Sunday, April 30, 2006

Australia: One step forward – two steps back

Amnesty International is calling on the Australian Government to immediately halt proposed changes to its Migration Act. "The changes were announced on 13 April by the Minister for Immigration, Senator Amanda Vanstone, and are expected to go before parliament in May. According to information available, Amnesty International believes that the effect of the proposed amendments will be to penalise all asylum seekers who arrive in Australia by boat by taking them to remote off shore detention centres for processing. This would be in breach of the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, as well as a denial of their basic human rights under international human rights law.

Australia potentially in breach of its international obligations Amnesty International considers that the involuntary transfer of persons to another country for asylum processing is inherently unlawful and the risk of human rights abuses in the course of the transfer and following the transfer is high.

Australia's commitments under the 1951 UN Refugee Convention include that it must not penalise asylum-seekers based on their method of arrival. The use of offshore processing for boat arrivals does not meet Australia's international obligations as transferring asylum seekers to detention centres in remote, offshore locations constitutes a form of punishment.

The proposed changes deny asylum-seekers arriving by boat both legal assistance and the right to an independent appeals process. Australia already has a well established refugee status determination system and all asylum seekers, regardless of their mode of arrival, must be entitled to access this system and must be treated equally and without discrimination. Australia’s commitments under human rights law are engaged as soon as a person seeking asylum enters its territory or it exercises jurisdiction over such persons.

The Australian Government’s treatment of asylum-seekers, including those who may be eventually rejected for asylum, has been a matter of grave concern. Past experience has shown that individuals have been held in what can only be characterised as arbitrary and potentially indefinite detention, or at least subjected to unlawful restrictions on their freedom of movement. The psychological impact of indefinite detention is irrefutable and prolonged detention in such conditions may amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

In 2005 Australia introduced a number of important and necessary reforms to its detention policy which included the release of children from immigration detention centres. Now Amnesty International is concerned that, despite overwhelming evidence of the human suffering caused in the past by Australia’s mandatory detention regime, these significant gains will be lost.

A poor example to the region and the world Amnesty International believes that the proposed legislative changes represent a short-sighted approach to stemming the flow of asylum-seekers, without addressing the human rights abuses which cause them to flee their home country. By signalling that human rights can be secondary to national interests, Australia would provide a green light to its neighbours to similarly disregard human rights when it suits them. Ultimately this may result in growing numbers of people fleeing their homelands due to human rights violations or moving on from places of first asylum to other countries. Australia’s proposed legislative changes make a farce of its participation in international efforts aimed at persuading other countries to respect the needs and rights of asylum seekers.

In a press briefing on 18 April, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) also expressed concern that persons who should fall under the jurisdiction of Australian law and have their claims processed in Australia, will be taken offshore for assessment of their claims. The agency indicated that would set ‘an unfortunate precedent’ for Australia to deflect elsewhere its responsibilities to asylum-seekers and refugees, particularly given that Australia has a fully functioning and credible asylum system and is not facing anything approximating a mass influx of asylum seekers.

This is not the first time Australia has evaded its international obligations. In August 2001, the Norwegian freighter MV Tampa rescued more than 430 people from a dilapidated Indonesian fishing boat in distress off Australia´s Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean. The Australian authorities responded by refusing their disembarkation on Australian land territory, in spite of the fact that the captain of the Tampa had indicated that some were in serious medical distress. Most of them were Afghan asylum seekers. Their widely-reported ordeal led to subsequent changes in Australian refugee policy characterised by a serious disregard for human dignity.

These and further asylum seekers were subsequently transferred to two small Pacific Islands of Nauru and Manus Island (a territory of Papua New Guinea) for off shore processing, after Australia offered these countries bilateral aid. This approach became known as ''the Pacific Solution''.

Other boat arrivals to or near Australian territory were also later diverted to these islands. A majority of the 1547 asylum-seekers transferred for off-shore processing were eventually granted refugee status by both the Australian government and UNHCR (who predominantly processed those from the MV Tampa). The majority now live in Australia with smaller numbers in other safe countries. However, five years on, two Iraqis who have been granted refugee status by the UNHCR (after being recognised by the Australian authorities) still remain in detention on Nauru.

Amnesty International raised concern that the Tampa incident set a negative precedent and might lead other governments to evade their obligations under international refugee and human rights law in a similar manner. This is indeed what has occurred. In 2003, the United Kingdom government developed a proposal to send asylum seekers arriving in the UK to transit processing centres in other countries in states bordering, but outside, the European Union (EU). The EU also considered adopting a similar plan of action. Neither of these proposals was ever implemented, due to serious questions as to their legitimacy under international law.

More recently, the negative trend has continued with Italy and Libya signing agreements for the construction of three facilities in Libya, apparently for the purposes of processing asylum-seekers and migrants who attempt to reach Italy by boat, although the exact purpose for which these facilities will be used has not been disclosed by the Italian government.

These proposals and measures have had the effect of diminishing the value of the institution of asylum and the rights of asylum seekers and refugees. Such proposals are not justified by growing numbers of asylum-seekers: UNHCR states in its report on the State of the World’s Refugees 2006 that levels of asylum-seekers entering industrialised countries has diminished significantly in recent years. In the case of Australia, the number has fallen from around 4,000 in 2000-2001 to only 54 in 2005-20065. In 2004-2005, there was not a single asylum seeker who arrived without authorisation by boat.

