Australia must show leadership on West Papua: Speech by Senator Richard Di Natale in Australian Parliament

From the Hansard, 20 June 2012. 


Senator DI NATALE (Victoria) (13:17): I rise today to express my grave concerns about a tragic situation that is unfolding on Australia’s doorstep at this very moment. I speak of the issue of West Papua, where alarming abuses of human and democratic rights are occurring. It appears that there has been a significant escalation in politically motivated violence over the past month. So it is timely to reflect on what is happening in a place that is one of our closest neighbours and the role we can play in ending the conflict and protecting the rights of the people who live there.

West Papua presents a challenge for Australian diplomacy and for the global community. It is a challenge that this nation and indeed the world is yet to meet. Although it is the world’s second largest island, New Guinea is a part of the world that rarely makes the nightly news. The western half of the island is West Papua. The situation faced by its people is something that deserves our urgent attention.

West Papua was one of the last parts of Asia to be decolonised. The Dutch retained control of the region when Indonesia gained its independence in 1949. The Netherlands took steps to prepare the territory for independence, which included the development of a national anthem and a national flag, called the Morning Star. Sadly, this independence was not to be. Indonesia had always claimed the province, and conflict between the Netherlands and Indonesia over West Papua resulted in armed conflict in 1961. In 1963 the New York agreement passed administration of West Papua over to Indonesia. West Papua was formally annexed to Indonesia in 1969, following what was then called the Act of Free Choice. Papuans call this the ‘Act of No Choice’. A true act of self-determination should have occurred, but it did not. The Papuans were denied their chance to vote on their future. Instead, there was an atmosphere of violence and intimidation, with 1,022 hand-picked Papuans assembled, cajoled, bribed and threatened into voting to become part of the Republic of Indonesia.

I am sorry to say that the people of West Papua have been waiting ever since for the chance to express their desires to chart their own future. Self-determination, a right belonging to all people, was denied to them. Indonesia fought long and hard for its own independence, so the Indonesians do understand the desire for self-determination. Indeed, they would consider themselves as the liberators of West Papua from colonial rule, which in my view is a sad irony, when we consider what has happened there since 1969.

The people of West Papua are Melanesian. They are ethnically, linguistically and culturally distinct from the majority of Indonesians. They are ruled from Jakarta by a government that often seems more interested in their resources and in what can be gained from the region than in their welfare. They have had to endure a new form of colonisation, and Melanesian Papuans are already a minority in some parts of West Papua. In fact, they may soon be a minority in the province as a whole if current trends continue. Papuans now face the outrage of being discriminated against in their own land, with the public service, business elites and security forces now dominated by non-indigenous Papuans.

The Papuans must watch powerlessly as their land is exploited. The Grasberg gold and copper mine, the world’s largest, is an environmental disaster but provides very few benefits to the people of West Papua. The Papuans have to watch as their land is patrolled by the Indonesian army. They are nominally Indonesian citizens, yet the army is not there to defend their rights—in fact, in many cases quite the opposite occurs. The results are as predictable as they are tragic. Tension grows daily, ethnic division is rife, oppression leads to violence and the Papuan desire for the right to choose their own future has never been stronger.

In October last year, the Third Papuan People’s Congress was held in Jayapura. Five thousand Papuans attended to have a say on their future, and it was a peaceful gathering. The right to gather and discuss their future is guaranteed by the Indonesian constitution, yet the meeting was disrupted by a military crackdown. At least three people were killed. Five leaders were arrested and have since been jailed for three years. There was not a word of protest from the Australian government.

Since then, the situation has worsened. In the past two to three weeks, there have been shootings, killings and military violence in Jayapura. There have been a number of separate attacks, with several people having been shot or stabbed. The accounts filtering through indicate that no arrests have been made. Police and the military blame Papuan separatists, but human rights defenders in Papua point the finger squarely at Indonesian security forces. The perpetrators of this violence must be identified through a transparent process.

