Louise Byrne, Australia West Papua Association (Melbourne)

This article was twice presented, twice ignored to The Australian Weekend Magazine ‘Letters’ section.

The 43 West Papuan asylum seekers canoe after landingnear Weipa, Cape York, Jan 2006 (Photo: Damien Baker,

Rocking the boat (The Weekend Australian Magazine 9/7/2011) attempts to bolster the legal case for diluting the post-asylum rights of unaccompanied minors to family reunion. The Murdoch journalist and her angry informants prosecute the offensive by nit-picking the effort of one West Papuan parent—whose sons arrived in a traditional outrigger canoe in 2006—to remove his twelve-year-old daughter from the war zone as well. This 3,500-word construct will be no doubt bower-birded by lawyers involved in the Supreme Court case in September. The reading public however needs to be aware that it is full of unfounded generalizations and misleading information, and succeeds, with Machiavellian ease, in lampooning the West Papuans long and costly struggle for human rights and democracy … and yes, indeed, their very survival.

The Papuan parent cited is heavily misrepresented as a ‘savvy, middle-class immigrant aided by lawyers’ who sent his sons to Australia as an ‘advance party to enhance the prospect of family reunion’. In fact, the documented intent of this parent in putting his children on the boat was to ensure their survival. He is a leading Protestant priest and independence leader who after years of incarceration as a political prisoner will never—short of independence—be free of the republic’s notorious intelligence agents. He and his wife, also a pastor, run a Christian college in the highlands, providing indigenous adolescents with a curriculum and standard of education otherwise unattainable. Their sons, on their own initiative, called upon family reunion principles to deliver their teenage sister from a militarized hellhole where the rape of Indigenous girls is almost a rite of passage. None of the other West Papuan refugees from 2006—whether unaccompanied minor or adult—have made application for family reunion.

The article imputes that the West Papuan who organized the canoe of asylum seekers in 2006 is a people smuggler (‘parents of children as young as 11 had paid for them to make the crossing’), and furthermore ‘coached’ them on how to report to Australian immigration officers. This Papuan is, in fact, another committed activist and independence leader, also with years of experience as a political prisoner. The article conveniently ignores the Howard Government’s People Smuggling Taskforce, which met on thirteen occasions between 16 January and 13 April 2006 before closing its investigation, satisfied that no money was paid to any organizers of the trip. (Hansard, 22 May 2006, which also mentions the taskforce included the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Australian Federal Police, Attorney-General’s Dept, Customs, Defence, Foreign Affairs and Trade, Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Office of National Assessments). To the allegation of ‘coaching’, the fact of 564,126 West Papuans ‘missing’ since 1962 (Jim Elmslie, University of Sydney, 2007) would mean that few of the living need advice about persecution and human rights violations. (Any foreigners who do should consult the independent media portal, or New York based blog West Papua: exposing a massacre (, or the recent Australian documentary Strange Birds in Paradise).

Even if The Australian isn’t interested in the plight of the West Papuan people (who in 2010 have an annual growth rate of 1.84% compared to the non-Papuan of 10.82%), it should address issues that intersect with Australia’s national interest. The militarized Islamisation of the territory as a tool of intensifying colonization, for example, correlating with unprecedented levels of Wahabbist cash and Islamic investment that criss-crosses a nexus of radical Islam, the military-intelligence ‘security’ network, and clandestine cells of fundamentalism in the Indonesian civil service. Should we also not be concerned by the refusal of the Australian Federal Police to release its report into the assassination in July 2009 of Drew Grant, a young Australian employed at the Freeport mine? What about the AFP community-training squadron getting kicked out of Indonesia in 2009 (despite Australia’s contribution of $36.8m to the development of the Jakarta Centre for Law Enforcement Co-operation)? Then there’s the Indonesian government’s supply and training of PNG police and military since 2006, and its own commandos training in the jungles of Fiji since 2010.



Rebuttal, Pam Curr, Asylum Seekers Resource Centre in Melbourne

 The article that appeared in this weekend’s The Australian is yet another negative asylum seeker story in typical Murdoch media fashion. I would like to straighten the record on a few factual errors. Murdoch media do not worry about such things but since they quote me, I do.

