Media reports have stated that my name is on an “Indonesian intelligence agency watch list” in support of independence for West Papua.
This report on the ABC Asia Pacific website says it is an ‘enemies list’ of prominent Australians and organisations regarded as being supporters of Papuan Independence.
However, this story on ABC radio said “a briefing note prepared for an Indonesian delegation by the intelligence agency, BIN, names high-profile academics and politicians involved in what it calls a ‘network’.”
Whatever the list might be precisely, it also names fellow Democrat Natasha Stott Despoja, as well as politician from other parties such as Labor’s Duncan Kerr and the Green’s Bob Brown.
I have written and spoken many times about the history of human rights abuses in West Papua, so it’s no secret what my views are. That makes it a bit disappointing, although probably understandable, that Indonesian authorities view me to be a supporter of independence or ‘separatism’.
You can click here to see many of my previous pieces on West Papua. I am not a campaigner for independence for West Papua. First and foremost I have campaigned against the sustained and systemic human rights abuses that have undoubtedly occurred there. I also believe the indigenous people of the region should have more control over their own lives, land and future. I don’t believe this equates to ‘separatism’ or support for independence.
Indeed, the Indonesian government itself has provided an excellent example of a path forward which addresses human rights concerns and their own desire for maintaining sovereignty. The current Indonesian government’s achievement in reaching an agreement for autonomy for the people of Aceh, despite the strong opposition of some within the Indonesian military, not only ended years of civil conflict, it reflected very well on the skill and ability of the current administration.
Last year I participated in an hour long meeting with Indonesia’s Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda. As I have written before, I found him to be very impressive –both very knowledgable and very open about many of the challenges that Indonesia faces. I was also part of a brief audience with President Yudoyohno, who I also believe to be dealing very well with incredibly difficult challenges. I’ve also met with many Indonesian MPs. I wrote about these meetings on my old blog – click here and here to read examples.
While it is very much in Australian – and Indonesian – interests for our two countries to have a good relationship, that must include the ability to be honest about problems that exist. No relationship can be a good one unless it is based on a reasonable degree of honesty. We must be able to express concern about human rights abuses in parts of Indonesia when they occur.
As Natasha Stott Despoja wrote in her media release yesterday, we “have also been critical of our own country in relation to human rights breaches and discrimination, for example against Indigenous Australians and asylum seekers.” That does not make us enemies of Australia, any more than criticising abuses by rogue elements of the military and police in West Papua makes us an enemy of Indonesia.
As Scott Burchill wrote in this article, “turning a blind eye to repression in the name of stability is not only a dereliction of our ethical duty, it is politically shortsighted and usually results in blowback“.
I believe Indonesia has done amazingly well in moving towards democracy in a very short space of time and in the face of major hurdles. I noted a comment left by a reader on an old post of mine which I strongly agree with:
Indonesia is our future, whether Australians like it or not. A strong, democratic, globalised and trading Indonesia will deliver us, and Indonesia, prolonged prosperity. We will be left with a benign neighbourhood, an economy with two hundred and twenty million wealthy consumers on our front doorstep and an ally with the same regional interests as us on the global stage.
Indonesia’s steps toward this since 1999 have been awesome. Indonesians have done more for liberty, than anglospheric intervention in Iraq has. The “war on terror” ™ for Australia is a foreign policy issue, as Indonesia has been taking the hits for us – again they have excelled, by treating it as a civil matter, not a military one. Consequently they have been more successful than we have.
Indeed, given the major increase in the contempt and disinterest being shown towards by the government and others towards our Parliament in Australia, I expect Indonesia will soon be able to show us a thing or two about how a genuine Parliamentary democracy should operate.
I have also mentioned before that they outstripped Australia at times in their preparedness to openly criticise the far worse human rights problems of a country such as Burma.
Despite these words of praise, the fact that I have to keep drawing attention to the serious problems in West Papua shows that there is a long way to go. That path must lead to increased respect for human rights, not a willingness to push them aside for short term expediency. We have done that before in regard to West Papua – including the way we have treated refugees from that region. Mr Howard appears to be prepared to once again undermine due process and the rule of law towards refugees because of his short-term political needs (as it seems is ‘Justice’ Minister Chris Ellison). I should also add that Kim Beazley’s response of just bringing in a Coastguard to keep them out appears to be no better. No wonder the Indonesians are sceptical.
Apart from the problems I have with the legality and morality of such an approach, even from a purely self-interested point of view, I just can’t see how we can expect other countries in our region to improve their performance on human rights issue or their practices in regard to democracy and the rule of law if we are inconsistent and opportunistic on these matters ourselves.