Australian Government urged to adopt human rights safeguards in military aid programs as West Papua marks anniversary of Indonesian control

The Australian Government should introduce laws that would minimise the risk of Australian policing or military assistance supporting human rights violators.

The Human Rights Law Centre’s Director of Communication, Tom Clarke, said Australia’s support of Indonesia’s counter-terrorism unit, Detachment 88, was in desperate need of review.

“The Australian public can have no confidence that adequate steps are being taken to ensure Australia is not in any way complicit with human rights abuses occurring in Indonesia’s Papuan provinces,” said Mr Clarke.

Mr Clarke said under international law countries have an obligation to conduct due diligence to identify the “risks and potential extraterritorial impacts of their laws, policies and practices on the enjoyment of human rights”.

A report from the Asian Human Rights Commission released last year detailed how Australian-supplied helicopters were among aircraft used to carry out napalm and cluster bombing in the West Papuan highlands during the 1970s. However, Mr Clarke said such problems are not limited to historic events.

“Australia has an extremely dubious record when it comes to Papua – successive governments have turned a blind eye to the human rights abuses occurring on our doorstep. But if we want to avoid the mistakes of the past, we need to have a serious discussion about what type of human rights safeguards could be introduced to ensure we don’t have blood on our hands if atrocities continue,” said Mr Clarke.

Mr Clarke points to the “Leahy Law” in the USA as a model potentially worth looking at as it attempts to ensure recipients of military aid are vetted by the US State Department and Department of Defence.

“Such mechanisms are never going to be magic wands that can just wave away all human rights concerns, but we could and should do more to implement practical steps to reduce the risk of supporting people or units that commit gross violations of human rights,” said Mr Clarke.

This week marked the 51st anniversary since the UN handed temporary control of West Papua to Indonesia for six years until the controversial ‘Act of Free Choice’ referendum was conducted. Last year, Indonesian authorities shot protestors marking the 50th anniversary.

“There’s a reason many Papuans refer to the Act of Free Choice as the ‘Act of No Choice’ – it was an incredibly flawed process. Under severe duress, including threats of violence from senior ranking military officials, 1025 hand-picked Papuans were forced to vote on behalf of a population of one million. This anniversary is another reminder of the various injustices that continue to this day in Papua,” said Mr Clarke.

The Human Rights Law Centre is hosting public events in Melbourne and Sydney looking at these topics and others with Rafendi Djamin, Indonesia’s Representative for the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights, Elaine Pearson, the Director of Human Rights Watch in Australia, and Dr Clinton Fernandes, Associate Professor in International and Political Studies at University of New South Wales.


For further information or comments, please contact:
Tom Clarke, HRLC Director of Communications, on 0422 545 763 or