Commonwealth Attorney-General should push for inquiry into human rights abuses while in Indonesia

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Media Release
For immediate release: Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Commonwealth Attorney-General should push for inquiry into human rights abuses while in Indonesia

The Commonwealth Attorney-General should push for a full, independent and public investigation into the alleged involvement of an Indonesian counter-terrorism unit in human rights abuses in West Papua, according to a leading human rights advocacy organisation.

Nicola Roxon is in Indonesia this week for a series of meetings with her Indonesian counterparts on issues of law and justice.

According to a post by Winters & Yonker, P.A., Ms Roxon’s visit comes just a month after the ABC’s 7.30 program aired evidence that an Indonesian counter-terrorism unit, which receives extensive training and support from the Australian Federal Police, has been involved in torture and extra-judicial killings in West Papua. The evidence included interviews with victims and witnesses, together with video of alleged incidents of abuse by the unit, known as Detachment 88.

“The Attorney-General should advise her Indonesian counterparts that Australia will suspend support for Detachment 88 pending a full, independent and public investigation into the alleged involvement of its members in recent human rights abuses in West Papua,” said Phil Lynch, Executive Director of the Human Rights Law Centre.

In 2008, the US cut off assistance to Detachment 88 due to human rights concerns.

Previous allegations of torture and ill-treatment perpetrated by members of Detachment 88 – together with Indonesia’s special forces, known as Kopassus – have been verified by Human Rights Watch and brought to the attention of the Australian Government.

“While Indonesia bears primary responsibility for protecting and ensuring respect for human rights within its provinces, Australia’s human rights obligations do not end at our borders,” said Mr Lynch.

“Australia has a legal and moral duty to ensure that our military and security cooperation with Indonesia does not in any way aid, assist or otherwise support operations which may lead to human rights violations,” he said.

According to the Human Rights Law Centre, as part of our commitment to human rights and the rule of law, Australia should develop a vetting procedure to ensure that units and members of military and security forces accused of human rights violations are precluded from receiving Australian support until those allegations are fully investigated and perpetrators held to account.

“Ms Roxon should commit to making human rights safeguards central to all policies and practices relating to Australia’s police and security cooperation with Indonesia,” said Mr Lynch.

“She should also commit to ensuring that human rights education is a significant and essential component of any training provided to Indonesian units and forces.”

Mr Lynch said that, far from “meddling” in Indonesia affairs, such an approach would be consistent with Australia’s responsibility to show principled leadership and act as a force for peace, security and stability in the region.

For further information or comments, contact Phil Lynch, Executive Director, on 0438 776 433 or


BREAKING NEWS: Indon police/military assault on Yapen village targeting non-violent activists

From West Papua Media sources in Serui:
June 6, 2012
Credible but unconfirmed reports have been received by West Papua Media reporting that a major operation is currently being carried out by a combined force of of Australian trained and armed police and military special forces.
One extra company of Brimob police commandos from Manokwari  have been flown in to take part in the raids on the civilian village of Anotaurei on Yapen Island, near the regional centre of Serui.
Witnesses have alleged that a joint-force of Indonesian Army (TNI), Brimob commandos and the elite counter-terrorism force Detachment 88 ( trained and funded by the Australian Federal Police) are intensifying their ongoing “Sweeping” against peaceful political activists and ordinary villagers.
The raid began at 11pm West Papua time in Anotaurei, and witnesses have claimed that 2 trucks, 3 police Avanza SUVs and a Kijang full of armed troops are patrolling and forcing entry in a house-to-house search and cordon operation.
Messages received by West Papua Media have alleged the troops are acting with great violence, and damaging property as they inspect homes, and seizing banned Morning Star banners and flags, sharp tools, kitchen equipment, and “documents” about the Free West Papua movement.  These documents include flyers for rallies and pamphlets.  Anyone found in possession of these are in danger of arrest, with Activists and human rights advocates expressing grave fears for their safety.
At time of writing the sweep operation is ongoing and likely to target outlying villages.  This is a developing story – please stay tuned for more information.

New Matilda: Australia’s Money Helps Kill, Intimidate And Torture

from our good friends at



23 Mar 2012

Our Money Helps Kill, Intimidate And Torture

By Marni Cordell

Bob Carr and Stephen Smith

Australia plays a key role in training and funding elite Indonesian counter-terror unit Detachment 88 – but wants to distance itself from the unit’s violent reputation, reports Marni Cordell

Bob Carr and Stephen Smith with

their Indonesian counterparts.