 I did not ring Frances Walton immediately after The Age published her letter on 8 June. I read the letter and thought—what a pity to write about a small group and one individual experience as if it was emblematic of all child asylum seekers experience. I knew how the letter would be received by those who wish to believe it or those who do not know otherwise, but it is a free country and we all have the write to speak our minds. End of episode.

Kate Legge rang me on the 20th June. At the same time I was alerted that the Australian was looking at running a story about boat children following a letter to The Age. I knew then that The Australian, never likely to overlook a potential negative line on refugees, had run Frances Walton to earth to run the boat children exposé and it was unlikely to be favourable.

It was only at this point that I rang Frances and asked her if she was aware that The Australian had a particular negative line on refugees and that her experience with a few children and families from one background would be likely to be written in such a way that it would generalise the experience of all unaccompanied minors.   I knew that Frances had experience only with the West Papuan children and none with Afghan Hazara teenagers or others. I made a point of saying that it was her right to say what she liked but to be aware that her words could be used against a broader group.

I told Kate Legge that I knew many teenagers who had come here as unaccompanied minors, particularly from Afghanistan, and that most of the boys I knew had no fathers and some no parents at all after Taliban and Pashtun attacks. I explained that they had come here after Mothers, Uncles or Family friends had helped them to escape because they were at risk. Clearly, since they were not reported, the experiences of this group of kids were not as interesting.

AWPA letter to Aust Minister for Foreign Affairs re Puncak Jaya

Australia West Papua Association (Sydney)
The Hon Kevin Rudd MP
Minister for Foreign Affairs
Parliament House
ACT 2600
 19 July 2011
Dear Mr Rudd
I am writing to you concerning the Indonesian military operation that is occurring in the Puncak Jaya regency of West Papua. Media reports have indicated that up to 600 TNI personal are involved in “sweeping “ operations in the region. In the latest incident four civilians , one  women and  3 children were wounded when Indonesian troops from the Infantry Battalion 753 , who are based in Nabire  fired into huts in the villiage of Kalome while searching for members of the Free Papua Movement (OPM). The incident occurred on the 12 July.
These aggressive military operations in pursuit of the OPM leave the local people traumatised and in fear for their lives.  Many reports have pointed out the the security forces have great difficulty distinguishing  between what the term separatists  and the general public.  During these military operations villages are destroyed as well as  gardens and livestock. While the OPM are committed to peaceful dialogue, the retain the right to self defence and protecting the local people if attacked. Although the security forces try to blame all incidents in the area on the OPM, many attacks on the TNI are by unknown attackers .
Tensions are always high in the Puncak Jaya regency because of the regular military operations that occur in the area. Suspecion between the local people and the TNI remain high with the security forces  accusing locals of supporting  the OPM while the local people accuse the Indonesian military of human rights abuses.
In May the military began a “socialising programme “ in Puncak Jaya involving up to  300 Army, Air Force and Navy personnel . The programe is proposed to run for four months  and is to include the renovating of  homes, churches and markets. However, local people believe it is simply  a shield and a cover-up of the violation of human rights abuses that have occurred in the region. It is all reminiscent of the US programme to win the “hearts and minds of the Vietnamese people.
The problems in West Papua won’t be solved by Jakarta  deploying more troops to the region or conducting more military operations. In September  last year the House of Representatives (DPR) Law Commission deputy chairman Tjatur Sapto Edy commenting on a report by Komnas HAM on past military operations  in the PUNCAK Jaya Rregion said  “there should be no more military operations and such approaches  are no longer suitable in a democracy”.
We urge you to use your good offices with the Indonesian Government to
call on the Indonesian President to halt all military operations in West Papua and return all military personal to their barrack as a way of easing tension and saving lives.
Yours sincerely
Joe Collins
AWPA (Sydney)
CC. The Hon Stephen Smith MP, Minister for Defence
Various human rights organisations

AWPA calls on MSG Prime Ministers to grant West Papua membership

AWPA calls on MSG Prime Ministers to grant West Papua membership

AWPA is encouraged by the statement from the Chairman of the MSG meeting ,  Ratu Inoke Kubuabol that “The Melanesia Spearhead Group feels for their brothers and sisters in West Papua” . Joe Collins of AWPA said “we urge the MSG to grant West Papua membership at the leaders summit. They would have the support of the Melanesian people across the region in granting West Papua membership”.