Amnesty International continues to oppose any form of off-shore and extraterritorial processing and considers it in stark breach of fundamental human rights and refugee law obligations."

Friday, April 28, 2006

trust me...

Nicholson cartoons

A Just Australia - call to action

AJA is asking Australians to protest proposed changes to the Migration Act. The Australian Government recently announced that it would be making changes to refugee policy to allow for all asylum seekers arriving by boat to be processed in offshore locations and resettlement to be sought in ‘third’ countries. This would be accompanied by a tightening of maritime surveillance between Australia and West Papua to ensure that boats carrying asylum seeking would be repelled from Australian waters.

AJA calls upon the Australian Government to reconsider these proposed changes and recommit Australia to adhere to international law and the principles of human rights, and to our moral obligation to help refugees in need, particularly those coming from neighbouring countries.

I recommend perusing the AJA site for more information on action you can take.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Indonesia: Supreme Court should set clear guidelines in death penalty review

Following is a statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) on the April 17, 2006 decision of the Indonesian Supreme Court that a five-member panel of judges would review the case of three men on death row in Poso, Central Sulawesi:

"Although the men--Fabianus Tibo, Dominggus Da Silva and Don Marinus Riwu--were sentenced for inciting communal conflict in Poso in 2000, the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has previously raised concerns regarding incongruities in their trial. Furthermore, new evidence regarding the conflict has since come to light, seemingly indicating the involvement of police and army officers.

Under these circumstances, the AHRC appreciates the Supreme Court's decision to review the case, particularly as the court had rejected an earlier appeal for review. The reason for rejection was that the men's first appeal for clemency was rejected by President Yudhoyono on November 10, 2005; according to Indonesian law, the president's decision is final. In fact, there has never been a second review of any case in the Indonesian legal tradition. The Supreme Court's decision to review this case has therefore caused confusion among legal practitioners as well as civil society. The Attorney General for instance, has already dismissed any new ruling by the panel and stated that his office is preparing for the men's execution.

The lack of legal procedure however, cannot justify the execution of these men. The Supreme Court should therefore issue clear guidelines to the government, in particular the Attorney General, to stay all proceedings until the review is completed. Under no circumstances should the three men be executed while the review is proceeding. Any uncertainty regarding the procedure in this case--there being no previous instances to follow--must not be allowed to negatively affect the rights of the victims. It is up to the court to take initiative in this instance. It must clarify whether the five-member panel will review the judgment sentencing the men, or whether it will consider the new evidence that has come to light. The Supreme Court must then issue corresponding instructions to the relevant government agencies and these communications must be made public.

Such initiative by the court will serve as a useful opportunity to assert its authority and gain public confidence. Past political history has affected the Indonesian judiciary's ability to command other government institutions. This has resulted in these agencies' confusion regarding their roles in implementing judicial decisions. It is therefore even more necessary for the Supreme Court in this instance to issue clear guidelines as to the legal procedure to be followed, including which government agencies are to be responsible for enforcing the guidelines.

It is important for civil society to also be involved in this matter. The AHRC calls upon all legal professionals as well as human rights activists to closely monitor the review and relevant developments. In particular, the national human rights commission Komnas HAM, must take an active role in pursuing this case. It would be a gross violation of human rights if people died due to a lack of procedure."

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Take action now to oppose changes to refugee policy

Dear reader

Amnesty International, of which I am a member, is calling for help to raise concerns with proposed changes to refugee policy under development by the Howard Government.

On 13 April 2006 the Federal Government announced harsh changes to the treatment of asylum seekers who arrive by boat.

Amnesty International Australia believes these changes undermine Australia's international human rights obligations. AIA is particularly concerned that:

asylum seekers who arrive by boat will be sent to offshore detention centres for processing, and even those determined to be refugees, will remain there indefinitely until a 'third country' accepts them;
boats of asylum seekers will be forced to return to the very places they fled, facing the risk of abuse, torture or worse;
children will be back in detention behind razor wire.
It is likely that these laws will be passed when Parliament sits again from 9 May. This is why I urge you to act quickly on this issue.

We have a very limited window to mobilise pressure on the government to stop this inhumanity. We could not do this without your support.

Take action now. Tell the Government that laws that deny basic human rights to refugees and asylum seekers are unacceptable.

Asylum seekers 'forced into life of poverty'

This blog has reported previously on the plight of asylum seekers living on the margins of our society in the twilight zone provided by Temporary Protection Visas.

The Age reports "more than 2000 asylum seekers are living in a state of forced destitution without the right to work or access Medicare, according to statistics obtained from the Immigration Department.

Under a controversial rule introduced in 1997, asylum seekers on certain visas are provided with no medical or income support and are forbidden from working, forcing them to rely entirely on charities for their survival. Some have been on these visas for years.

Critics claim the visa conditions are draconian and asylum seekers without a support network face poverty, homelessness and severe health problems if left untreated."

Monday, April 24, 2006

Victory vindicates my stand on asylum seekers: Georgiou

The Australian reports "PETRO Georgiou believes his landslide preselection victory in the seat of Kooyong is a win for his support of asylum-seekers and the "broad church" of the Liberal Party...Behind closed doors, Mr Georgiou highlighted his role to preselectors in ensuring women and children were no longer held in detention, a vow that could come under threat if the Government pushes ahead with a policy to force all asylum-seekers into offshore processing centres if they arrive by boat.

