A report claims Australia provided Indonesia with helicopters which were used used to carry out ‘genocidal’ attacks in West Papua.
(Transcript from World News Australia Radio)
A report claims Australia provided Indonesia with helicopters which were used used to carry out ‘genocidal’ attacks in West Papua in the late 1970s.
The report by the Asian Human Rights Commission says Australian helicopters were among aircraft used to carry out napalm and cluster bombing in the West Papuan highlands.
And a warning, this report contains some disturbing material.
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The startling report claims West Papuan independence supporters were burned and boiled alive; women were raped, had their breasts cut off and internal organs pulled out; while other villagers were sliced with razors and forced to eat soldiers’ faeces.
Entitled “The Neglected Genocide – Human Rights abuses against Papuans in the Central Highlands”, the report estimates more than four-thousand people from 15 communities were killed in 1977 and 1978.
The Asian Human Rights Commission’s Basil Fernando says it’s upsetting that Indonesia and its neighbours have failed to recognise what he says was genocide.
“Such a large number of people being killed, but has not been a preoccupation for the Indonesian government as well as for the neighbouring countries – such as Australia – that is one of the most shocking aspects of this report.”
The Indonesian military launched the alleged attacks in response to West Papuan independence uprisings following 1977 general elections.
University of New South Wales West Papua expert, Associate Professor Clinton Fernandes, explains:
“In the 1970s the Indonesian military was annexing West Papua and some of the Papuans who were resisting had to be crushed by force. The Indonesian air force’s doctrine was to destroy agricultural areas, destroy foodstocks, buffaloes, paddy fields and so on. And they would use napalm and they would do that in order to starve the resistence into submission.”
The report claims two helicopters provided by Australia were used in bombing attacks on the Central Highlands villagers.
But Associate Professor Fernandes says it’s very difficult to obtain a fuller picture of Australia’s involvement in West Papua at the time because many of the relevant diplomatic cables have yet to be released.
That’s despite the fact they were due to be de-classified five years ago.
Associate Professor Fernandes says the Department of Foreign Affairs is objecting to their release on national security grounds.
“It looks like the Australian government is claiming national security problems but really is afraid of embarrassment about what the public would think of it, were it to realise how closely involved we were with the Indonesian military.”
Associate Professor Fernandes says what is known is that between 1975 and 1978 Australia spent $26-million helping to modernise the Indonesian military.
He says it’s impossible that Australian authorities didn’t know Australian choppers were being used in the attacks in West Papua.
“It’s inconceivable. Anybody who provided the helicopters as well as Australian intelligence would have been writing detailed reports about what they knew, how they’d been used and so on simply in order to inform out own intelligence services about the doctrine, training and operational capabilities of the Indonesian airforce. Bureaucrats can never say they knew nothing. It’s possible that certain high level politicians may not have read certain reports and so on but this is all the more reason for the government to declassify its holdings from the 1970s.”
Tom Clarke from the Melbourne-based Human Rights Law Centre is calling on the federal government to launch a comprehensive review of Australia’s relationship with the Indonesian military and security forces.
He says it’s not only historical ties between the two nations that are of concern.
“Detachment 88 is Indonesia’s elite counter-terrorism unit and this is a detachment that is accused of committing human rights abuses in West Papua in the last few years. So this is a unit that the Australian government provides support to. So the Human Rights Law Centre would like to see a complete review of Australia’s relationship with Indonesia’s military to make sure we’re not in any way complicit with human rights abuses.”
In a statement to SBS Radio the Department of Foreign Affairs says the contemporary human rights situation in West Papua does not resemble the situation portrayed in the Asian Human Rights Commission report.
The Department says it is unable to comment on the situation 35 years ago.
Indigenous Papuans still fight for self-determination, more than 40 years after Indonesia acquired the territory in a sham ballot
Indonesia officially acquired West Papua in 1969, after a sham ballot on independence in which only a handful of the local population were allowed to vote.
The region, which makes up the western part of the island of New Guinea to Australia’s north, was once a Dutch colony, but the Netherlands began to prepare for withdrawal in the 1950s.
