2006-07-11,11:34 AM

Aus-Indon security pact a return to form

Rohan Pearce

While not many details about the “security treaty” being negotiated between Canberra and Jakarta have been made public, the Howard government has indicated that it will include an Australian commitment to Indonesia’s “territorial integrity” — in particular, opposition to self-determination for West Papua, including the right of West Papuans to secede from Indonesia and establish an independent state.

On ABC TV’s May 21 Insiders program, Barry Cassidy asked foreign affairs minister Alexander Downer about reports that Jakarta had asked for “a clear written statement that your government rejects Papuan independence claims. Have they asked for such a statement and would it be the right thing for Australia to do?” Downer responded that “we’ve been working with the Indonesians on putting together some sort of framework agreement on security cooperation, and a component of that ... should be a mutual recognition of each other’s territorial integrity”.

Downer told Cassidy the agreement would “of course” include a “recognition of Papua’s integration into Indonesia. And we would be very happy with a provision ... where Australia formally recognises Indonesia’s territorial integrity.”

The treaty is Canberra’s latest attempt to patch up its relations with the Indonesian elite in the wake of the 1999 Australian military intervention in East Timor and, more recently, the granting of asylum to West Papuan refugees fleeing repression by the Indonesian military. Despite a shift in Australian policy to accept an independent East Timor, not much, it seems, has changed since the salad days of the Canberra-Jakarta alliance — when Australia, along with the United States, supported the bloody rise to power of the dictator General Suharto in 1965 and, eight years later, backed Indonesia’s brutal invasion and occupation of East Timor.

Joe Collins, a spokesperson for the Australia West Papua Association, said there is “too much secrecy about this proposed security treaty ... While West Papuans are continuing to be killed, Australia should not be negotiating a security agreement which will restore military relations with Indonesia in any form.” A Newspoll published on April 19 found that 76.7% of Australians support self-determination for West Papua.

At one level, Canberra’s attitude towards West Papua represents the crudest kind of imperialist logic: An all-too familiar equation of trading a supposed commitment to human and democratic rights away for corporate profit — in the form of the Freeport goldmine, which is 40% owned by Rio Tinto.

More broadly, the concern of the “political realists” and cynical “pragmatists” responsible for devising Australian foreign policy is to maintain the sometimes fragile-seeming stability of the Indonesian state as an important bulwark of capitalism in South-East Asia, and securing the direct economic interests of Australian capital in Indonesia (Australia’s 11th-largest export market; in 2003 Indonesia was the 15th largest investment destination for Australia).

Self-determination for West Papua is portrayed as an impossibility, in much the same way as the “integration” of East Timor into the Indonesian republic was described by Gareth Evans — former Labor government foreign minister and now, ironically, a member of the UN Advisory Committee on Genocide Prevention — as “irreversible”.

In a March 8 address to the US-Indonesia Society in Washington DC, Australia’s ambassador to the US, Dennis Richardson (the former director-general of ASIO), said: “First, I must declare my hand. In Australia, some commentators talk critically about the so-called 'Indonesia lobby’. Ostensibly, this is a group of people, primarily government officials, academics and some in business, who conspire together to pervert Australia’s true national interests for those of Indonesia.” He proudly declared himself a member of the so-called “Indonesia lobby”.

“There is no need for any concept of conspiracy when the interests of two parties are mistakenly thought to be coterminous”, Scott Burchill, senior lecturer in international relations at Deakin University’s School of International and Political Studies, replied to Richardson in a March 15 article in the Melbourne Age. “The Jakarta lobby has argued for good relations with the regime in Jakarta — especially its vicious and unaccountable military — regardless of the appalling crimes it was committing in Aceh, East Timor or West Papua. For Richardson and his ilk, however, terrorism is only ever perpetrated by Islamists and never the state, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.”

