The Human Rights Law Centre has called on the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Killings to urgently investigate Australia’s extensive support for an Indonesian police unit implicated in serious human rights abuses in the province of West Papua. On 28 August 2012, the ABC’s 7.30 program aired evidence that a counter-terrorism unit within the Indonesian National Police, Detachment 88, which “receives training, supplies and extensive operational support from the Australian Federal Police”, has been involved in torture, ill-treatment and extra-judicial killings in the Indonesian province of West Papua. The evidence included interviews with victims and witnesses, together with video of alleged incidents of abuse.
Previous allegations of torture and ill-treatment perpetrated by members of Detachment 88 have been verified by Human Rights Watch, acknowledged by Indonesia, and specifically brought to the attention of the Australian Government.
In response to the allegations, the Australian Federal Police has said that it is “not aware, nor been informed, that Detachment 88 is specifically targeting independence leaders in Papua and West Papua” and that it does not propose to take any steps or measures to investigate the allegations. It has conceded that it is “aware of media reports which allege human rights abuses have been perpetrated by Detachment 88 members.”
As a matter of international law, Australia has an obligation to respect and protect human rights beyond its borders in some circumstances (see, eg, Al-Skeini and Others v the United Kingdom  ECHR 1093, para 133). Extraterritorial human rights obligations may arise, inter alia, in situations “over which State acts or omissions bring about foreseeable effects on the enjoyment of human rights … outside its territory” and in situations over which the State, acting separately or jointly … is in a position to exercise decisive influence or to take measures to realize rights extraterritorially” (Maastricht Principles on Extraterritorial Obligations of States in the area of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, 2011, para 9). States have an obligation to avoid acts and omissions that “create a real and foreseeable risk of nullifying or impairing the enjoyment of human rights extraterritorially (Maastricht Principles, para 13) and to “refrain from any conduct which aids, assists, directs, controls or coerces another State to breach that State’s or that international organisation’s obligations as regards human rights, where the former States do so with knowledge of the circumstances of the act” (Maastricht Principles, para 21).
As a matter of due diligence, States are required to conduct prior assessment of the “risks and potential extraterritorial impacts of their laws, policies and practices on the enjoyment of human rights”. The purpose of such assessment is to “inform the measures that States must adopt to prevent violations or ensure their cessation as well as to ensure effective remedies” (Maastricht Principles, para 14).
While the Australian Government has made “representations” to Indonesia in relation to the investigation of alleged human rights abuses in West Papua, the Government has not identified any process by which an assessment of the human rights impacts of Australia’s support for Detachment 88 is undertaken.
The Australian Government and the Australian Federal Police have similarly been unable to identify any human rights safeguards or accountability mechanisms in place to ensure that their support for Detachment 88 does not in any way aid or support that unit’s operations in West Papua. This is despite extensive public documentation of human rights abuses perpetrated by members of Detachment 88 and previous calls for Australia to undertake due diligence and develop human rights safeguards and procedures to ensure that Australia’s extensive financial, logistical and operational support for Detachment 88 does not in any way aid, assist or support operations which may lead to human rights abuses.
In compliance with Australia’s extraterritorial human rights obligations, the Australian Government should:
- immediately suspend support for and cooperation with Detachment 88 pending a full, independent and public investigation into the alleged involvement of its members in human rights abuses in West Papua;
- conduct a comprehensive assessment of the human rights impacts of Australia’s support for and cooperation with Detachment 88 and make the results of that assessment public; and
- pending the outcomes of this assessment, develop and implement human rights safeguards, policies, protocols and practices to ensure that Australian support for Detachment 88 does not in any way aid or support operations that may foreseeably lead to human rights abuses.