New Zealand International Review
September/October 2010 Vol 35,No 5
Maire Leadbeater criticises New Zealand’s approach to the provision of aid to Indonesia, and calls for respect for the wishes of the West Papuan people
New Zealand’s diplomacy with respect to Indonesian-controlled West Papua, especially in light of its aid to the Indonesian military and to the police in West Papua, has worrying aspects. The Indonesian military is not yet accountable to the civilian authority, and both the police and the military in West Papua have a grievous record of human rights violations. Although the New Zealand government view is that we are supporting reform of these institutions, New Zealand’s aid instead supports the status quo and ongoing repression. A more constructive role for New Zealand would be that of a facilitator in a peaceful dialogue between Jakarta and West Papuan representatives.
Maire Leadbeater is the spokesperson for the Indonesia Human Rights Committee (Auckland)
New Zealand is a trusted friend and supporter of Indonesia. There is much benefit to be gained from people-to-people ties, cultural and educational links and from most trade ties. But there are strong reasons to oppose the aid that is given to the most repressive forces in Indonesian society – the police and the military.
In explanation, first some historical context and then a more detailed case example looking at West Papua, the Indonesian-controlled western half of the island of New Guinea. This analysis draws on Ministry of Foreign Affairs documentation, some of it heavily censored, obtained under the Official Information Act.
During the time of Suharto’s authoritarian regime in Indonesia, the General knew he could count on us. ‘Good relations’ were established around the time of Suharto’s ascension in 1966 – a period marred by the bloody purge of up to half a million dissidents’ and ‘communists’, one of last centuries largest massacres. New Zealand backed the highly contested annexations of both West Papua in 1969 and East Timor in 1975.
I have extensively documented this history in the case of East Timor, showing how New Zealand supported Indonesia in the United Nations and in other forums. New Zealand also helped the Indonesian military with officer training, from 1973 on. Defence ties were only suspended after the worst of the 1999 post-referendum violence in East Timor, and quietly resumed again in 2007.
Indonesia is now twelve years on from the dark days of the Suharto dictatorship, and in some ways the democratic gains are remarkable. But there are worrying hangovers – books and films are still banned, especially if they deal with black chapters in Indonesia’s history, such as the invasion of East Timor. Corruption is still endemic and has a grave impact on every of level of the administration, including the justice system.
The biggest roadblock to further democratic reform is the entrenched power of the military, Tentara Nasional Indonesia (TNI). The military has never faced up to its role in supporting Suharto’s tyranny and its officers remain unaccountable for their crimes against humanity. Credible charges of horrendous East Timor crimes have proved no barrier to advancement, as in the case of Syafrie Syamsuddin, who was recently appointed a Deputy Minister of Defence. He is an East Timor Kopassus veteran alleged to have been the key commander of the 1991 Santa Cruz massacre, and one of the masterminds of the bloody campaign of vengeance wreaked on the Timorese when they voted for independence.
Despite 2004 legislation which required the TNI to quit its business network, the military still draws on off-budget funding from innumerable legal and illegal business interests.
Most of the time New Zealand’s relations with Indonesia do not get onto the public radar. But in the 1990s as news began to spread about atrocities in East Timor, the Foreign Affairs Ministry had to perfect a public relations strategy to account for the pro-Indonesia policy position.
Key components of this strategy are the promotion of ‘quiet diplomacy’ and ‘constructive engagement’ usually through aid. In bilateral meetings behind closed doors New Zealand Ministers raise human rights concerns with their Indonesian counterparts. These exchanges can be pointed, but frequently they are amount to little more than ritual expressions that require minimal response from the Indonesian side. At its worst this ‘quiet diplomacy’ is a blatant exercise in collusion Just before Indonesia invaded East Timor, our diplomats told their Indonesian counterparts that the Government had a ‘private and public position on the problem’. The ‘private position’ was support for integration while the ‘public’ position was to respect the wishes of the Timorese people.
The dramatic end of Indonesian rule over East Timor shook the foundations of our Government’s pro-Indonesia policies. New Zealand police and peacekeeping forces played their part in restoring order and in confronting the rump end of the Indonesian-trained militia forces. In 2000 New Zealander Private Leonard Manning paid the price with his life. But the crisis did not have a long term impact on the bilateral relationship – the ‘East Timor case’ was successfully ring-fenced. The parallels between the situation of East Timor and West Papua were not explored.