Former prime minister Malcolm Fraser said the Kooyong result was a clear endorsement of "the liberal stance he has taken on a number of issues, most notably asylum-seekers and children in detention".

"I think it's got some implications for the new policy on Papuan refugees," Mr Fraser told The Australian.

"As I understand it, it will put children in detention somewhere offshore."

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Changes to asylum processing a step backwards – Catholic Bishop

The federal government’s move to process all asylum seekers offshore was a step backwards and placed Australia’s international obligations at risk, a Catholic bishop said today.

Bishop Joseph Grech, the Chairman of the Bishops’ Committee for Migrants and Refugees, said Australians would be shocked and disappointed if the government’s new policy saw children especially again being sent to detention centres.

“Last year, the community spoke out very loudly and clearly in support of removing children from detention centres,” Bishop Grech said.

“The government listened to the people and acted humanely to free children.

“Now, seemingly because of external pressure, the government is reversing its decision and planning to process all asylum claims in offshore centres”

Bishop Grech said that the West Papuan asylum seekers granted temporary visas this month had been assessed by the proper authorities and found to have genuine claims.

“We simply shouldn’t be in a position where pressure from foreign governments leads to changes in our own immigration policy,” he said.

“I call on the prime minister to reconsider the planned policy change and to fulfil Australia’s international asylum processing obligations on our own soil, treating those who seek our protection with the care and dignity they deserve.”

UN Concerned About New Asylum Measures in Australia

Voice of America reports "the U.N. refugee agency is expressing concern about proposed new measures by the Australian government to tighten its border control to deal with new boat arrivals. Under the proposed new legislation, it says all people arriving by boat would be transferred offshore to have their asylum claims processed.

The U.N. refugee agency says it has not seen the proposed legislation, but says a press statement from Australia's immigration ministry outlining the main aspects of the new policy raises many concerns.

UNHCR Spokeswoman Jennifer Pagonis says under the new legislation anyone arriving by boat on the mainland or in the so-called offshore excised area would have his or her asylum claim processed offshore...Pagonis says not knowing how the offshore processing procedure would be handled is of particular concern.

She says if it is not done in conformity with the 1951 Refugee Convention, asylum seekers arriving by boat might not get a fair hearing. And some genuine refugees might not get the international protection to which they are entitled. She says the asylum seeker might be penalized for entering the country illegally."

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Canberra joins the people traffickers

The newest version of the "Pacific solution" doesn't stand up to scrutiny, writes Frank Brennan (professor of law at the Australian Catholic University and professor of human rights and social justice at the University of Notre Dame Australia) in the SMH.

"Under the Howard Government's Easter 2006 proposal, a Papuan reaching the Australian mainland, directly fleeing persecution without the use of people smugglers, would be moved to Nauru or Manus Island for processing. If we presume upon the integrity of the public servants and the decision-making, the same decision would ultimately be made and Australia would recognise the Papuan to be a refugee. Under the Refugee Convention, we could not send the Papuan back to Indonesia.

No other country would have a higher duty than Australia to receive that person for resettlement, given that he or she fled directly to our shores. Just as the 42 Papuans have now settled in Melbourne after being processed on Christmas Island, so, too, the future Papuan asylum seeker would have to be settled in Australia...Perhaps the Government thinks that by moving the decision-making offshore, it can be tampered with. Some, or all, of the 42 could be found not to be refugees if processed in Nauru or Manus Island.

If those found to be refugees are to be resettled in third countries (other than Australia to which they fled directly), our Government will need to offer financial incentives to poorer countries to receive them. This is people trafficking. Why else would other countries receive a handful of refugees who have directly fled to Australia seeking asylum?"

Monday, April 17, 2006

Amnesty International Australia: Changes to Australia's Migration Act

Amnesty International Australia has strongly condemned the Australian Government's proposed changes to the Migration Act, announced on 13 April by the Minister for Immigration, Senator Amanda Vanstone.

"In spite of the exposed human suffering under Australia's mandatory detention regime in recent years, through for example the Palmer Inquiry, the Government is now proposing to send asylum seekers to remote and isolated detention centres, rather than address the many shortfalls of its immigration detention regime in Australia", said Amnesty International Australia's Refugee Coordinator, Dr Graham

"Today's announcement is nothing short of a travesty of justice and a flagrant disregard both for the strong community support across Australia for legitimate refugees and for Australia's international obligations".

"The Australian Government is now prepared to penalise people who seek to exercise a fundamental right to seek asylum - by taking individuals to a remote location and placing them in detention, and denying them legal assistance and the right to an independent appeals process".

Australia already has a well established Refugee Status Determination system and all asylum seekers, regardless of their mode of arrival, must be entitled to access this system. All asylum seekers must be treated equally.

Australia's commitment under the International Refugee Convention Australia is that it will not penalise refugees based on their method of arrival. Article 31 of this Convention requires that States do not impose such penalties - the continued use of offshore processing for boat arrivals does not meet Australia's international obligations.

"Following the Palmer Inquiry, Australia introduced a number of important and necessary reforms to its detention policy – we ask the Government do these reforms apply to asylum seekers detained offshore? What will the independent oversight be of these people turned away from Australia, yet who need our protection? Can we receive guarantees that we will not see another Cornelia Rau situation, only this time to be detained in remote Baxter but an offshore island?