We have also heard reports of Indonesian security forces sweeping the Papuan highland town of Wamena. They have caused at least two deaths, injured at least 11 people and torched at least 70 houses. This was apparently retaliatory action—police were retaliating for the killing of one of their officers by Papuans. The killing of the police officer, however, was prompted by his killing, on his motorbike, of a Papuan child. Unless those inflicting violence are held accountable, this cycle of violence will continue and worsen.

We have now heard news of Papuan leader Mako Tabuni being shot and killed by police on Thursday last week. He was walking on the street near a housing complex in a suburb of Jayapura. Mako Tabuni was the deputy of the KNPB, a group which has called for a referendum on Papuan self-determination and a movement which has publicly identified itself as a peaceful one. The Australian Greens are deeply saddened to hear of the killing of Mako Tabuni. We extend our condolences to Mako Tabuni’s family and we confirm our solidarity with the people of West Papua whose human and democratic rights continue to be violated.

Police say Mako Tabuni was resisting arrest and armed with a weapon he had taken from his arresters, but eyewitness accounts say that Tabuni, as he walked by alone, was suddenly and unexpectedly shot by a gunman in one of several cars on the street. Tabuni’s killing prompted angry scenes in Jayapura as Papuans protested his death. All of this has been taking place while many Papuans languish as political prisoners in Indonesian prisons, charged with treason for raising their flag, singing their traditional songs or expressing their political views. One example is Filep Karma, who has been in prison for over a decade for doing nothing more than peacefully protesting. I again call on the government to urge our Indonesian neighbours to take action to ensure that democracy and human rights are upheld in this region.

It has been a bloody few weeks in West Papua, adding to the horror experienced by the West Papuan people over many decades of Indonesian rule over their lands. Australians are now becoming more aware of these atrocities being committed on their doorstep. They know what happened in East Timor under Indonesian rule and they know that we, as a nation, cannot sit idly by while it occurs again in West Papua.

There is a petition due to be tabled next week in the House of Representatives, brought to the parliament by a community activist group based in my home state of Victoria and signed by more than 3,000 Australians. It calls on the Australian government to request that the United Nations review the New York agreement of 1962 and the 1969 Act of Free Choice and conduct a genuine, UN monitored referendum on self-determination in which all adult West Papuans are allowed to vote without duress. The petition also calls on the House of Representatives to stop all Australian financial support to and training of Indonesian military and security personnel until human rights abuses by military and security personnel in West Papua cease. It asks elected representatives to request the Indonesian government to remove the media blockade and allow international journalists free access to West Papua.

I have spoken before in the parliament about the desire of the Greens to see West Papuans free to express their political views without fear of persecution. But this freedom will not be realised until there is more international scrutiny. It is absolutely paramount that the region is opened up to journalists, who must be free to visit and report on the situation on the ground. The story of the West Papuans must be told. The truth must be told. Human rights organisations must also be allowed into the region. Until this scrutiny is applied, all we have to assure us that illegal acts are not occurring are the assertions of local authorities. It would not be wise, given the history, to take these assertions at face value.

I will continue to advocate for the human rights of one of our nearest neighbours until we see this important change. People should never feel the threat of violence or death simply for expressing their political views. We must advocate for a new dialogue between the Indonesian government and the representatives of the Papuan people. While in theory West Papua has special autonomy, this has failed the West Papuan people. It is time to start discussions afresh.

It is worth noting that Indonesia recently underwent its UN periodic review, a human rights review which occurs for UN member states every four years. This was an opportunity for fellow UN member states to make observations and recommendations about the human rights record of Indonesia. The review was held on 23 May and the Indonesian government accepted 180 recommendations from 74 countries. Indonesia adopted 144 of these, with the remainder to be brought back to Indonesia to be considered and decided upon in September 2012 during the 21st session of the UN Human Rights Council. Of the recommendations yet to be adopted, it remains to be seen whether Indonesia will address those relating to the protection of human rights defenders. It has been called on to free those people detained for peaceful political protests. It is unacceptable that someone like Filep Karma be detained for decades simply for expressing a right that all of us should be granted.

Among the remaining items that Indonesia has taken home to discuss, it has also recommended that they address issues of impunity and immediately take action on reports of human rights violations committed by the military and by police, particularly in Papua. I will be watching those responses with interest.