Yet, the situation in West Papua today has some strong similarities with pre-liberation East Timor. West Papuans still struggle for the freedom they were promised by the Dutch colonial power, and were deprived of after a United States brokered agreement allowed Indonesian troops to occupy West Papua. The United Nations agreed to allow Indonesia to conduct a so-called ‘Act of Free Choice’ in 1969, a voting process that only 1,022 out of nearly a million Papuans took part in, which is widely known today as ‘The Act of No Choice’. Effectively there is a state of de facto occupation by the Indonesian armed forces and the Special Forces Kopassus, which has personnel stationed in nearly every district. Access for foreign journalists and the human rights investigators and humanitarian agencies is severely restricted and at times even New Zealand Embassy diplomats have had their requests to visit put on hold.
West Papua is richer in terms of resources than any other part of the Indonesian archipelago, but poorer on every index of human well-being – health, income levels, and education. Human rights groups, including the Indonesian Human Rights Commission (Komnas Ham) state that the human rights situation in West Papua experienced a ‘drastic decline’ in 2009. The police treat as criminals and ‘separatists’ those who try to take part in legal peaceful demonstrations. Late in 2009 a police team captured and killed a key Free Papua Movement leader, Kelly Kwalik, despite the fact that he had earlier met willingly with Indonesian police.
In the 47 years since Indonesia assumed control, West Papua, (named Irian Jaya by Indonesia until 2000) is believed to have lost at least 100,000 of its people to the ongoing conflict. Resistance to Indonesian rule has changed over time from a low level guerrilla struggle in the mountains to a wider campaign of non-violent resistance.
New Zealand diplomats make regular visits to West Papua and their reports indicate that they have a clear-eyed awareness of the level of unrest and suffering. The Embassy officials, whether representing the Ministry of Foreign Affairs or NZAID, are no doubt sincere in wanting to make a positive difference, but are partisan in a situation of strong internal conflict. New Zealand consistently supports Indonesia’s right to preserve its ‘territorial integrity’ and by implication its antagonism to ‘separatism.’
In the past decade this has meant that New Zealand has supported Jakarta’s 2001 Special Autonomy legislation for Papua, even though Papuans were never consulted about it. Official statements consistently express the view that the ‘best route to a peaceful solution in Papua’ is the full implementation of the Special Autonomy package.
One report has some essentially patronising advice for Papuans who hoped for greater freedom (‘merdeka’ in Indonesian):
Papuan leaders should be encouraged to make the most of the opportunities given to them by special autonomy. No matter how understandable their desire for merdeka, it is a dangerous distraction. Health and education needs are urgent. The money is already there. It is up to the Papuans to use it wisely.
There is considerable evidence that New Zealand’s aid projects have been used to help soften the edges of questionable foreign policy practice. At the time of the 1975 Indonesian invasion of East Timor, New Zealand made much of a package of aid sent through the Red Cross to both East and West Timor. In 1978 when even the Red Cross was excluded from East Timor, news of a devastating famine leaked to the outside world. When Indonesia’s Foreign Minister visited that year New Zealand successfully negotiated to send food aid and the New Zealand Herald headlined the story ‘Aid acceptable if Indonesia can call the tune.’
A key component of New Zealand’s current aid to Indonesia, the largest bilateral aid package in the Asian region, is presented as peace building and human rights training. To what extent does this aid provide our Government with a handy rejoinder to challenges that it is soft on human rights in Indonesia? And is this aid supporting genuine reform and change or is it being carefully directed in ways that will not challenge the established order and vested interests? In 2006 the New Zealand Government pursued the resumption of defence ties with Indonesia and the commencement of a programme to offer training in community policing to the Papuan police force.
2006 was a dramatic year for West Papua. It opened in January with the much publicised arrival of 43 Papuan asylum seekers at Cape Horn, Australia. They had barely survived their journey by traditional wooden boat and all put forward claims of abuse and persecution which were eventually accepted.
In March a student demonstration against the presence of the Freeport McMoran mine escalated into a violent confrontation between demonstrators and the police. Four officers of the Police Force and a member of the Indonesia air force died. In the aftermath 23 were arrested, and hundreds fled across the border as the Brimob paramilitary police raided dormitories and fired on students they believed to have been involved. Human rights groups and the churches reported that the detainees had been beaten and tortured and later alleged that the trials were deeply flawed. At the end of the year there were reports of military sweeping operations in the Highlands area.