We note that in a poll by the Pacific Institute of Public Policy (PiPP) that “42% also included West Papua” as part of the Melanesian family and that a clear majority of respondents across Melanesia said yes to the question do you support independence for West Papua?

From PiPP press release.
When asked who they considered part of the Melanesian family, a clear majority of respondents included the established members (PNG, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Fiji and New Caledonia) while 42% also included West Papua, 17.1% included Australia, 14.9% included Indonesia and 14.1% included Timor Leste.

Another question posed was “do you support independence for West Papua?” A clear majority of respondents across Melanesia said yes, with very high support in PNG (89.3%) and Vanuatu (88.2%). This suggests a disconnect between popular support and the position taken by governments in the region, except Vanuatu, which has long championed the West Papuan cause at the political level.

Joe Collins said ” we see that in the poll only 14.9% of respondents considered Indonesian to be part of the Melanesian family yet Indonesian has observer status but not West Papua. For the sake of the long term stability of the region we hope West Papua will be discussed at the leaders meeting.

AWPA: West Papua 2010 Chronology of events

The Australia West Papua Association has produced a very useful chronology of all key events that occurred in West Papua in 2010.  The full document can be accessed here: West Papua 2010 Chronology of events,

The introduction is reprinted below:

Human rights situation in West Papua[1]

The human rights situation in West Papua continued to deteriorate in 2010. One incident in particular highlighted the worsening human rights situation and that was the shocking video footage of West Papuans being tortured by Indonesian soldiers. The video showed several men in military fatigues torturing two Papuans. The soldiers in the video threaten the two men with sharp weapons and pressed a burning bamboo stick against one of the men’s genitals. The torture of the men prompted a wave of international criticism with human rights organisations around the world condemning the actions  of the Indonesian military.  This incident was not an isolated incident and in further evidence of  human rights abuses another report  accused the police of burning down the village of Bigiragi in the Puncak Jaya district.  The report said that 16 Mobile Brigade officers had burned the village to the ground on October 11. The report said that at least 29 homes were destroyed in the incident leaving at least 150 people homeless

Military operations in Puncak Jaya

A number of  military operation took place in the Puncak Jaya region in 2010 and in fact security operations have been ongoing in the Puncak Jaya region for years . Security forces  conduct regular sweeps  (military operations) in the area to pursue members of the Free Papua Movement (OPM).  Many reports have pointed out the the security forces have great difficulty distinguishing  between what the term separatists  and the general public. These operations leave the local people traumatised and in fear for their lives.  In a report in Bintang Papua (29 June)  The local chief of police admitted that “the OPM  are all over the place including in the town of Mulia, mingling with the community. He said that because the features of the mountain people are almost the same as other people in the area, ‘it is making it very difficult for us to differentiate  between who is OPM and who is just an ordinary member of the community”. This statement raises great concerns that civilians are in danger of being targeted as members of the OPM. During these military operations villages have been destroyed as well as  gardens and livestock. In September  the House of Representatives (DPR) Law Commission deputy chairman, Tjatur Sapto Edy lamented the military operations in the Puncak Jaya Regency following a report by the  National Commission for Human Rights (Komnas HAM). Tjatur said there should be no more military operations and such approaches  are no longer suitable in a democracy. A report by Komnas HAM’s Papua chapter revealed 29 cases of rights abuses occurred in Puncak Jaya regency from 2004-2010, including the torture and rape of villagers in March 2010 by law enforcers.

In September  an article in the the SMH alleged that Indonesia’s elite counter-terrorism unit, Detachment 88, brutalised a group of separatists, repeatedly beating them in detention. Australia helps fund Detachment 88.  The report also said the Australian Government had sent an official to the Indonesian province of Maluku to investigate the  claims but an Australian embassy official denied there was an investigation going on although an embassy officer had visited Maluku as part of a regular program of provincial visits.