"Once people are recognised as refugees, Australia must not detain them under international law and as such, we have serious concerns for anyone recognised under this process, given the delays that will occur, if indeed, any third country is willing to accept them".

Amnesty International is concerned that legislative changes such as those proposed today by the Australian Government represent an approach to stemming the flow of asylum seekers without addressing the human rights abuses which cause these people to flee.

Media contact : Karen Trentini 0422 869 439 or (02) 9217 7620

Howard engenders 'an atmosphere of hopelessness'

Frank Walker, writing in the SMH, exposes the ethical wasteland wrought by the Howard govt.

"Religious leaders have chosen Easter to attack the Howard Government for its record on human rights and aid for the less fortunate.

Several prominent church leaders from various denominations said the message of Easter was in sharp contrast to the actions of the Federal Government, particularly in relation to asylum seekers.

Uniting Church president Dean Drayton said the Government's latest decision to deport asylum seekers showed it was willing to allow human decency to drop off the political agenda...The Anglican Bishop of Newcastle, the Right Reverend Brian Farran, said there was an atmosphere of hopelessness in Australian society.

"We hear comments such as 'close down borders' and 'shut down emotions', and that shut-down approach is being led by the Prime Minister. There is a sense of hopelessness about him.

"The mood needs a huge injection of hope and this is the revelation of Easter."

Saturday, April 15, 2006

We're 'just' friends...

Bill Leak in The Australian

Fortress Australia - asylum seekers not welcome

The federal government's changes to the asylum-seeker processing system, to be announced today, are an "alarming overreaction" according to Head of the Refugee and Immigration Legal Centre, David Manne, who says the tough new rules will usher in a new era of "extremity and cruelty in our treatment of refugees."

The changes "represent a clear cut incontrovertible breach of our obligations," Manne told Crikey this morning. "It effectively defines the whole Australian territory as an excised or dehumanized zone, where basic fundamental human rights do not apply".

THE Federal Government will use submarines, warships, spy planes and top-secret radars and satellites to stop West Papuan refugees from reaching Australia.

In a multi-agency strategy, the military will work with Customs, Coastwatch and Fisheries to target illegal fishermen as well as asylum seekers.

The Uniting Church says the Federal Government's proposed changes to the processing of asylum seekers are an act of moral abandonment.

Amnesty International has condemned proposed changes to Australian immigration laws, that will see all future asylum seekers arriving by boat processed offshore.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Australia: Changes to Australia's Migration Act a travesty of justice

Amnesty International Australia strongly condemned the Australian Government’s proposed changes to the Migration Act, announced today by the Minister for Immigration, Senator Amanda Vanstone.

"In spite of the exposed human suffering under Australia’s mandatory detention regime in recent years, through for example the Palmer Inquiry, the Government is now proposing to send asylum seekers to remote and isolated detention centres, rather than address the many shortfalls of its immigration detention regime in Australia”, said Amnesty International Australia’s Refugee Coordinator, Dr Graham Thom.

"Today's announcement is nothing short of a travesty of justice and a flagrant disregard both for the strong community support across Australia for legitimate refugees and for Australia's international obligations”.

"The Australian Government is now prepared to penalise people who seek to exercise a fundamental right to seek asylum - by taking individuals to a remote location and placing them in detention, and denying them legal assistance and the right to an independent appeals process".

Australia already has a well established Refugee Status Determination system and all asylum seekers, regardless of their mode of arrival, must be entitled to access this system. All asylum seekers must be treated equally.

Australia's commitment under the International Refugee Convention Australia is that it will not penalise refugees based on their method of arrival. Article 31 of this Convention requires that States do not impose such penalties - the continued use of offshore processing for boat arrivals does not meet Australia's international obligations.

"Following the Palmer Inquiry, Australia introduced a number of important and necessary reforms to its detention policy – we ask the Government do these reforms apply to asylum seekers detained offshore? What will the independent oversight be of these people turned away from Australia, yet who need our protection? Can we receive guarantees that we will not see another Cornelia Rau situation, only this time to be detained in remote Baxter but an offshore island?

"Once people are recognised as refugees, Australia must not detain them under international law and as such, we have serious concerns for anyone recognised under this process, given the delays that will occur, if indeed, any third country is willing to accept them".

Amnesty International is concerned that legislative changes such as those proposed today by the Australian Government represent an approach to stemming the flow of asylum seekers without addressing the human rights abuses which cause these people to flee.

Malcolm Fraser accuses Govt of pandering to worst instincts

ABC reports "former Liberal prime minister Malcolm Fraser has accused the Federal Government of changing its policy on processing asylum seekers to suit Indonesia. Treasurer Peter Costello has signalled the Government is considering sending all asylum seekers who arrive in Australia to offshore processing centres as the Government tries to improve relations with Indonesia...Under the Cabinet's changes, an applicant's claim for asylum be treated the same as others in overseas UN camps and review processes under Australian law would not apply.

Mr Fraser says while the policy changes might be in step with the mood of the public, it is critical the Government should lead and not follow in certain decisions.

"If they are to follow then it will be a question of pandering to the worst instincts of Australians rather than encouraging the best instincts of Australians," he said."

This blog has repeatedly pointed to the low wedge politics Howard resorts to whenever the public spotlight is shon on his government's flagrant disregard for human rights in this area. The buttons are pushed, the polls go up, and the ignorance and fear of a large slice of the voting public are shamelessly manipulated for political advantage.