In 1961, West Papuans held a congress to discuss independence and raised the West Papuan “morning star” flag.
But a newly independent Republic of Indonesia began to assert its claim over the province and a conflict broke out between Indonesia, the Netherlands and the indigenous population.
A key requirement of the treaty was that all West Papuans be allowed to vote in a referendum on independence, which was to be overseen by the UN.
But when the ballot was held in 1969, it was far from free and fair: the Indonesian military handpicked 1,026 leaders to vote on behalf of the entire population, and threatened to kill them and their families if they voted the wrong way.
In this environment, the outcome of the so-called “Act of Free Choice” was unanimous – and Indonesia’s takeover of West Papua was rubber-stamped by the UN.
Almost all indigenous Papuans reject the referendum, dubbing it the “act of no choice”, and many continue to demand a real vote on self-determination to this day.
This history forms the basis for West Papuans’ call for independence – but it is not just historical injustice that fuels the movement today.
Indigenous West Papuans face daily surveillance and intimidation by the Indonesian military and police, and many report living in constant fear. Thousands have been killed, detained and tortured since 1963.
Those who agitate for independence openly do so at a high personal cost. It is illegal to raise the morning star flag and many of the province’s leaders are sitting out long jail terms for peaceful acts of defiance.
The region has an armed movement for independence that has been responsible for the deaths of Indonesian security personnel and actively engages in armed skirmishes, but there is a much larger civil movement that is also heavily suppressed.
In October 2011, the Third Papuan People’s Congress, a civilian gathering that addressed issues of self-governance, was violently quashed by Indonesian forces. Six people were killed and dozens more injured.
Indonesia guards its “territorial integrity” jealously. And it’s no surprise – the massive Freeport McMoran gold and copper mine in West Papua is one of the country’s largest taxpayers.
For its part, Indonesia argues that since West Papua was once a part of the Dutch East Indies, it should also be part of today’s independent Indonesian Republic.
Both major Australian political parties support them in this stance.
Indonesia is seen as an important political ally for Australia, and politicians from both sides are loth to antagonise their Indonesian counterparts. Australia maintains close ties with the Indonesian military. It also provides training and funding for its counter-terror police unit, Detachment 88, which has been involved in recent crackdowns on the independence movement.
But Australia is home to a significant West Papuan community and a large network of supporters of West Papuan independence. The West Papuan Freedom Flotilla is the latest in a long history of co-operation between activists from the two countries.
West Papuan independence leader Willy Mandowen joined Jana Wendt in the studio.
Updated 23 Aug 2013
JANA WENDT: Willy Mandowen, Indonesia is offering you a form of autonomy; what`s wrong with the offer? WILLY MANDOWEN, WEST PAPUAN INDEPENDENCE LEADER: It`s insignificant, from the people`s point of aspiration. It has never been discussed thoroughly with the people, and it has been the issue that people rejected. People want full independence in West Papua.So you have decided to reject this offer outright?WILLY MANDOWEN: That`s been the decision from the people since the first dialogue with Habibie in February `99, the meeting with Gus Dur, President Wahid, on December `99, and the decision of the current congress of people of West Papua in June.
You are on your way to the South Pacific Forum – so is PM John Howard. Do you expect any support from Australia in this push for independence?
WILLY MANDOWEN: Undeniably, Australia must support West Papua. It`s a part of the body they cannot ignore. It`s geopolitical of Australia and Pacific in general. And the future of Pacific, also, very much depends on West Papua. So we would expect that the Australian Government, through the PM, would play a passive role in encouraging other states in the Pacific to look at West Papua.
You`re going to the South Pacific Forum to talk, but back in West Papua, it`s not talk anymore representing the pro-independence cause. 65 Indonesians are being held hostage by tribesmen; they`re threatening to kill them if Indonesian authorities take down the Morning Star flag. Do you support the tribesmen`s action?
WILLY MANDOWEN: The intention to kill we wouldn`t support, because it`s already stated that a peaceful dialogue, a democratic process towards independence is the basis of the freedom movement in West Papua.
