By MARK ROY
FIVE Papuan independence activists are facing life in prison, with their trial getting underway in Jayapura, Papua, on Wednesday, February 8.
The ‘Jayapura Five’ led a peaceful demonstration in October 2011, demanding Papuans’ right to self determination. There has been no prosecution of security forces who brutally attacked that demonstration, killing at least three peaceful demonstrators and beating scores more.
A spokesperson for the Human Rights Law Centre in Australia, Tom Clarke, is asking why Australia is not sending legal observers to the trial.
“An unprincipled and myopic approach to human rights will fail in West Papua just as it did in East Timor,” Mr Clarke said.
“Australia needs a new approach, underpinned by a principled and persistent commitment to human rights, to addressing conflicts in our region.”
The Jayapura Five are Papuan leaders Forkorus Yaboisembut, Edison Waromi, August Makbrowen Senay, Dominikus Sorabut and Selpius Bobii, who were arrested at the Papuan People’s Congress after raising the Papuan ‘Morning Star’ flag and declaring independence. They now face charges of treason under archaic laws introduced to Indonesia by Dutch colonialists. Their lawyers say if found guilty, they face 20 years to life in prison.
Mr Clarke likened the current situation in Papua to that of Indonesia’s brutal occupation of East Timor. Successive Australian governments “turned a blind eye” to human rights abuses in that country for 24 years, he said.
“For two decades, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade officials and government ministers put on their best poker faces and told the Australian public that everything was just fine in East Timor,” he said.
“Credible reports of human rights abuses were routinely dismissed as the death toll climbed to more than 180,000. Looking at current events unfold in West Papua, it’s hard not to feel that when it comes to dealing with human rights abuses on our doorstep, Australia’s foreign policy is trapped in a ‘ground-hog day’ cycle.”
He said the “deafening silence” from the government was “extremely worrying”.
“While the US Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton has publically voiced her alarm about the unfolding situation in West Papua, pledging to again raise directly with Indonesia the need for political reforms to meet the legitimate needs of the Papuan people, neither Australia’s Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, or her Foreign Minister, Kevin Rudd, seem willing to speak up and out on the issue,” he said.
Following the violent crackdown at the Congress, Australia’s Ambassador to Indonesia, Greg Moriarty, was quoted by Indonesian media outlets as saying the actions of the Papuan leaders during the Congress had been “illegal, provocative, and counterproductive”.
“Indonesia has changed so much over the last decade, but it appears Australia’s diplomatic position is frozen in time,” Mr Clarke said.
The US State Department has called on the Indonesian authorities to ensure due process for those indicted and urged that Indonesia respect its international legal obligations related to the trial.
Human Rights Watch, for its part, called for the release of the five Papuans who are being tried under an archaic “subversion” provision of the criminal code. Reporters without Borders, in another global review, notes the growing threat to journalists in West Papua. The Asian Human Rights Commission reports on new Indonesian security force torture of Papuan civilians.
Jakarta has announced plans for a massive road building scheme in West Papua which will facilitate developers’ access to virgin forest areas.
A revealing report by the Jakarta Globe explores the prevalence of illiteracy among Papuan children, even in urban areas, and notes the central government’s persistent failure to provide educational services to Papuans.
The Government has again announced plans to create a new Papuan province, a step which will further divert funds from essential services for Papuans.