Beyond the UN periodic review, the world will be watching West Papua. There is new scrutiny on this region, with new technologies now enabling Papuans to convey messages, photos and video to the outside world. They are sharing their experiences of brutality and conflict despite the restrictions that prevent outside journalists from reporting in the region.

Here in Australia a group of young West Papuan activists are using online media and music to create awareness of the oppression their families are experiencing back home. I have met with many members of this group. In fact, I enjoyed their music. A group called the Rize of the Morning Star deserve to be commended for their advocacy and activism on this hugely important issue. It is a project that is capturing the hearts and minds of many Australians through music, telling the traditional stories of West Papua and asking us all to sit up and listen to what is happening in the region.

The petition that will be tabled next week is a notice to this parliament that thousands of Australians are outraged at the human rights abuses occurring in West Papua. I urge the foreign minister, Minister Carr, to take the concerns of these Australians to his Indonesian counterpart. I am also pleased that with several of my colleagues I will be inviting all members of this 43rd Parliament to join us in establishing a parliamentary friends of West Papua group. It will be an opportunity for us to collaborate across party lines on the complex issues facing our neighbours.

West Papua is a chance for Australia to show real leadership. It is a chance for us to show that we will stand up for the values of peace and democracy we so readily espouse. We can argue for a peaceful and optimistic future for Papua and remain a good friend of Indonesia. But it starts with facing the truth. We must face this truth before more blood is spilt.

Greens: Reports of villages razed, homes torched in West Papua

Reports of villages razed, homes torched in West Papua

Senator Richard Di Natale, Greens spokesperson for West Papua, has expressed his concern at reports of the razing of villages and forced evacuations in the Paniai region of West Papua yesterday during a campaign by Indonesian security forces against local members of the Free Papua National Liberation Army.

Though the area is not open to journalists, reports from human rights organisations suggest that Brimob paramilitary police and elite counter-terrorism troops from Detachment 88, consisting of units armed, trained, and supplied by the Australian Government, were deployed.

“It is very worrying to hear of dozens of villages being torched and helicopters dropping large numbers of Indonesian ground troops into the Paniai region,” said Senator Di Natale.

“If these reports from the region are accurate they indicate a very heavy handed military presence.

“Australia and the rest of the world is watching West Papua right now after the recent violent crackdown at the West Papua People’s Congress. This is yet another very concerning move by the Indonesian military in a region where human rights and democratic freedoms are not being upheld.”

West Papua – Question and Motion to the Australian Senate, Nov 1st 2011

From the Australian Greens office of Senator Richard Di Natale

Question and motion that Senator Richard Di Natale, Greens spokesperson for West Papua, put to the Australian Senate this week, on Tuesday 1 November.

Senator Richard Di Natale  put a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Home Affairs, Joe Ludwig, regarding the Australian government’s support for the Indonesian military, in light of recent events in West Papua. Senator Di Natale also moved a Motion in the Senate to condemn the violent crackdown at the recent Papuan People’s Congress, to recognise the rights of West Papuans to freely assemble, and to call for the humane treatment and timely release of those arrested.

Richard is working to raise awareness of the situation in West Papua, and to seek the Australian government’s action to suspend their ties with the Indonesian military.

You can watch and share a video of Senator Di Natale’s Senate question and motion here:


You can also follow Richard’s work as Greens spokesperson for West Papua here:

Suspend military ties with Indonesia: Greens


Posted on 20. Oct, 2011 by RichardDiNatale in Media ReleaseWest Papua

Australian Greens Senator and spokesperson on West Papua, Richard Di Natale, is calling on the Australian government to suspend military cooperation with Indonesia.

Last night the Indonesian military (TNI) opened fire on the third West Papuan People’s Congress, arrested community leaders and hundreds more. There are reports from a single witness of nine delegates shot while trying to flee.

“This is the latest in a series of escalating acts of repression by the Indonesian military in West Papua,” said Senator Di Natale.

“The Australian government cannot sit on its hands while these appalling acts continue to occur.

