We Live In Terror, Mr Abbott


“People seeking to grandstand against Indonesia, please, don't look to do it in Australia, you are not welcome … The situation in West Papua is getting better, not worse.” These are the words of Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott on 7 October.

Tony Abbott is wrong, and his words are extremely hurtful to the people of Papua. The situation for the Indigenous population of Papua is getting progressively worse, not better. Even Lukas Enembe, the governor of Papua, has stated that the province is experiencing a decline in key areas such as health, education and the economy.

Enembe also acknoweldges the well known fact that Papuans are an increasing minority in their own land.

Space for even some minimal semblance of democracy in Papua has been absolutely closed and the state of Indonesia continues to commit atrocities against the Indigenous people. For instance, Alpius Mote, aged 17 years, was shot dead by the Indonesian Special Police Unit BRIMOB on 23 September in Waghete, West Papua, after a number of locals voiced their objections to the arbitrary arrest and targeting of males with long beards and hair.

Then there’s the brutal military operations that have been continuing relentlessly for months in Puncak Jaya and also in Paniai to pursue those suspected of being part of the TPN/OPM. These operations have only led to the deaths of innocent civilians, such as 12-year-old Arlince Tabuni, who was shot dead on 1 July in the village of Popumo, Lani Jaya.

Lately there has also been an escalation in the level of intimidation and terrorisation of Indigenous people, and even more so of Papuan activists.

The bodies of seven more civilians were recently found — including a four-year-old and 11-year-old child — after their vehicle left Sarmi for the city of Sentani near Jayapura but never arrived. All seven bodies were found in their upturned vehicle. It is believed they had been abducted and it was reported that they were killed by what has become a common term now in Papua, "unknown assailants".

In order to hide the tyranny in Papua, the Republic of Indonesia has denied access to both international journalists and international human rights workers. Ever since Indonesia annexed Papua on 1 May 1963, it has been isolated and closed to these international groups. Indigenous Papuans, forced to live in this state of terror, are also isolated from the reach of the outside world. The violence and upheaval in their lives makes life in Indonesia for Papuans a living hell.

The Australian Prime Minister has never experienced the brutal oppression that Indigenous Papuans are forced to live under; nor has he seen first hand the real-life conditions that Indigenous Papuans suffer.

There have been constant reports of brutality and severe oppression for 50 years from Papua — would it not be right for Australia, the current Chair of the United Nations Security Council, together with its other members, to organise for a UN Special Representative to carry out an investigation into the alleged human rights violations and the political status of West Papua?

The Prime Minister of Vanuatu formally requested a UN investigation as part of his historic speech at the recent 68th session of the annual debate of the UN General Assembly in New York on 28 September.

The people of Papua can only assume that Tony Abbott’s words, “The situation in West Papua is getting better, not worse”, are the result of the influence of propaganda and provocation by the Indonesian government during his visit to Jakarta on 30 September and to Bali for attend the APEC summit in early October.

Of late, Indonesia has lifted its level of propaganda towards the international community and in particular key leaders around the world — of which the Australian Prime Minister is one — in their efforts to undermine any possibility of sympathy towards the problems of Papua. To achieve that end Indonesia has employed no small amount of resources and staff.

Of course Papuans totally appreciate the importance of the relationship between the governments of Australia and Indonesia. Furthermore, Papuans truly understand that Tony Abbott's attitude towards Papua must be one of caution, in order to protect bilateral relations.

However, as a member of the UN, and chair of the Security Council, Australia has both a legal and moral obligation to uphold and respect human rights around the world and particularly in those regions of serious concern, such as Papua. Australia cannot avoid its responsibilities to protect and respect the dignity of humanity where freedoms and the very right to life are threatened. Indigenous Papuans are heading towards the annihilation of their race due to a slow genocide.

The Australian government has been on the frontline recently in regards to the matter of Papua. On 24 September, seven Indigenous Papuans who landed as refugees at Boigu Island in the Torres Strait (including one woman who was pregnant and a 10 year-old-child) were transferred to Horn Island. After being interviewed by authorities they were given no choice of staying in Australia and were forced to choose between being sent back to Indonesia or going to PNG. They very swiftly deported to PNG.

Then, on 5 October, three young Papuan men scaled the wall of the Australian Consulate in Bali and entered the compound so as to seek Australia’s help. They then also sought refuge for themselves, despite the risk they would face from Indonesia if they were denied. In the early hours of that same morning before 7am, the three had already been told to leave the compound with the threat that the police would be called.

In being forced to leave the compound after pleading for help for Papua, of course they were terrified for their safety! Their actions could have led to torture or to a "disappearance" at the hands of the Indonesian armed forces. The Australian Senator Richard Di Natale immediately called on the Australian Government to request they be given protection but received no response. The nation of Papua finds the actions of the Australian Consulate in Bali absolutely unacceptable.

Abbott subsequently stated that the Australian government will suppress any activism in Australia that opposes Indonesia in support of West Papua. He was immediately criticised by Vanuatu’s first and former prime minister, Ati George Sokomanu, who demanded he explain his statement to the leaders of the Pacific. Sokomanu stressed that while immigration issues could be dealt with by the courts, Australia must be prepared to discuss questions of human rights.

The Australian and international communities who are concerned about the suffering of Indigenous Papuans are closely following the political direction of Abbott's cabinet.

Will Australia continue to permit Indonesia's armed forces to commit heinous acts against the Indigenous people of Papua?

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