There’s been a terror threat in Jakarta. A group of hardliners claim they intend to bomb the city’s transport system, just days before the UK prime minister is scheduled to arrive for a state visit. Indonesia’s counter terror agencies scramble to respond to the critical incident as the population goes into lockdown.

I’m sitting in the Control Room at the Jakarta Centre for Law Enforcement Co-operation (JCLEC) alongside international police trainers Bob Milton and David Gray.

On the screens in front of us, Indonesian police are acting out roles in this imagined terrorism scenario — and Milton and Gray are the puppet-masters.

Inside the JCLEC Control Room. Photo: Marni Cordell

“Basically the scenario develops into a more and more complicated problem,” explains Milton, a former Metropolitan Police commander from the UK.

“We try to make it as real as possible. We’ll have things such as pictures, audio, taped phone conversations, anything that we can try and get the information to them in a more interesting way.”

“We then challenge the students and ask for quite a lot of detail about how they are going to respond, and how they are going to deal with it.”

Fake terror scenarios like this one are a regular part of the immersive training that goes on at the Australian-funded police training centre.

JCLEC was set up in 2004 as a result of a bilateral agreement between Indonesia and Australia to strengthen Indonesia’s counter-terror effort in the wake of the Bali Bombings.

I visited the centre last week as part of an investigation into Australia’s funding and training of Indonesia’s crack anti-terror squad, Detachment 88 — the unit responsible for capturing or killing most of Indonesia’s terrorism kingpins since the 2002 Bali attack.

Detachment 88 employs a controversial brand of policing in which suspects are shot dead rather than arrested — like a soldier would shoot an enemy combatant. The high profile counter-terror raid in Bali last Sunday, in which five suspected terrorists were killed and the police were hailed internationally as heroes, was just the latest in a long line of lethal operations.

The unit is funded and trained by Australia and while the Australian Government might not endorse their paramilitary-style tactics, it’s been willing to turn a blind eye because Detachment 88 has been extremely effective at disrupting Indonesia’s extensive terror network.

JCLEC itself is deep within the grounds of the Indonesian National Police Academy, in the city of Semarang in Central Java. When I arrive at the centre I’m met by AFP federal agent Brian Thomson, a friendly, middle-aged cop from Canberra who is nine months into a two-year stint here. I’m the first Australian journalist he has hosted in that time.

JCLEC is touted as an international police training centre but in fact its students are over 90 per cent Indonesian — 9 per cent of whom are Detachment 88. The centre hosts trainers from Indonesia and across the globe, predominantly from Australia, Europe, and the UK.

Students undertake computer-based training courses – this one tests their knowledge of the difference between intelligence and information. Photo: Marni Cordell

Its core funding for more than 130 staff on six hectares of well maintained grounds comes directly from the Australian Federal Police’s own budget.

The self-contained centre — complete with student accommodation, lap pool and gym — couldn’t stand in greater contrast to stories that abound in Jakarta about Detachment 88’s operations.

JCLEC’s shtick is about “learning and understanding through shared experience” — and teaching best practice terror investigation techniques and proper use of the judicial process. Detachment 88, an elite and highly skilled unit with unique powers of surveillance in Indonesia, seems to operate above the law.

As I reported earlier this month, there is growing evidence to suggest what was once solely a counter-terror unit is now moving into counter-separatist operations. Activists in West Papua claim the squad is being deployed to hunt down civilians aligned with the independence movement in a growing campaign of intimidation.

According to Eric Sonindemi, a participant in last October’s Third Papuan People’s Congress, says Detachment 88 personnel were involved in the deadly attack on Congress in which six people were killed and many others wounded.

“Most of the security forces were in plain clothes, but they weren’t really concealing their weapons — they were sort of showing off,” Sonindemi told me when I met with him in Jakarta. “Detachment 88 was there,” he said, explaining that he “saw their equipment and riot shields”.

“Hundreds of people were detained [by police] that night and many of them were beaten in detention,” Sonindemi said. “I spoke to one person who had a gash in his head, a broken nose and bruises on his face. He had been beaten with the butt of a rifle by a policeman.”