I met a Bosnian muslim the other day, an artist and master house painter, who has been an Australian citizen for many years. He despairs over the way muslims have been demonised by these policies. He is wary of mentioning his origins around his workplace because of the anger and bigotry he hears all the time. People escaping tyrannical regimes and war zones have been subjected to vilification and punishment by an Australian government shoring up its fading popularity by being tough on 'boat people'. Now we are going to adopt a similar approach to Papuans fleeing systematic abuses in their homeland.

In the name of natural justice I hope the people responsible for this disgrace will be held accountable one day. Australia should be referred to the UN for serial violations of the rights of refugees.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Indonesia-Australia: A boom and bust relationship?: - An alternative view from Jakarta

Jusuf Wanandi,vice chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Jakarta, reviews the bilateral relationship and concludes Australia was right to grant asylum to the 42 Papuans:

"In the case of the 43 Papuans, it is very clear, according to Tempo magazine (April 3-9, 2006), that they have enough reasons to be afraid. And with all due respect, even if President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is willing to guarantee their safety if they return to Indonesia, there is no confidence in the implementation of this guarantee.

In conclusion, it can categorically be said that the Australians are right in their policy on the 43 Papuan asylum seekers. We could argue about timing or the need for an explanation before the announcement.

This episode should provide all of us with a real lesson and serve as an eye-opener that this incident could only have been prevented if we treated our Papuan citizens with respect and empathy, giving them the chance to run their province according to the Special Autonomy Law, educating and training their leaders to enable them to do that, and to wisely use the greater revenue they receive under the Special Autonomy Law. And most importantly, the rest of the country should show that Papuans can be trusted."

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Your land is my land...

The Age reports Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, former general turned populist President, was shielded from the morning sun by a traditional farmer's straw hat festooned with the red and white of the Indonesian flag as he bent and cut a sheath of rice to begin a harvest outside the West Papuan town of Merauke.

More than 1000 farmers and officials, mostly Javanese moved under Indonesia's transmigration program, cheered his words on Wednesday promising to transform the region into a major agricultural producer. They also lapped up his warning to Australia - and other foreign "meddlers" - against supporting festering independence sentiments in the troubled province.

Merauke, at the nation's south-eastern corner, had held a special place in Indonesia's 220 million hearts, Yudhoyono said, citing the nationalist song From Sabang to Merauke proclaiming the unity of the diverse archipelago. "Avoid negative opinions towards Government policy," he said. "Let's respect the unitary state of the Republic of Indonesia. We fight for it, we defend it, we nurture it in our nationalist spirit."

The symbolism would have done little to win over indigenous Papuans who last month battered to death five security officers in the capital, Jayapura, during a protest against the biggest symbol of Indonesian rule of this resource-rich Melanesian land, the massive Freeport gold mine. The President's flying visit bypassed Jayapura and local leaders campaigning against Jakarta's inequities."

Nicholson in The Australian

Amnesty fears impact of refugee policy

Amnesty International has criticised moves to change the way Australia identifies refugees.

Justice Minister Chris Ellison says Australia will consider seeking help from Indonesia in identifying asylum seekers from Papua.

Amnesty says the move, if adopted, would contravene Australia's international obligations under United Nations (UN) conventions.

Amnesty's spokesman on refugees in Australia, Graham Thom, says the proposal could put many people at risk.

"What the Minister is suggesting is that Australia identify to countries from which people have fled that these people are here," he said.

"This would put their families, colleagues and friends, and if we were to return them, those individuals, at serious risk of human rights violations."

International rules: Amnesty says identifying arrivals puts them and their families at risk.

Police should respect human rights in West Papua - Letter from Franciscans International to Indonesian Police Chief

Father John Quigley has written as follows to General Sutanto,the National Chief of Police, Jakarta, Indonesia:

"I am writing to express my concern for the general situation of human rights in Papua Province, especially with reference to the recent student protests and the torture of many of the 73 detained students during processing by Brimob, as confirmed by lawyers who were finally allowed access to them in Jayapura’s jail, three days after they had been taken into custody.

Franciscans International, which works for peace and human rights, is hopeful that the violence, casualties and loss of life that took place due to the events on 16 March 2006, including the 5 members of the security services who died as a result of wounds received, never happens again. Only through peaceful dialogue, the rule of law, respect for fundamental freedoms and human rights can Papua Province become again a bastion of stability. We are seized of the situation, monitoring it in coordination with our Franciscan brothers at SKP Jayapura.

I urge you to provide without interruption access of lawyers, medical care and humane treatment in accordance to Indonesian law – as well as the international human rights norms and standards that the Republic of Indonesia has committed itself to, including the Convention against Torture and most recently the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights – to the detained student protestors and others in Jayapura’s main jail and elsewhere.

I urge you also to strongly support human rights workers, such as the Office for Justice and Peace (SKP), to continue independently investigating and fact-finding human rights abuses such as those that occurred on 16 March 2006, to continue their important civil society role.

For four years, Franciscans International has worked in partnership with the Franciscan Friars and the Office for Justice and Peace (SKP) of Jayapura on the human rights situation in Papua Province. Our organization represents the human rights interests of over 1 million participants in the Franciscan Movement worldwide, including over 400,000 Secular Franciscans, over 200,000 Third Order Franciscan Sisters and Brothers, 16,000 Friars Minor and 14,000 Capuchin Friars, 4,500 Conventual Friars as well as thousands of Franciscans associated with the Anglican Church. Our members live and work with those who are poor and vulnerable in over 100 countries worldwide, including Indonesia.