Burchill is spot-on except on one point — his claim that it is a mistake to think that the interests of the two parties in the Canberra-Jakarta alliance are concordant. The apologetics by the “Jakarta lobby” for Australian backing of Indonesian state repression reflect the near-consensus of elite opinion that maintaining the alliance, in which Australia is the dominant partner, between the two nations is in Australia’s “national interests” — i.e., the interests of Australian capital.

A May 25 editorial in the Australian Financial Review reflected this: “The government is right to endorse Indonesia’s territorial integrity because that is the only way to have a productive relationship with our giant Asian neighbour on everything from regional trade to disease control.” In imperialist nations like Australia, “national interest” is almost inevitably antipathetic to human rights and real democracy.

Unfortunately, but predictably, the Australian Labor Party is backing the federal government’s rapprochement with the Indonesian regime. In an April 4 doorstop interview, Labor’s foreign affairs spokesperson, Kevin Rudd, said that the “temperature in the [Canberra-Jakarta] relationship at the moment is not good. We need to get it back to normal and I would urge both our friends in Jakarta as well as the government in Canberra to get back to the diplomatic negotiating table as quickly as possible.”

On April 2 Rudd said, “Whatever the points of view within the Australian community are on that subject, both the Liberal Party and the Labor Party have a view that West Papua is part of the Indonesian republic, but we want West Papua to have effective autonomy. You can have West Papua as part of the Indonesian republic, which we all support.”

At the moment, “effective autonomy” seems, at most, a distant prospect. In August, a protest of tens of thousands of people called by the Papuan Customary Law Council symbolically handed back Jakarta’s 2001 Autonomy Law and the Papuan People’s Assembly created by the law. The introduction of the Autonomy Law neither ended human rights abuses in the province nor eliminated Papuans’ poverty (officially the province is Indonesia’s second wealthiest, however the poverty rate is double the national average).

Amnesty International’s 2006 World Report cited reports of arbitrary arrests, torture and ill-treatment of West Papuans by Indonesian security forces. For the 12th consecutive year, Amnesty reported, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture’s request to conduct research in Indonesia was not granted.

In September 2005, Amnesty condemned the acquittal of two senior Indonesian police officers over the killing of three Papuan students and the torture of more than 100 others. It described the case as a “worrying illustration of Indonesia’s security forces again being allowed to escape justice”. The case related to December 2000 raids on student dormitories in West Papua. One student was shot during the raids and two others died as a result of torture. Those detained and tortured included pregnant women and children as young as seven.

The verdict “means that not a single member of Indonesia’s security forces has been convicted of these horrific crimes after nearly five years of investigations and legal proceedings. The verdict also denied victims any compensation”, commented Natalie Hill, Amnesty’s Asia-Pacific program deputy director, on September 8, the day the verdict was announced. More recently — on May 15 — two West Papuans were shot dead by police during a protest outside the Wamena court.

Nor have the human rights abuses suffered by West Papuans stopped at Indonesia’s borders. On May 24 the Australian immigration department announced that a visa would not be granted to the final West Papuan in the Christmas Island detention centre, David Wainggai. The 42 other West Papuans were granted visas in March.

The failure to grant Wainggai a visa was condemned by Green Senator Kerry Nettle, who said that he had “one of the strongest cases for asylum, being the son of one of the most prominent leaders of the West Papuan Independence movement, Thomas Wainggai, who died whilst languishing on a life sentence in an Indonesian prison after raising the West Papuan flag. He has been rejected on the basis of a flimsy technicality which [immigration minister Amanda Vanstone] must know will not stand up to much scrutiny. Mr Wainggai is now doomed to remain alone on Christmas Island whilst he waits for his case to be appealed at the refugee review tribunal.”

As Burchill put it in his Age article, “As the 43 asylum seekers on Christmas Island have clearly demonstrated, John Howard and Alexander Downer are more committed to West Papua’s retention within the Republic of Indonesia than those unfortunate enough to live in the territory seem to be”.


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