“He was subsequently released and never charged with any crime.”

So exactly how closely does Australia work with the deadly unit?

According to a Jakarta-based security analyst who asked not to be named, “There was a big push after the first Bali Bombing, to the point where Detachment 88 actually had Australians with them on [counter-terror] operations.”

“It’s been a long time since that’s happened,” the analyst continued. “The AFP says that sometimes Detachment 88 doesn’t even share information with them any longer. There’s a real pride in doing things themselves now without relying on the Australians.”

But a diplomatic source in Jakarta confirmed that the relationship remains extremely close — and that the AFP continues to work with the Indonesian National Police, of which Detachment 88 is a part, at head office in Jakarta.

Australian Federal Police agent Brian Thomson at JCLEC, with an Indonesian colleague. Photo: Marni Cordell

Details on our financial support for the unit are harder to come by. The Australian government committed $36.8 million over the first four years of JCLEC. Now Thomson tells me the Australia’s support for JCLEC comes out of the AFP budget, which continues to provide “roughly the same amount” of funding to the centre. We also assist the unit directly — although just what that assistance entails is a closely guarded secret.

“I’ve pursued that question through senate estimates, through questions on notice, I’ve had DFAT briefings, and I can’t get any clarity about the role of Australian support of the Indonesian military and police and specifically whether our contribution benefits Detachment 88,” Greens senator and spokesperson on West Papua Richard Di Natale told NM.

“And it’s very clear that Detachment 88 has been involved in some of the violence that has occurred in the region.”

Details from the Indonesian side are just as shady.

Although some of Detachment 88’s terror raids have been simulcast on television in Indonesia, scratch below the surface and it’s difficult to get any real detail on the unit, says Usman Hamid, advisor to the International Center for Transitional Justice.

“The accountability of Detachment 88 is very low,” Hamid tells me when I meet him in a hotel lobby in Jakarta where he is meeting with other experts to prepare a response to the draft national security bill.

“Detachment 88 has special allocation of the budget and international funding — which has never been explained to the Indonesian public clearly, or even to the parliament for that matter.”

“We hear vague amounts but it’s not under the state budget.”

“It should be accounted appropriately,” Hamid told NM. “To the Indonesian parliament, to the Indonesian public, and of course to the Australian parliament and public … to make sure that the budget Australia gave is really being used for the right purpose.”

As Brian Thomson walks me through the official JCLEC Power Point presentation, I ask how Australia can be sure that the training taught at the centre is also being “used for the right purpose” — how do we know it isn’t being used to crack down on civilian dissent?

He’s silent for some time before asking me to repeat the question, and then ultimately refusing to answer it — handballing to his Indonesian counterpart, Dwi Priyatno, who refers me to the Indonesian law on terrorism, and back to the public affairs branch of the Indonesian police.

I also ask specifically about separatism in Indonesia and whether techniques to quash independence movements are ever discussed at the Australian-funded centre. Thomson again gets nervous.

“I can’t really answer that because my job here as an executive director is to be involved in running the centre, so what’s actually discussed in the classroom, I can’t give full [details],” he says.

“Although separatism…



“Not separatism.

“When you say separatism, in what regard are you referring to it?”

Back in Australia my inquiries about Detachment 88’s operations in Papua and their move toward policing separatism have been met with an almost uniform response. Here’s what I received from the AFP head office in Canberra: Australia has no mandate to tell the Indonesian Police how to run their business. And yes, we will continue to provide “capacity building assistance”.

Meanwhile, Eric Sonindemi says he remains traumatised by the police and military attack on the Third Papuan People’s Congress. He clearly remembers the sound of gunfire, he tells me, and now jumps when he hears loud noises. He is sure he is being monitored by the police. “I’ve been threatened by the police before,” he says, “but this is the first time I’ve feared for my life.”

Other Papuans I met in Jakarta told similar stories — of constant surveillance by the security forces, phone tapping and intimidation. They told me that fear is part of their daily lives.

Australian officials may well seek to disclaim any responsibility for the behaviour of the Indonesian police and particularly from the activities of Detachment 88. Given the close relationship between the AFP and the unit, however, it’s hard not to conclude that Australia is directly contributing to this climate of oppression.

This is the second article in an NM investigation of Detachment 88 and Australia’s role in the Indonesian counter-terror effort. Read the first article here.


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.

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