force and suppression of peaceful protest and also deploy Australian embassy staff to Papua to monitor and observe anticipated events to mark the anniversary.
“Australia must unequivocally support the human rights of all persons to freedom of expression, association and assembly,” said Tom Clarke from the Human Rights Law Centre. “It is not in Australia’s strategic interest to have a festering human rights problem on our doorstep.”
“The default policy of successive Australian Governments has seemingly been to politely look the other way while human rights abuses occurred on our doorstep. This approach desperately needs rethinking. The problem of violence and repression in West Papua needs to be acknowledged and addressed,” Mr Clarke said.
The ‘Morning Star’ flag was first raised in 1961 when West Papua was moving towards independence with assistance from its colonial Dutch Government and the Australian Government. By this time, Papua already had its own government officials. However, in 1962 a chain of events eventually led to Indonesia taking control of Papua and well documented military violence and human rights abuses have plagued the province since. Today Papuans face imprisonment for simply raising the ‘Morning Star’ flag.
The letter urges Minister Rudd to call for a full and impartial investigation into recent use of force, including fatal force, by Indonesian police and military forces on a peaceful assembly on 19 October. The attacks on the Third Papuan People’s Congress resulted in at least three protesters being killed, at least 90 being injured and approximately 300 arrested.
“The West Papuan people do not enjoy the types of basic rights that we take for granted here in Australia. The right to meet to discuss ideas and express political beliefs are severely curtailed in West Papua. The international media is heavily restricted in travelling to Papua and reporting on events there. We are concerned that without international attention being focused on West Papua, human rights abuses are likely to continue,” Mr Clarke said.
The letter also requests that Minister Rudd urge the Indonesian Government to release all persons detained in Papua for the peaceful expression of their political views, including Filep Karma who the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention advises should be immediately released.
“Minister Rudd should follow US Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton’s lead and directly raise concerns with Indonesia about the violence and abuse of human rights in West Papua. If he has a ‘special relationship’ with Indonesia, now is the time to make the most of it and, as a friend, help Indonesia meet the commitments that it's signed up to under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,” Mr Clarke said.
For further comments from HRLC: contact Tom Clarke on firstname.lastname@example.org or 0422 545 763
For comments from HRW: contact Phil Robertson on RobertP@hrw.org or +66 85 060 8406