“The Minister for Defence should immediately announce a suspension of defence cooperation with Indonesia, until this matter is properly investigated and the President has committed to open dialogue with Papuan leaders.

“The government should also pressure the Indonesian authorities to allow access by foreign journalists. The best protection the Papuans can hope for is the light of international scrutiny.

“In the meantime, the Australian government should send a fact-finding mission to the area and find out for itself what is going on.”

The Greens have sought full detail on the millions of dollars spent on Australia’s defence cooperation with Indonesia in the past.

“The government also needs to come clean on support for the Indonesian military. Australians would be horrified to know their money and their government supports human rights violations in West Papua, one of our nearest neighbours.”

Media contact: Andrew Blyberg 0457 901 600



WESTPAPUAMEDIA.INFO and local sources

October 19, 2011

1400 JAYAPURA : Indonesian troops and police have amassed outside the Third Papuan Peoples‘ Congress in a show of force that credible sources arereporting is to forcibly break up a peaceful gathering of thousands of Papuans in Taboria oval (Zaccheus Field), Abepura, Jayapura, the capital of West Papua.

The Third Papuan People’s Congress is being held for the second time since Indonesia’s invasion in 1963. Papuan delegates openly discussed their rights to self-determination and the pathways to a referendum on the future of West Papua. Forkorus Yaboisembut, the chair of the Papuan Customary Council was quoted in Papuan media sources as saying that the Congress is “part of the struggle of indigenous Papuans to enforce their fundamental rights.” He argued that Papuans are not seeking to undermine or destroy Indonesia. however “we strive to uphold our fundamental rights, including political rights, including the right to independence as a nation…. And whatever be produced, the Government of Indonesia should able to appreciate it.”

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Photos and video sent live from Petapa Community security forces and West Papua Media stringers are showing a massive buildup of military hardware surrounding the conference venue, where up to 20,000 people have been gathering since October 16 to determine their pathway to self-determination. Occupying Indonesian military forces have made regular public pronouncements in recent days that they will not allow any gathering to threaten the unity of the Republic of Indonesia, and peaceful discussion is of this is also banned.
The congress is still continuing. According to witnesses the military presence is strong and fully armed with automatic weapons. Army Panser armed personnel carriers and Police Barracudas are present but they appear not to have made moves to physically break-up the gathering. However, the presence of the security forces seems to have deterred some from attending.

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Sources at Congress from Church, West Papua National Authority, Dewan Adat Papua and West Papuan National Cmmittee representatives that they are all prepared to stay and continue to meet until finished. Not sure when that will be. They are in the process of discussing a transitional / parallel government structure.

Delegates of the conference have sent out a series of urgent messages to the international community demanding that act immediately to stop a brutal Indonesian military action that is set to forcibly breakup the historic gathering.

Markus Haluk, the leader of a Papuan youth organization, sent a plea via text message, saying that it’s an “emergency situation.” He wrote, “In some moments possibly we will be massacred and there will be a bloodbath.” Haluk asked international supporters to tell the Kapolda (Head of Police) and the Pangdam (Military Commander for Papua Erfi Triassunu) in Jayapura to retrieve their troops.

Text messages sent to the military commanders from international supporters demand “The world is watching the 3rd Papuan National Congress. Remove troops and police now. Let West Papuans exercise their human right to gather and discuss their future without violence”.

The Australian Greens have also expressed deep concern. “The Congress is a peaceful event, and the Papuan people have a right to assemble and discuss their future,” said Greens West Papua spokesperson, Senator Richard Di Natale, from the Australian Parliament today. “To meet without threat of violence is a fundamental human right that all citizens enjoy.”

Senator Di Natale has also been in contact with the Indonesia Embassy in Canberra today to convey the concern.

“No level of violence is acceptable at a peaceful gathering,” added Senator Di Natale. “The authorities will have to answer to the world for any bloodshed that occurs.”

Papuan activists who declined to be identified have requested that international supporters telephone the chiefs of Police and the Army (Kapolda – +62 811 950376 and Pangdam TNI +62 811136522) to tell them to withdraw their forces immediately

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