Early in 2007 thirty two West Papuan police (only 10 of them indigenous Papuans) attended a workshop in Jayapura at which participants were told how New Zealand police try to build community relations and anticipate and prevent conflict.
The Ministry memos record how the Police Area Commander in Jayapura asked for New Zealand assistance with community policing and said he had instructions from the National Police Chief to ‘get back the confidence of the community’ following the March riots. During the same meeting the Police Chief, General Tommy Yacobus also told the Second Secretary that one of his priorities for 2007 was to increase the percentage of indigenous Papuans within POLDA Papua which was currently at 4%.
When the programme was being rolled out in 2008, I wrote to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Winston Peters, and to the Minister of Police, Annette King. Both sent replies suggesting that the programme would improve police adherence to international human rights standards and help the Papuan police to improve the way they work with local communities. Peters suggested that he did not favour isolating Indonesia.
The right to free expression is a basic tenet of international human rights yet there are some 45 political prisoners in Papua, including many arrested for daring to raise a banned Morning Star nationalist flag. Police even interrogate women in the market-place for selling handicrafts decorated with a nationalist symbol.
It will take more than workshops about community policing to win the hearts and minds of a people scarred by decades of police and military abuses and the killing of revered leaders. And as for the Police Chief’s hope of recruiting indigenous Papuans to the almost entirely migrant force, Papuans describe a rigorous selection process for new recruits: An interrogation process ensures that anyone joining up must deny or hide any connection however remote to those who support independence.
New Zealand’s military training for Indonesia largely consists of bilateral officer exchanges: each year an Indonesian officer attends the New Zealand Defence Force’s Command and Staff College to participate in the senior staff course while NZDF officers attend courses in Indonesia. Our Government defends this programme on the grounds that engagement with the Indonesian military will promote positive reform.
Will Indonesian practice improve by osmosis if we continue to work alongside their officers? The advocates of engagement would say New Zealand continues to criticise human rights abuses, but which is the stronger message – our polite, mainly private exchanges about human rights or our increasing co-operation with the forces of repression?
The following episode is a good example of how engagement opens a door for Indonesia to co-opt New Zealand to support its local agenda. In September 2008, New Zealand Embassy representatives, (deputy head of mission and second secretary) visited West Papua to discuss matters such as New Zealand’s support for the full implementation of Papua Special Autonomy Law and the New Zealand Community Policing Initiative, which had ‘emerged as the centerpiece of New Zealand’s engagement in Papua and West Papua.’
The Embassy reported on their first visit in two years as a success:
In the past Embassy visits to the two provinces have been confined to information gathering. This time it was very different – we had something concrete to offer. That was reflected in the warm reception accorded to us. The NZAID-funded, NZ Police Community Policing (CP) project is now the centerpiece of New Zealand’s constructive engagement approach with Indonesia on the Papua issue. It demonstrates New Zealand is serious in its desire to make a real difference on the ground in the two provinces.
However, one meeting during this visit seems to have been more challenging as the sub-heading for the meeting at TNI Kodam XV11 headquarters indicates: ‘An encounter with TNI: Some old bugbears’. Chief of Staff Brigadier General Hambali, who was accompanied by the Head of Intelligence, appears to have put the diplomats to the test:
In outlining New Zealand’s policy we said we did not speak with a forked tongue – what we were saying to him we had said to others we had met during our visit. Our comment that the New Zealand Government did not support separatism elicited an animated response from Hambali, who said he was pleased to hear that.
This meeting was written up in the Papua Pos newspaper and also on the military website. These accounts suggest that the Embassy team had been critical of media and non-governmental organisations for exploiting ‘the negative side of developments in Papua and West Papua’. This is unlikely to be a simple ‘lost in translation’ situation as the comments in the report indicate:
Attached are clippings and English language translations of articles that appeared in the Papua Pos and on the TNI website. Large chunks of the articles, including purported criticism by the DHOM of NGOs and the media were a complete fabrication, as was our alleged commendation of TNI.
I also fear that the emphasis on programmes supporting the police or military, may edge out expenditure on humanitarian aid. Recent New Zealand Government statements promote using aid to help other countries achieve ‘sustainable economic growth’, but most indigenous West Papuans cannot join the economic mainstream without improvements in basic health and education levels. NZAID currently grants eleven Indonesians scholarships for post-graduate study at a New Zealand University each year. However, only two indigenous Papuans have been granted a post-graduate scholarship since 2007.