But I would appreciate the fact that the world, including Australia and the Pacific states, must look at West Papua case, look at the Morning Star flag as a reflection of a longstanding decolonisation issue in the Pacific. West Papua, which has been betrayed and denied by United Nations, USA and other developed countries, that the people who try to symbolise this issue to the world, that`s why they maintain the flag.
This is some symbol – 65 hostages. And it`s not just that – we`ve already seen a bloodbath earlier this month, where your supporters slaughtered Indonesian settlers. Is this getting out of control?
WILLY MANDOWEN: I think it is another way of some introductions of militia activities, because it`s been an accumulation – it`s not only areas such as Teum, but it`s been accumulating from time to time that the issue of the flag has been used to violate the situation, including the killings of the West Papuans. I`m sure the killing of some migrants is a spontaneous thing from the people. They don`t plan that.
So it`s not a planned campaign, you`re saying. Papua People`s Congress Vice-President Tom Benau was recently quoted as saying that “every West Papuan death would be avenged by the death of an Indonesian migrant”. Do we take those sorts of comments seriously?
WILLY MANDOWEN: Some cultural groups in West Papua – you know, there is 253 local language ethnic groups – have some values that revenge is part of their way of living. When they are threatened, they have to take revenge. But I`m sure there is a common understanding of a peaceful process, through dialogue, for freedom. So there is a way that presidium of Papua council, the members, could mediate the talks with the Government, with the local people on how to deal with the issue.
But so there is, from what you`re saying, a split between those in the independence movement who prefer to use words, and those who prefer to use blood?
WILLY MANDOWEN: I think the agreement in the last Congress was that the freedom movement would proceed though democratic means; only that the dualistic, non-coherent policy from the central government, the differences between President Abdurrahman Wahid and Megawati are now reflected on the ground, that the local police took severe action to lower the flag by force. This made people unhappy, and in return, they protested because of this non-coherent policy.
December 1 is planned as a very big day for you – another flag-raising ceremony. If Indonesian authorities intervene, what will happen?
WILLY MANDOWEN: Indonesian authorities look at West Papuans as people – the people that has the right to raise the flag. December 1, I think not only Indonesia but the world should look, and I`m sure that it would go peacefully, except the Indonesian military police are taking very severe actions of oppression towards the people.
In 1983, Andy Ayamiseba and the rest of the Black Brothers band descended from their flight to Port Vila’s Bauer Field airport, to be greeted by the entire cabinet of the newly fledged government of Vanuatu. They were, by Melanesian standards, superstars. They had come to assist Father Walter Lini’s Vanua’ku Pati in its first re-election campaign, and to pass on the message of freedom for West Papua. So began a relationship that would span a lifetime of activism, a liberation dream long deferred, and ultimately, a first glimmer of hope for political legitimacy for the West Papuan liberation movement.
The Black Brothers were already widely known and loved in Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. Touring PNG in the late 1970s, the band members first met Vanuatu independence figures, including Hilda Lini, Kalkot Mataskelekele and Charles Hakwa. Students at the University of Papua New Guinea at the time, they returned to Vanuatu to play key roles in Vanuatu’s move to independence.
A generation later, it’s hard to imagine the immediacy, the passion and the dynamism of the time. Kalkot Mataskelekele, who would later serve as Solicitor General and on the Supreme Court bench before becoming the republic’s 6th president, was a young firebrand operating a pirate radio service from the bush north of the capital. Hilda Lini, sister to two prime ministers and the first woman elected to Vanuatu’s parliament, was a tireless organiser, working behind the scenes to promote what would become the Vanua’ku Pati.
In hindsight, it seems almost inevitable that the dynamism of this callow young political leadership would mesh and meld with the creative iconoclasm of the Black Brothers. But it had to wait before it reached its full fruition. In 1980 the Indonesian government expelled Ayamiseba and the other band members. Stateless, they sought shelter in the Netherlands. Hilda Lini had contacted them in 1980 during a visit to Europe, but it wasn’t until 1983 that they obtained refugee status and official residency. Finally able to travel again, their first destination was Vanuatu.