Leaked Kopassus report

In November investigative journalist Alan Nairn released a secret report by a Kopassus task force which shows a list of West Papuans engaged in human rights work are a target of the Indonesian Special Force Group, Kopassus. The list includes members of civil society organisations, church groups , activists, students and  members of the MRP.  The report can be found on his blog at

In December cables released by WikiLeaks in relation to West Papuan human rights confirmed what NGOs  have been telling their governments for years, that it is the Indonesian military that are one of the main problems in West Papua.

The cables revealed that US diplomats blame the government in Jakarta for unrest in West Papua due to neglect, corruption and human rights abuses.  That Indonesian military commanders have been accused of illegal logging operations and drug smuggling from West Papua into Papua New Guinea, and also that a lifting of the US ban on training with Kopassus was made a condition of Obama’s  visit to Jakarta.

Also in December the coordinator of the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras), a major Indonesian human rights group accused the National Police of being the state institution guilty of committing the highest number of acts of violence against the public in 2010.  In the Jakarta Post (7/12/10) , the Papua chapter of the National Commission for Human Rights (Komnas HAM) reported a 70 percent increase in the number of cases of violence in Papua, most of which were allegedly committed by security officers. The Jakarta-based Legal Aid Foundation  in another report said Indonesian law enforcers routinely torture suspects and convicts to extract confessions or obtain information. The groups report found beatings, intimidation and rape are so commonplace they are considered the norm. It also found that few victims believe they have the right to lodge complaints.

West Papua suffered from a number of natural disasters in 2010 including a 7.1magnitude earthquake  that occurred of the northern coast of Papua in June,  destroying a number of  villages with loss of life on Yapen island.  In October the town of Wasior was hit by flash  floods  causing severe damage leaving over 158 people dead, 145 persons missing and thousands left homeless. There was some debate if the cause of the floods was due to deforestation in the surrounding areas or was due to  unusually heavy rainfall

Political prisoners

It is difficult to known the exact number of political prisoners who are in jail in West Papua because of the difficulty of access and restrictions on the gathering of information in the territory. In Amnesty’s  International Report for  2010, it states

“At least 114 people were detained for peacefully expressing their views. The overwhelming majority were peaceful political activists who were sentenced to terms of imprisonment for raising prohibited pro independence flags in Maluku or Papua”.

And in an  extract from Human Rights Watch World Report for 2010, in relation to West Papua.  “Indonesian authorities have responded to a longstanding, low-level armed separatist insurgency in the provinces of Papua and West Papua with a strong troop presence and often harsh and disproportionate responses to non-violent dissent or criticism. Human Rights Watch has long expressed concerns over anti-separatist sweeps by the police, which often result in individuals who peacefully express support for independence being arrested and detained on charges of treason or rebellion (makar).

West Papua -one of our nearest neighbours

West Papua is one of our nearest neighbours and the West Papuan people face great challenges including  ongoing human rights abuses, the exploitation of their natural resources with little or no benefit to themselves, the danger of becoming a minority in their own land as the result of migrants arriving daily and a  HIV/AIDS epidemic.

The Australian Government has  always been concerned about instability in the region to our north but as events in 2010 have shown, it is the Indonesian military which  are causing the instability in West Papua. The recent reports of the torture of West Papuans by the Indonesian security forces and the information from the WikiLeaks cables about US concerns at the activities of the TNI in relation to West Papua, aptly show this.


The Australian West Papua Association  (Sydney)

urges the Australian Government to re- think its policy of ties with the  Indonesian military until such time that Indonesian military  personnel involved in past human rights abuses are brought to justice and the culture of the Indonesian military becomes of an  acceptable standard to both the Australian people and Australian military. In the short term we urge the Government to put a moratorium on the training, funding and any ties between  the Australian military,  Detachment 88 and the special forces unit Kopassus, until a full inquiry is held into the activities of these units in relation to human rights abuses in the archipelago.

urges the Australian Government to sent a fact finding mission to West Papua to not only investigate the human rights situation in the territory but to see how Australia can  help the West Papuan people in capacity building in the fields of health  and education. We thank the Australian Government for the funding it has already given to aid  projects in West Papua but urge more aid-funding to support health programs and medical organizations (local and international) working on the ground in West Papua and in the long term to support the training of the West Papuan people themselves as health professionals.

