Jennifer Robinson: “It’s past time to speak for West Papua”

Jennifer Robinson: “It’s past time to speak for West Papua”

Jennifer Robinson: “It’s past time to speak for West Papua” Australia, Indonesia, News, North America, Pacific, Regions, UK, USA, West Papua
September 18, 2011

Source: The Age– Leaks reveal it’s past time to speak for West Papua
by Jennifer Robinson, September 12, 2011

Having been unjustifiably targeted on the “WikiLeaks Threat” list in secret US documents leaked in February, I was somewhat surprised to be left off the Indonesian intelligence watch list leaked last month about West Papua.

I mean, every man and [Australian TV Presenter] Naomi Robson was on it. And I’ve been acting as lawyer to exiled Papuan independence leader Benny Wenda far longer than I’ve acted for Julian Assange.

Robson’s listing was as much a damning indictment of the quality of Indonesian intelligence as a reflection of Indonesia’s paranoia about journalists seeing West Papua.

While Robson, in safari suit and lizard, was there to ”save” a child from alleged cannibals rather than to expose human rights abuse by the Indonesian military or report on Papuans’ aspirations for independence, she was arrested because that is exactly what she would have seen and – hopefully – reported.

The leaked documents also reveal the penetration of Indonesian surveillance on Papuans: everyone from teachers to taxi drivers is on the Kopassus payroll.

I have first-hand experience of it. In 2002 I worked with advocate John Rumbiak (now in exile in the US) at Elsham, a Papuan human rights organisation. As an Australian exchange student at an Indonesian university, I had entry where journalists were denied – but it did not spare me from surveillance or intimidation.

One day I travelled to a remote village to translate for a German friend researching the impact of transmigration on indigenous Papuans. Escorted by an Indonesian priest who offered to “help”, we were bemused by the robot-like positive responses to our questions. “It’s great,” they said in unison, “now we have rice and cigarettes.”

As we left, a woman walked close behind me and whispered – just out of earshot of our Indonesian escorts –

“if you want to hear the truth, come without the intel”.

Later that day I excused myself from the priest’s home, saying I needed a walk. I made it only two blocks before being ushered into a Papuan home.

“Please help us. They rape and kill our people. Tell the world.”

Traumatised by the psychological warfare now revealed in the leaked documents, they drew me close to whisper. Their stories were unimaginable; I fought back tears.

After that I saw things anew. Plain-clothes intelligence officers posed as ojek (motorcycle taxi drivers) outside my house, watching who came and taking me wherever I went. Emails were read over my shoulder in internet cafes. Some Papuan friends refused to meet me in public because it attracted unwanted attention. Instead, they jumped over my back fence after dark.

Weeks later I was in court working with defence counsel on the trial of the then political prisoner and independence leader, Benny Wenda. As I left the court building plain-clothes police confronted me and took me in for questioning. I was threatened with deportation, grilled for my ”political” activity in assisting the defence and released with a warning on condition I apologise to the chief of police.

The conflation of human rights and politics in Papua is not the sole realm of the Indonesian government. The Australian and US governments are equally guilty.

I was also given a stern warning by an Australian diplomat that my human rights work risked ”becoming a political football” for our government and that I was to ”keep [my] head down”. I soon learnt this was characteristic of the spineless and reactionary approach Australia takes to foreign policy on Papua. Similarly, a 2006 US embassy cable published by WikiLeaks condemns claims of genocide, gross human rights violations and environmental destruction in Papua as ”dramatic and vague”.

Rather than seeing human rights as a political nuisance and accusing advocates of embellishment, perhaps the US and Australia ought to push for access for international organisations and journalists so that claims can be properly investigated. In light of the recently leaked documents and the extent of human rights abuse, they should also reconsider military aid to Kopassus.

Judging by the furor over live cattle exports, it appears Australians care more about our cows than a million West Papuans being subjected to a slow-moving genocide.

Stand up Naomi Robson (you may as well; you are already on the list). Stand up Australia. Let us see how long we can make Indonesia’s next watch list and read it with pride when it turns up on WikiLeaks.

Jennifer Robinson is a human rights lawyer in London.


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  1. Kurt Spehr says:

    I salute Jennifer Robinson as a disabled U.S. Veteran to stand-up for the oppressed who are denied a voice in their own country! I am ashamed of my government’s supply of weaponry to help speed the genocide! I accept that corporate interests have robbed “We the People” of our say that this is just plain wrong to kill a people that are 95 percent Christians in their own ancestral lands! Can we really go to church on Sunday and believe Christ is going to accept our silent support of our government assisting genocide of our Christian brothers and sisters in West Papua? Attorney Robinson could you send me a letter with your autograph! You are my hero for West Papua!
    Please follow the Kosovo model using the ICJ “Greenland Opinion” that “soverignty” must involve a “continous peaceful occupation” which hasn’t happened since Indonesia’s military seizure of West Papua under the false premise it belonged to Indonesia! Indonesian peoples welcomed the Japanese Imperial Army invasion of the Dutch East Indies! West Papuans on the other hand assisted the allies repel the asian invaders so one in truth must ask the question; Why would West Papuans welcome other asian military invaders when only 15 years earlier they repelled another asian military invader with U.S. Army/Australian Army and New Zealand Army fighters?

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