It was a triumphal entry. They were welcomed by Father Walter Lini’s government and a large crowd of adoring fans. Likewise, on their first visit to Solomon Islands, the roads were so packed that it took the group two hours to get from the airport into town. Their concert the next day was attended by 28,000 fans.
This week’s visit to Honiara will be somewhat more low-key, and yet perhaps more epochal than the original Black Brothers crusade. With funding and official support from the government of Vanuatu, independence leaders John Ondawame and Andy Ayamiseba are continuing their tour of Melanesian Spearhead Group members, soliciting support for membership in the sub-regional organisation. The West Papua National Coalition of Liberation, or WPNCL, is an amalgam of two previously divergent wings of the OPM (in English, the Organisation for Papuan Freedom) and a number of political groups advocating for West Papuan independence. Having met already with the Fijian and Vanuatu prime ministers as well as the incoming chair of the MSG and head of the FLNKS, Andy and John are hopeful that their meetings with Solomon Islands prime minister Darcy Lilo will be equally fruitful. In an interview last week, Ayamiseba explained that he had met and befriended Lilo during his sojourn in Honiara in the mid-90s.
Should Solomon Islands decide to voice its support for WPNCL membership in the MSG, most of the political hurdles will have been cleared for what might prove to be the first crack of light through the doorway of political legitimacy for the cause.
Arguably, the critical opening came weeks before, when Sir Michael Somare voiced the opinion that the MSG is not an intergovernmental organisation, but an organisation of peoples, joined by culture and geography. The statement, made during a celebration of the MSG 25th anniversary, came as a surprise to some. In 2008, it was Somare who flatly blocked a motion to consider West Papuan membership in the MSG. (Admittedly, the motion was ill-timed and ill-prepared. Ayamiseba himself admits that his group had no prior knowledge, and were caught by surprise when it was tabled.)
Political legitimacy for West Papuan independence in the Pacific has long been subject to the vicissitudes of Melanesian politics. While Ayamiseba’s group were the darlings of the Vanua’ku Pati, and by extension the government of Vanuatu, the association came at a price. They were expelled from the country following the party’s schism in 1989, forcing Andy to seek asylum, first in Australia, then in Solomon Islands. His friendship with then-PM Mamaloni notwithstanding, efforts to further the independence movement stalled.
Progress elsewhere in the world was also stymied by realpolitik. In 1986, even nations such as Ghana, which had objected to the manner in which West Papua was brought under Indonesian rule, were less than responsive to overtures by John Ondawame, who had officially joined the independence movement’s leadership following its reunification the year before in Port Vila.
It is saddening to observe that, despite the fact that it clearly flouted international law in its annexation of the territory, no country outside of Melanesia offered significant criticism of Indonesia’s actions in West Papua. Not, at least, until new media and the internet began to break down the wall of silence that had been erected around the territory. But even in the face of clearly documented torture, assassination and political oppression, many nations are still loth to legitimise the independence movement.
Even in Vanuatu, arguably the home of West Papuan independence, the road to freedom has been a long one, as full of pitfalls and obstacles as Port Vila’s physical thoroughfares – and sometimes, just as poorly managed. When Barak Sope became prime minister in 2000, he brought together nine members of the West Papuan leadership and brokered an accord that would finally bring all independence efforts under one roof. Later that year, his delegation to the UN General Assembly included three West Papuans, two OPM members and one from the Presidium. There, in an alarming example of fervour trumping political savvy, they met with the Cuban delegation.
For all of his energy, support and contributions to Melanesian identity, Barak Sope’s political ineptitude soon brought his government down. His failure even to produce a budget caused significant domestic turmoil, which effectively forced West Papua onto the back burner. It wasn’t until 2003 that foreign affairs minister Serge Vohor welcomed back the Black Brothers, and facilitated the opening of the West Papuan People’s Representative Office, a front for the OPM.