There are a number of Indigenous  human rights NGOs in West Papua and the Australian Government can  strengthen  the  human rights situation in West Papua by supporting these organisations  with financial aid,  capacity building and education.

We recommended that human rights defenders working in human rights organisations in West Papua be funded to attend human rights courses in Australia and the region.. There are a number of programs in Australia which can  advance human rights and empower civil society in West Papua through education, training and capacity building. These programs are suitable for individual human rights defenders and community advocates.

We also call on the Australian Government to urge the Indonesian President to release all West Papuan political prisoners as a sign of good faith to the West Papuan people.

The problems in West Papua won’t be solved by Jakarta  deploying more troops to the region or conducting more military operations. What the West Papuans are asking for is dialogue between Jakarta  and West Papuan representatives.  AWPA calls on the Australian Government to urge the Indonesian Government to dialogue with representatives of the West Papuan people to solve the issues of concern held by the West Papuan people.

[1] AWPA (Sydney) uses the name “West Papua” to refer to the whole of the western half of the Island of New Guinea. However, “West Papua” at this time is divided into two provinces, Papua and West Papua.

AWPA (Sydney) Urges Moratorium on Australian aid to Detachment 88 torturers

Australia West Papua Association, Sydney
PO Box 28, Spit Junction, Sydney, Australia 2088

The Hon Julia Gillard MP
Prime Minister
Parliament House
ACT 2600

15  September 2010

Dear Prime Minister,

On behalf of the Australia West Papua Association  (AWPA),  I am writing to you concerning the recent media reports about the torture of activists in Maluku by members of the Indonesian counter-terrorism unit Detachment 88. Detachment 88 also operates in West Papua where they have  also  been accused of human rights abuses. In December 2009  the West Papuan  leader Kelly Kwalik who was of great symbolic importance  to the West Papuan people was killed  by the Indonesian security forces  which included members of  Detachment 88.  We will not go into great detail of the human rights abuses committed by this unit and that of the other Indonesian Special Forces unit,  Kopassus.  These human rights abuses have been documented in numerous reports and the activities of the Indonesian security forces  are well know to the Australian people from their past history in East Timor, Aceh and the ongoing abuses in West Papua.  A recent Human Rights Watch report titled “What Did I Do Wrong?” Papuans in Merauke Face Abuses by Indonesian Special Forces,”  documents a number of cases of West Papuans who were tortured by Kopassus troops.
AWPA and other civil society organisations have written regularly to Australian Governments over many years about our ties with the Indonesian military. We have raised concerns that any aid or training given to the military would be used against the West Papuan people who are struggling for their right to self-determination.

Many of the NGO submissions to the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties (JSCOT) concerning  the Lombok treaty, also raised  concerns about the past history of  the Indonesian military’s treatment of civilian populations.  Unfortunately these concerns have proven yet again justified in the case of the treatment of activists in West Papua and Maluku.

During the occupation of East Timor by Indonesia, the Australian Government appeared to believe that by continuing ties with the Indonesian military that  the professionalism of the Australian military would  rub off on the Indonesian military.  However, this  proved to be wishful thinking and a complete failure  as  was shown  by the behavior of the Indonesian military at the time of the referendum in East Timor. It is also a failure now.  To quote from the Human Rights Watch Report  “The cases in this report illustrate how violence thrives when a culture of impunity persists in  the heart of what is supposed to be one of Indonesia’s best trained fighting units”.

AWPA is urging you to put a moratorium on the training, funding and any ties between  the Australian military,  Detachment 88 and the special forces unit  Kopassus, until a full inquiry is held into the activities of these units in relation to  human rights abuses in the archipelago.

Yours sincerely
Joe Collins
AWPA (Sydney)

CC The Hon Kevin Rudd MP
Minister for Foreign Affairs
The Hon Stephen Smith MP
Minister for Defence
Various human rights organisations

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