John Quigley

Fr John Quigley, OFM
Executive Director
Franciscans International"

Monday, April 10, 2006

Open letter to Labor

This is to my register my concern that Labor is mismanaging the response to the Papuan asylum seeker crisis.

Successive Australian governments are complicit in turning their backs on serious human rights violations in West Papua. The 1969 UN- sponsored act of free choice was a sham. Indonesian hegemony over West Papua is nothing more than a repressive neo-colonial grab for land and resources at the expense of the traditional owners.

Rather then talking up more 'gun boats' to repel genuine asylum seekers, for a change it would be uplifting to see Labor take a principled approach based on human rights and stand up for our Melanesian neighbours. Labor has a history of doing this in PNG - many Australians would applaud a more forthright approach to getting the message to Jakarta that this rabid exploitation must cease and Papuans given an opportunity to express a free and fair act of self-determination.

If managed wisely this may well be a win-win situation within existing sovereignty arrangements through a genuine autonomy package. Continuance of the current systematic abuse will put increasing pressure on Indonesia and the bilateral relationship, as the refugee situation will deteriorate, violence in Papua will increase and the world community will be forced to engage this issue more actively.

Australia should be a facilitator of practical solutions rather than a partisan player actively denying Papuans the rights we consider fundamental. Short term expedient political posturing is no substitute for long term strategic management of difficult situations that impact directly on our national security. The Howard government is now discovering this.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Asylum seeker policy determined by Jakarta

SBY has threatened to release the stopper valve on 'warehoused' asylum seekers ('of middle eastern appearance') in retaliation for Howard's hypocritical asylum seeker strategy.

One pull of this chain and Howard and cohort scuttle to come up with weasel words to appease Jakarta. Now Howard is looking at surrendering Australia's sovereignty to determine who are genuine asylum seekers through some 'right of reply' formula cooked up on the run.

At the same time the gunboats will be out in force to repel boarders. Again the buttons of 'fear'and 'security' are being pushed with abandonment as Howard siphons the snake oil back in the bottle.

In the process international law and convention provisions governing the treatment of asylum seekers are similarly 'warehoused'.

Boat people again?

Read Tony Kevin's piece in On Line Opinion. Tony is Visiting Fellow at the Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, Australian National University, Canberra, was Australia’s Ambassador to Cambodia from 1994 to 1997. He is the author of A Certain Maritime Incident – the Sinking of SIEV X. An excerpt follows:

"Wirayuda’s reminder that Australia and Indonesia have worked closely on “issues of illegal immigrants … in the past three years” (i.e. since the 2002 Bali conference) seems to me to send a fairly pointed message to Australian authorities: don’t be surprised if you find a renewed problem of Middle Eastern boat people on your doorstep.

There are still understood to be quite a large number of Middle Eastern origin asylum-seekers being maintained in transit camps or hostels in various parts of Indonesia, managed by UN agencies, with financial support from the Australian Government. Many of these people have been awarded refugee status by the UNHCR, but have not found any country willing to accept them, or are still hoping to be allowed to come to Australia because of close family ties here.

This might help explain a recent statement by Senator Ellison (Minister for Customs and responsible for Coastwatch, which in normal times manages Australian border protection) that Australian border protection surveillance in the waters south of West Papua has been significantly stepped up.

Only this week, Indonesian President Yudhoyono publicly renewed Wirayuda's warnings of ten days earlier. According to press agencies, Yudhoyono reportedly said, "Indonesia would review co-operation with Australia aimed at curbing people smugglers who use Indonesia as a stopover point to Australia's north."

Friday, April 07, 2006

Leave politics out of the debate about Papuan refugees

ABC reports "the Australian Government has been urged to leave politics out of the debate about Papuan refugees.

Tensions have grown between Australia and Indonesia over the granting of temporary asylum for 42 Papuans.

Prime Minister John Howard says neither the government nor the majority of the Australian public support those encouraging Papuans to come to Australia.

The Coordinator of the Refugee and Immigration Legal Centre, David Manne, says it is disappointing politics have been dragged into the debate.

"It's not a political decision it ought not be interfered with on a political basis," he said."

"It's a decision based on the fundamental human rights of a person who faces a real prospect of being persecuted.

Experience has shown us that Howard will always seek the lowest common denominator to wedge political opponents over issues such as asylum seekers. In the past people threatened by political persecution have become pawns in a grubby game of domestic political brinkmanship. I think we can expect more of the same...

Papua: Unsafe for refugees to return

The Age reports "exiled West Papuan independence leader Jacob Rumbiak is well placed to challenge the credibility of Indonesian assurances that 43 West Papuan refugees could have been safely returned to Indonesian-controlled West Papua.

The Indonesian Government and demonstrators in Jakarta have vented their fury at Australia for granting visas to 42 of the 43 West Papuan refugees, claiming it violates Indonesia’s territorial integrity and upholds the refugees’ claims of genocide against West Papuans. What they conveniently disregard is Indonesia’s track record with returned West Papuan refugees opposed to Indonesian rule."