Even then, international awareness and support were limited. Vanuatu continued to fumble the issue, balking at formal political support while continuing to express public sympathy and tacit approval. Elsewhere, tribal leader Benny Wenda’s escape from Indonesian custody and flight to the UK opened another front in the campaign. Indonesia did itself no favours when it abused the INTERPOL red list by listing Wenda as a criminal.
For several years, the movement seemed paralysed, unable to organise itself, beset by legal constraints and barely able to manage its own processes. Vanuatu politicians proved fickle, with VP president Edward Natapei voicing support but doing little. Ham Lini, whose personal commitment to the cause remains strong, was unwilling to expend more political capital on the effort after the 2008 MSG debacle. Sato Kilman, the next prime minister in line, wilfully ignored the advice of his own cabinet, supporting Voreqe Bainimarama’s move to allow Indonesia observer status at the organisation.
Quietly persistent, Ayamiseba and Ondawame continued their efforts. Its moral cause made clearer by stark images of torture and brutality circulated by West Papua Media and others, the leadership (under the auspices of the WPNCL) organised an international tour for Benny Wenda, whose travel restrictions were lifted following legal and media campaigns against Indonesia’s INTERPOL warrant. Even Wenda’s rebuff by the New Zealand parliament only fanned the flames of support. His invitation to speak to MPs inside Vanuatu’s parliament was the first of a series of small but significant breakthroughs. Notably, soon-to-be prime minister Moana Carcasses’ attendance at the event was the first public sign of his political break with Kilman.
A naturalised citizen of Tahitian descent, Carcasses perhaps felt the need to placate the nativist inclination common among Ni Vanuatu. Nonetheless, allowing himself to be photographed holding the Morning Star flag (a key symbol of West Papuan independence) symbolised a shift from sympathy to overt political support for the movement. In one of his first acts as prime minister, Carcasses met with Ayamiseba and Ondawame, personally assuring them of his government’s support in their MSG membership bid, and promising the creation of a West Papua desk in the department of foreign affairs.
Arriving as it did on the heels of a surprisingly warm and supportive reception by Bainimarama and other Fiji government officials, the independence movement appeared finally to be seeing the light of day. Outspoken and unambiguous support for membership from the Kanaky leadership was not nearly as surprising; they’ve formally supported independence since the 1990s. Nonetheless, with the FLNKS assuming the group chair shortly, Kanaky support could prove crucial.
At the risk of counting chickens, it seems that the only remaining piece to fall into place is Papua New Guinea. Wenda’s visit to PNG earlier this year did manage to cement some amount of popular support, but achieved few tangible political results. The tea leaves are few and hard to read, but it’s hard to imagine that Somare’s rather startling shift away from outright opposition would have been made were it to cause discomfort in the PNG political establishment.
One of the more popular songs Ayamiseba wrote for the Black Brothers is ‘Liklik Hope Tasol’, a ballad written in Tok Pisin whose title translates to ‘Little Hope At All’. Its narrator lies awake in the early morning hours, the victim of despair. Only the vision of the morning star and the first birds breaking the pre-dawn hush provide the impetus to survive another day. The song, with its clear political imagery and simplistic evocation of strength in adversity, is quite clearly autobiographical. It is, arguably, the anthem which has animated Ayamiseba’s lifelong pursuit of freedom.
Andy Ayamiseba is old now. While his encroaching frailty complements his unassuming, soft-spoken manner, it masks a dynamism and fervour that only appears after numerous conversations. Once lit, however, that spark provides a momentary glimpse of the man that was, the jazz-funk rebel, walking in his exile hand in hand with equally youthful –and equally naïve– leaders, themselves burdened with defining their respective societies.
What beggars description, though, is the determination required for Ayamiseba and his West Papuan brethren to spend their entire adult lives in pursuit of legitimacy, with only the slightest glint of light to show for that effort. May 1st marks the 50th anniversary of West Papua’s original declaration of independence. Barring any more political missteps or forays into ill-considered revolutionary activity, the coming year might be the one in which its political aspirations begin to be fulfilled. Says Ayamiseba, “You cannot stay blind and deaf for 50 years.”