New Zealand does support the UNDP People Centred Development Programme, a complex co-ordination project involving non-governmental organisations and other international donors aimed at improving living standards. To some extent Papuans are cautious about engaging with at this level of official aid which is always carried out with close involvement of the Indonesian authorities. A strong case can be made for an alternative aid approach based on working with small local projects led by local non-governmental organisations or churches.
In June 2010, the Papuan People’s Assembly or MRP, a kind of ‘upper house’ in the governance structure with limited powers, held a consultation which resolved to reject the Special Autonomy Law and symbolically hand it back to the regional Parliament. The community responded with support demonstrations of up to 20,000 people calling for a referendum on independence and genuine dialogue with Jakarta. The security forces were unusually restrained in the face of the unprecedented size of the mobilisations.
In parallel with these developments, West Papua’s Melanesian neighbour, the Republic of Vanuatu, resolved on a new foreign policy direction which explicitly mandates Vanuatu to take a number of initiatives in support of West Papua’s independence. Vanuatu will sponsor a resolution at the United Nations General Assembly calling for the International Court of Justice to arbitrate on the legality of the 1969 ‘Act of Free Choice.’
Will these events form the tipping point to prod Jakarta into listening to West Papuan voices? It is nearly two years since the respected Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI) published the Papua Road Map which addressed the marginalisation of the indigenous West Papuan people and proposed a dialogue along similar lines to that which helped to bring peace to Aceh in 2005.
The concept of a dialogue has been given a cautious welcome by the Governor of Papua, but as yet there is no clear indication how this dialogue might be facilitated and mediated, and some resistance groups sound a note of caution that any dialogue must have genuine independent facilitation preferably from the United Nations.
Over the years many Papuan leaders have raised the possibility that New Zealand could help to facilitate a peace dialogue for West Papua – drawing on the successful process mediated by New Zealand which helped to resolve the crisis in Bougainville. To the best of my knowledge there is no current New Zealand offer on the table. Eight years ago a guarded offer of mediation was briefly floated but the Foreign Affairs Minister at the time, Phil Goff, stressed that the decision rested with Indonesia and did not pursue the suggestion.
There is still time for New Zealand to make a new beginning and put the aspirations of the Papuan people first before the need to please Indonesia. This is the moment when the Papuan people urgently need international advocates to support their call for a genuine dialogue that can address all the problems in West Papua including the ‘forbidden’ topics of political status and West Papua’s troubled history.
NZ Dept of External Affairs Annual Report for the year ended 31 March, 1967: ‘Since the new Indonesian Government has embarked on a more constructive international policy…the New Zealand Government has been able to look forward to increased contacts and rewarding relationship with the Republic.’
Maire F Leadbeater,. ‘Negligent Neighbour: New Zealand’s Complicity in the Invasion and Occupation of Timor-Leste’, (Nelson, 2006)
Syafrie Syamsuddin is named as having ‘command responsibility’ in UN- funded human rights reports including the 2001 Report of James Dunn and the 2005 Report of the Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation
Komnas Ham and Kontras, Papua Joint Presentation on Human Rights, 17 Jan, 2010
The territory was named Papua in 2000, but is still generally known internationally as West Papua, especially in the solidarity movement. In 2003 the territory was controversially subdivided into two provinces named Papua and West Papua.
Phil Goff, to Maire Leadbeater for the Indonesia Human Rights Committee, 1 Dec 2003
, NZ Embassy Jakarta to Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Wellington: 16 Dec 2002, memo ‘Indonesia:Visit to Papua: Separatism and Independence’ ,
Ibid., 10 April, 2007, cable ‘Indonesia:Papua: Community Policing Workshop – A Partnership Approach’
, Ibid., 9 Jan memo: ‘Indonesia: Papua: Community Policing’
Winston Peters to Indonesia Human Rights Committee, 9 June, 2008
NZ Embassy Jakarta to Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Wellington, 23 Sep 2008 ‘Indonesia: Visit to Papua and West Papua-Overview’,
Papua Pos , 11 Sep 2008 and TNI website article, 15 Sep 2008: translations provided in ibid.
NZAID Website downloaded 14 May, 2010
. Examples of this is are: the ‘Mama Mamas’ project supported by Pax Christi empowering and strengthening the women who run market-place craft enterprises in Jayapura and the Oxfam New Zealand livelihood project in Nabire.