Appeasement of Indonesian agression has been a serial failing of Australian governments, whilst Papuans have been serially abused by successive regimes. This cannot stand, and no amount of posturing out of Jakarta will change the fact that Indonesia does not have a legitimate right to control Papua - it does so by force!

A young boy at the Free West Papua protest outside the indonesian embassy in Canberra.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Jakarta hit list...

ABC is reporting Jakarta has compiled a 'dossier' of Australian politicians, NGO reps and other activists considered to be a threat to Indonesia for promoting West Papua independence. Greens, ALP and Democrat politicians have made it on to the list. This tells us something of the sort of regime still in command in Jakarta. Whilst Howard is lauding the Indonesian President for his moderate leadership this type of extremist posturing is encouraged. The strategy of demonising Australian advocates of human rights in Papua is not the act of a moderate democracy but of a repressive bullying regime used to silencing dissident voices.

SBY is more moderate than his predecessors but civil rights must be extended to Papuans in the same measure afforded non-Papuan citizens of Indonesia. If Indonesia wants to be seen to have put aside its previous suppression of Papuan rights this is a good time to demonstrate good faith.

Papuans - coming of rage

The Financial Review has a piece today on the place of the Freeport mine in the scheme of things in Papua. This has echoes of Bougainville:

"Titus Natkime, 31, the son of a tribal leader who encountered the first Americans to walk into the wilderness of Papua nearly 50 years ago, is clearly upset with his employer, the American mining company Freeport-McMoRan.

For generations, Natkime's clan has laid claim to much of the land in Papua, the Indonesian province where Freeport mines some of the world's largest copper and gold reserves. Now it is time for a payback.

He brings out a draft document showing Freeport's offer: $US250,000 to set up a foundation for the clan, plus $US100,000 annually, a sizeable amount in Indonesia's most remote and poorest province.

"Why should I accept it?" asks Natkime, who works in the company's government-relations department, although he is hardly an ardent spokesman. "It's an insult." In comparison, he says, Freeport is making tens of millions of dollars every day. In the end, the family accepted the money, he says, but he plans a lawsuit and is demanding royalties.

Such defiance is symptomatic of the growing troubles in Papua, where four people have been killed in recent weeks in protests against Freeport. And it shows that times are changing for multinational companies and governments long used to working out concessions in remote areas with a handshake, over the heads of local people.

In March, Citigroup echoed the theme, saying in a report that such companies could no longer afford to ignore environmental and social issues. "A groundswell of public opinion has caused sustainable development to become a serious business consideration," it said.

Mark Logsdon, an American geochemist who has visited the Freeport mine, agrees. Mining companies must seek and take seriously the "consent of the governed", he says. "Whether in Indonesia, Latin America or Africa, the increase in communications capability means that the essential isolation of resource colonies is largely a thing of the past."

The protests in Papua provide an example of what can happen when a natural resource company, backed by an unpopular central government and a heavy-handed military, fails to pay careful attention to the local people, whose lives have been disturbed and who feel the riches in the ground are theirs, not the foreigners'."

The only response from Australia and Indonesia to the deteriorating situation is to tighten the fence around Australia's north. It is typical of both countries in this context to respond to human rights abuses through further punitive measures against the victims.

This is not going away - Australians have turned their backs on West Papuans for too long. We have given extraordinary comfort to successive militaristic regimes who have systematically disempowered, disinherited and dislocated Papuans in their own land, whilst we hector the rest of melanesia on the values of good governance and government. Our government's hypocrisy knows no bounds....

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Papua: time to act...

Book reveals UN colluded in West Papua takeover

In 2002 Dr John Saltford published a book entitled The United Nations and the Indonesian Takeover of West Papua, 1962-1969 - The Anatomy of Betrayal.

At the launch of the book Justice Desmond O'Malley remarked:

"The history of the handover of West Papua (or Irian Jaya as it was renamed in 1973) to Indonesia is, to say the least, controversial, particularly when one considers how far along the path to independence West Papua was in the 1950s / early 1960s. In 1952 the Netherlands, as the colonial power in the territory, recognised Papuan self-determination and began preparing the nation for independence. It was given a governor and an administration of its own directly under the Hague. In 1961 various steps towards self-determination took place: - the first parliament was installed, on October 19th the Papuan National Committee introduced the national anthem and the Papuan flag and decided that in future the country should be called West Papua. As Indonesia was at this time strongly opposed to Dutch policy on West Papua and claimed that the area was part of the Indonesian Republic, the Dutch presented a plan to the UN General Assembly to resolve the dispute - the proposal was to hand over the territory to a UN administration until such time as the population was ready to exercise their right to self-determination. Indonesia rejected this idea and armed clashes broke out between Dutch and Indonesian troops.

Both sides eventually agreed to UN brokered talks, and in August 1962 the New York Agreement was reached and ratified by the UN General Assembly on 21st September 1962. It stipulated that the Netherlands was to leave the territory and transfer authority to a United Nations Temporary Executive Authority (UNTEA) on October 1st. UNTEA was to hand over the area to Indonesia on May 1st 1963 - a far cry from the original Dutch plan, where the UN administration was to have remained until the Papuans had considered the issue of self-determination.

However, the New York Agreement did give the Papuans certain rights, including that of self-determination and it stipulated that within six years, the people of the territory would determine, in a free and fair manner, whether they wished to remain under Indonesian control or whether they would seek independence.

