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West Papuans now in hiding

Written By Suara Wiyaimana Papua on Senin, 15 Desember 2014 | Senin, Desember 15, 2014

Human rights lawyer, Jennifer Robinson

Human rights lawyer, Jennifer Robinson, who has been working with West Papuan asylum seekers for ten years discusses why three West Papuans scaled the fence to the Australian Consulate in Bali over the weekend and where they are likely to be now.


EMMA ALBERICI, PRESENTER: The three West Papuans who entered the Australian consulate in Bali over the weekend are now said to be in hiding in fear for their lives.
Exactly what happened after they scaled the two-metre high fence of the Australian compound in the early hours of Sunday morning remains the subject of debate.
Prime Minister Abbott insists the activists left of their own accord after delivering a letter. 
Reports from those in touch with the men say the Consul-General Brett Farmer warned that the Indonesian Army would be called if they didn't leave.

Human rights lawyer Jennifer Robinson has been working with West Papuan asylum seekers, including leader-in-exile Benny Wenda, for more than a decade. She's a member of the group International Lawyers for West Papua and she's the director of legal advocacy at the Bertha Foundation in London. She joins us now from our office in Westminster.
Jennifer Robinson, welcome to Lateline.

EMMA ALBERICI: The West Papuan issue is on our doorstep and involves our biggest and most important neighbour. How much recognition does the independence cause have in the rest of the world?

JENNIFER ROBINSON: It is increasingly gaining recognition, I think, particularly within the Melanesian Spearhead Group and other countries within the region. But historically, Australia has always supported Indonesia's claimed territorial integrity. The background context to this current dispute is of course the disputed territory of West Papua, which was annexed by Indonesia in circumstances that international law academics have said amount to a grave breach of the right to self-determination. Since that time, it's estimated that more hundreds of thousands of West Papuans have been killed by Indonesian forces. And that repression and discrimination continues today. So it's in that context that the three West Papuans entered the consulate seeking protection from Australia and seeking that Australia starts raising human rights concerns in light of this ongoing human rights abuse.

EMMA ALBERICI: Now you represent the leader of the Free West Papua movement, who now has political asylum in Britain. He recently said the entire province had been enslaved by the Indonesian military and he described the situation as genocide. What's the evidence for that?

JENNIFER ROBINSON: It's not just Benny Wenda who's making the claim of genocide. Academics at Sydney University have also made the claim that it is a slow-moving genocide. This is on the basis that it's a heavily militarised region, and as I said before, hundreds of thousands of people have been killed or disappeared by the Indonesian forces. Today the situation remains incredibly difficult. Peaceful activists who dare to speak out against human rights abuse, or more sensitively for Indonesia, raise concerns about asking for a referendum for self-determination, are routinely arrested, beaten and tortured. This is a very serious situation and one that the international community has not to date paid sufficient attention to.

EMMA ALBERICI: I know you haven't spoken directly to the three West Papuan men who entered the Australian consulate in Bali over the weekend, but what do you think they were hoping to achieve by their act?

JENNIFER ROBINSON: I understand that they are now in Bali in hiding out of concern for their safety. It is clear from the face of the open letter that they published - that has been published in The Guardian that they were seeking that the Australian Government raise human rights concerns in West Papua and ask Indonesia to allow international observers and foreign journalists entry to West Papua to verify what's going on. Now, they were not going to ask for independence; they were going to seek these very legitimate concerns. It is within the power of the Australian Government, and indeed other governments in the region, to raise these legitimate human rights concerns with Indonesia. If the situation is, as Tony Abbott said today, getting better and not worse, then it shouldn't be a problem. It's only logical that they ought to have foreign observers and international organisations in there to verify that fact.

EMMA ALBERICI: What was your reaction to the Prime Minister's other comments today that people seeking to grandstand against Indonesia are not welcome in Australia?

JENNIFER ROBINSON: Prime Minister Abbott's responses, both on his trip to Indonesia last week and more recently in response to this request, show that he has no commitment to free speech. Mr Abbott has promised Indonesia that he will take harsh measures against protestors in Australia, and last time I checked, we were a free country in Australia, unlike Indonesia, and free to speak out publically on matters of political opinion and indeed to peacefully protest. So that Mr Abbott would make those assurances to Indonesia is merely an empty promise and would only serve to reinforce Indonesia's mistrust of Australia. Either that, or he's proposing to undermine the free speech protections that we enjoy in Australia.

EMMA ALBERICI: Australia though has responsibilities under the Lombok Treaty it signed with Indonesia in 2006 to be a good neighbour and not to interfere in Indonesia's internal affairs.

JENNIFER ROBINSON: That's correct. But asking about human rights concerns and asking for international observers to have access to West Papua is not only consistent with our supposedly human rights-based foreign policy, but it's in Indonesia's own interest. If, as Indonesia claims, that West Papua is a safe place, that there are no human rights abuses in West Papua, then it should not be a problem to have access for international organisations. If - again, if Mr Abbott is going to claim that the situation in West Papua is improving, then let us see proof of that. If he is indeed relying on Indonesian Government assurances, we know from the past, for example, the Indonesian Government asserted that there were no political prisoners in Indonesia, but we know for a fact that there are at least - more than 50 political prisoners in Indonesian prisons in West Papua at present. So Mr Abbott ought not be relying entirely on Indonesian Government assurances of that fact.

EMMA ALBERICI: And just by way of background, Jennifer, a referendum on the takeover of West Papua was held in 1969, but the members of the Free Papua Movement have long argued that that was rigged by the Indonesian military. What role has the United Nations played in trying to resolve this issue that's now more than 40 years on?

JENNIFER ROBINSON: Shamefully, the United Nations turned a blind eye at that time to Indonesia's whitewash in that vote for self-determination. As a matter of international law, Indonesia was required to provide the people of West Papua a vote for self-determination which complied with international law, which meant that every person over the age of 18 had a vote. In that vote, only 1,000 people were rounded up and forced to vote in favour of integration with Indonesia under threat of violence. UN officials that were present at the time have since admitted that it was a whitewash, and as I said before, international academics have said that it was a grave breach of international law. The Free West Papua campaign and indeed a widespread civic-led movement within West Papua are calling on the UN to revisit that referendum and to provide them the vote they ought to have been provided in the late '60s. And it is Indonesia's sensitivity towards the risk of this happening, that is why they don't want international observers and they don't want foreign journalists in the province.

EMMA ALBERICI: We're out of time. Jennifer Robinson, thanks so much.

JENNIFER ROBINSON: You're very welcome.

Resource: http://www.abc.net.au/lateline/content/2013/s3864155.
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