Subject: IHRC-NZ: Papuans face masters of terror

New Zealand Herald; Wed Dec 31 2003 Maire Leadbeater: West Papuans face masters of terror

31.12.2003 - COMMENT

This month the prestigious Yale law school released a comprehensive assessment of the crimes against humanity committed in a neighbouring Pacific country. It concluded that "persistent" abuses - including torture, disappearance, rape, extra-judicial killings and destruction of resources - strongly indicated a breach of the United Nations genocide convention.

In that same country the authorities have just appointed a man charged with crimes against humanity to head the police, and allowed a notorious militia leader to undertake a recruitment drive.

Why no headlines? Is it because the country is West Papua and those responsible for the abuses are the Indonesian military, whose officers New Zealand trained until 1999.

In West Papua all dissent is risky; even peaceful flag-raising ceremonies are banned. Last month a pro-independence leader, Yustinus Murib, was assassinated with nine others in a dawn raid. The body of this man, who only days before had a made a public appeal for dialogue, was paraded in the street like a hunter's trophy.

More than 1000 people have been forced to flee their villages.

The new police chief, Colonel Timbul Silaen, was in charge in East Timor in 1999. He did nothing to prevent militia groups carrying out massacres and terrorising people. He was there when plans were being made for the post-ballot scorched-earth campaign and the mass deportation of East Timorese to West Timor.

Incredibly, Eurico Guterres, Silaen's erstwhile co-conspirator and the man who personified the militia evil to the outside world, also plans a West Papua comeback. Unlike Silaen, who was acquitted, Guterres was sentenced to 10 years' jail by Jakarta's sham East Timor Human Rights Tribunal.

But presumably that was just to appease the international community, since he is free while he prepares to appeal. He continues to enjoy the vocal support of the Indonesian political elite from President Megawati Sukarnoputri down.

Guterres was responsible for inciting and orchestrating numerous murderous rampages in East Timor in 1999. At a rally in April of that year he was filmed urging his men to "capture and kill those who had betrayed integration".

Now he is seeking official permission to set up a militia group known as the Red and White Defenders Front in the West Papua mining town of Timika. He says his organisation is registered with the Indonesian Government, has 18,000 members and can open offices wherever it likes.

At the level of New Zealand's diplomacy, history also repeats itself. When the Indonesian military boot was on East Timor, the New Zealand Government muttered about human rights abuses but based its policy firmly on the mantra "the occupation is irreversible".

Now that outrage over East Timor is slipping into the past, the Government has gone back to the default position - don't offend Jakarta and hope that the West Papuans will see sense and not press for self-determination.

Our response to the outcome of the Jakarta show trials has been a faint-hearted squeak. The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Phil Goff, has told his Indonesian counterpart that he is "disappointed".

We joined the European Union in making a declaration which virtuously hoped that Indonesia would conduct the appeals for Guterres and the others in a "manner consistent with international standards".

Mr Goff acknowledges there were flaws in the way in which Indonesia took over West Papua. He says New Zealand had "reservations" about the 1969 Act of Free Choice but decided to vote in favour of the United Nations General Assembly resolution which "took note" of the UN special representative's report accepting the transfer of Papua to Indonesia. Thereafter, New Zealand has unquestioningly accepted that West Papua is part of Indonesia.

Instead of self-determination, Mr Goff supports Indonesia's "special autonomy" law. But that 2001 gesture is now widely perceived to have been little more than window-dressing, and lacking any genuine provision for devolving power or control of resources. Special autonomy has in any case been trumped by a provocative move to divide and rule by splitting the territory into three provinces.

The 1962 New York Agreement between the Dutch and the Indonesians said the West Papuans must be allowed to take part in an act of self-determination in "accordance with international practice". But only 1025 West Papuans were able to vote in the so-called Act of Free Choice.

Recently declassified UN documents have confirmed that officials turned a blind eye to a blatantly undemocratic process. The most important testament to the manipulated outcome is that of the key UN figure involved at the time, Undersecretary General Chakravarthy Narasimham.

He revealed in a 2001 interview: "It was just a whitewash. The mood at the United Nations was to get rid of this problem as quickly as possible ... Nobody gave a thought to the fact that there were a million people there who would have their fundamental human rights trampled ... "

The growing international campaign for a review of the UN processes in the 1960s is not a radical demand. Now that New Zealand's reservations at the time have been more than justified, we should support an honest re-examination. At home we have made the attempt to address our own colonial wrongs; why not seek the same for international injustices?

Mr Goff has told the Indonesia Human Rights Committee that he does not know of any other government "with the possible exception of Vanuatu" that has endorsed asking the UN to take up the issue. As in the past, the Government is suggesting that someone else should take the first step.

But why not us? For 25 years we played wait-and-see with East Timor, acting only when the whole country was on fire. As the masters of terror swing into action again, West Papua urgently needs neighbours willing to take a stand. New Zealand, working with Vanuatu, could be a vital catalyst to spur international action.

* Maire Leadbeater, of Auckland, is a spokeswoman for the Indonesia Human Rights Committee.

Indonesia Human Rights Committee is a solidarity organization which aims to build links between the people of New Zealand and Indonesia by developing network with the groups in Indonesia and around the world who are working for human rights and democracy in Indonesia. Being interested is not enough, get involved!

IHRC, P.O. Box 68 419, Newton, Auckland. Phone/fax: 64-9-8159000, Email:

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