Thus in 1969, under UN supervision, the Indonesian government conducted the so-called "Act of Free Choice" in West Papua. As we know this Act has been widely disputed, as evidence suggests that the process of voting for the Act was seriously defective. Concern still exists about the manner in which those local council representatives who participated in the Act of Free Choice were selected and there are allegations of Indonesian interference in the process.

The reasons for such poor administration of the Act of Free Choice under UN supervision are addressed in this new text, but clearly the UN failed in its obligations to assist in the act of self-determination in accordance with international best practices. Despite fundamental flaws in the process, international reaction was comparatively muted and a UN General Assembly resolution confirmed the transfer of sovereignty to Indonesia - which has condemned the West Papuans to more than 30 years of repression and remains a source of great unrest in the territory.

In the years since Jakarta's assumption of control, there has been widespread opposition to the Indonesian administration of West Papua and in the more open atmosphere since the fall of General Suharto in 1998, there have been ever more explicit expressions within West Papua for independence from Indonesia. However, the preservation of Indonesia's territorial integrity is a corner stone of President Megawati's governing policy and separatists' activities are being suppressed by Indonesian security forces, amid increasing allegations of human rights abuses.

The parallels with pre-referendum East Timor are already apparent in West Papua: the transfer to the territory of police and military commanders formerly assigned to East Timor, the barring of foreign journalists unless granted special clearance, constant harassment, arbitrary arrests and murder of West Papuans expressing their basic human rights which have been denied them for so long. As was the case in East Timor, many thousands of mostly Papuan civilians have been killed by the Indonesian security forces since the 1960s. One figure suggests that about 30% of the population of the territory has been wiped out by the Indonesian regime.

The international community cannot forget the painful lessons of East Timor and must not stand by while history repeats itself in West Papua.

There have been calls for a review of the events surrounding the 1969 Act of Free Choice and the role of the UN in that process."

New Papuan boat arrivals further fuel crisis

A new boatload of asylum seekers from West Papua is alleged to have landed in Australia, deepening the diplomatic crisis with Indonesia.

The family of six reached an uninhabited island in Australian waters on Sunday, The Age has been told...Organisers of the original voyage had said that up to 600 more Papuans would seek asylum in Australia if the first group's claims were successful."

Latest reports suggest the family may have landed in PNG, but this is a crisis that will not go away quickly. The failure of Indonesia to grant genuine autonomy to Papua, and the ongoing human rights violations perpetrated by Indonesian authorities, are grounds for Papua to be referred to the UN and close international scrutiny of Indonesia's role in Papua.

Landing place of West Papuan refugees.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Papuans 'vanishing' after mine protest

The Age reports "at least 11 West Papuans have disappeared during reprisals by Indonesian authorities following a recent violent demonstration, it was claimed yesterday.

Reverend Peter Woods, an Anglican minister recently returned from West Papua, told a rally in Melbourne yesterday that a man was shot in the stomach while sitting in his house.

The rally was called to welcome 42 Papuan asylum seekers on Christmas Island who were given temporary protection visas almost two weeks ago.

The reprisals followed a demonstration two weeks ago outside a university over West Papua's Freeport mine which resulted in the deaths of five Indonesian security officers."

The Indonesian grip on Papua must be loosened. Ex-diplomats and assorted 'experts' on Indonesia are coming out of the woodwork to warn against this happening. Some have suggested that the 42 asylum seekers should have been sent to Nauru. It should be noted that some of these apologists for Indonesian hegemony have been complicit in shaping Australia's appalling policy of turning a blind eye to this tragedy for a long time. Now they are proposing that people fleeing repression be subjected to the living hell of the Pacific Solution. I guess turning their backs on the plight of our melanesian neighbours became easier as they got the hang of it...

Indonesia: Abolish the death penalty

Indonesia has carried out five executions since August 2004, and more people may soon be executed. Amnesty International knows of 85 people under sentence of death, convicted by a justice system that is widely acknowledged to be in severe need of reform.

Amnesty International is helping foster public debate in Indonesia, and building pressure on authorities to suspend all executions and take steps to abolish the death penalty altogether.

Papua: Greens call for UN referral, Labor calls for autonomy and Howard wants status quo

The Australian reports "hundreds rallied in Brisbane, Sydney, Adelaide and Melbourne, where Papuan asylum-seekers granted temporary protection visas two weeks ago are due to arrive from Perth today.

Indonesian critics accuse Canberra of secretly plotting the break away from Jakarta of the separatist province of Papua, likening it to the 1999 independence crisis in East Timor.

Mr Howard said he was hoping to speak "in the next little while" with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. He is also considering a visit to Jakarta, but this could be some months away.

Speaking to the Melbourne rally, organised by the Free West Papua movement, federal Greens leader Bob Brown called for the plight of the Papuans to be referred immediately to the UN.

"If the Howard Government's repeated calls for liberty and democracy around the world are not hollow, then it must act to ensure one million West Papuans get liberty and democracy," Senator Brown said...

Opposition foreign affairs spokesman Kevin Rudd said yesterday he supported the right of people to protest, and he had raised cases of human rights abuses with the Indonesians and would continue to do so.

However, he said it was important to recognise Indonesia's sovereignty over the province.

"The bottom line is, the only effective solution to this in the long term is to ensure that we have an effective autonomy package for West Papua, with West Papua remaining part of the Indonesian republic," he said."

Bill Leak in The Australian