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Fear and Trembling – Australia’s gutless approach to the genocide in Papua

Categories: Accountability, Arc of instability, Asia-Pacific, Australian Defence Force, Australian Federal Police, Commonwealth Government, Corporate profit, Corruption, Democracy, Discrimination/Racism, Equality, Government, Human Rights, Hypocrisy, Indigenous People, Indonesia, International Law, Law Enforcement, Neo-Colonialism, Pacific Neighbours, PNG, Racism, Rule of Law, Shared humanity, Solomon Islands

by: Bakchos
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The following article appeared in Friday’s Jakarta Post:

Maj. Gen. Wisnu Bawatenaya has been appointed to become commander of the Indonesian Army Special Forces (Kopassus) replacing Maj. Gen. Lodewijk F Paulus, an official said Thursday.

The Indonesian Military (TNI) deputy spokesman Col. Minulyo Suprapto said the appointment was mentioned in the Indonesian Military (TNI) commander’s decree No. 683/IX/2011, dated on Sept. 6 in which the TNI also made other 12 shakeups on its top brass officers.

Previously, Wisnu served as the commander for the Army Infantry Corps training center and chief staff with Tanjung Pura Military Command.

Outgoing Lodwijk F Paulus will assume new assignment as Bukit Barisan Military Commander.

Why this is of interest to Blak and Black is that Kopassus like the Australian Federal Police (“AFP”) is an organisation that appears to be beyond the reach of the national laws of its state of origin, it is regularly accused of human rights violations, and is to all intent and purpose a rogue arm of government.

The day before the Jakarta Post announced the elevation of Maj. Gen. Wisnu Bawatenaya to commander of Kopassus Tempo Interaktif Nasional (“Tempo”) reported that that the Australian Special Operations Command (SOCOMD) conducting a two-week joint training exercise with Kopassus in the Thousand Islands regency, north of Jakarta. According to TEMPO, the joint exercises will focus on live fire training and marine terrorism prevention.

This latest development should not come as a surprise to many people. Australia has worked alongside the TNI and Kopassus for decades in a sordid display of mutual self-interests which became even cozier following Bali bombings in 2002 in which 88 Australians were killed.

That being said, few things expose the completely fraudulent character of the “global war on terrorism” as much as the on-going cozy relationship between the AFP the ADF and the thugs of Indonesia’s notorious Kopassus Special Forces. With the farcical appellation of fighting terror, the AFP and the ADF continue collaborating with an organisation that has a proven record of terrorism—from the torture and murder of political opponents to systematic violence against entire populations in East Timor, West Papua and Aceh.

Kopassus is one of the regions, if not one of the world’s most controversial Special Forces units. Kopassus has a long history of systematic human rights abuses. Last year, the glare international attention fell on Kopassus after the United States agreed to start engaging it following the lifting of an embargo that had previously placed on Kopassus. It should be noted however, that the United States used loopholes in the embargo to fund the TNI and Kopassus following the 9/11 attacks and Bali bombings – another example of the fraudulent character of the “global war on terrorism”.

In August Kopassus received further negative publicity when the Sydney Morning Herald published reports alleging that Kopassus had established extensive spy networks in Papua that were targeting civilians, politicians, clergy and even foreign tourists, Human Rights Watch said the surveillance violated freedom of expression and assembly.

Australia and human rights violations in Papua

In the last decade or so, following the 2002 Bali bombings and in the face of ASIO and AFP spin about increased threats from terrorism, Australia played a pivotal role in the establishment of the Indonesian police counter-terrorist unit Detachment 88.

Australia has longstanding links with the TNI dating back to the 1965-66 CIA-backed military coup that brought Suharto to power. Along with the United States, Australia via the AFP and the ADF has helped train Indonesia’s Special Forces. Former Prime Minister John Howard only broke off the relationship in 1999 because he was preparing to use TNI-sponsored violence against pro-independence supporters in Timor-Leste as the excuse for Australian military intervention there and to further the interests of Australia’s neo-colonial, capitalist expansion into the Timor basin.

Having established Australia’s presence in Timor-Leste, the Howard government immediately began overtures aimed at normalizing relations with Jakarta. By then the TNI had long been regarded in Canberra as vital to ensuring political stability, and the interests of Australian capitalism, in Indonesia. Howard and Foreign Minister Alexander Downer saw an opportunity in the “war on terrorism” to reengage with Jakarta and the TNI – another example of the fraudulent character of the “global war on terrorism”.

It is in the interest of the Indonesian military and therefore in Australia’s commercial interests to provoke and prolong conflict in West Papua as well as other areas in the Indonesian archipelago. By provoking and maintaining conflict in the Indonesian archipelago the TNI provide palpable proof that they are needed to maintain law and order and control so called separatists groups. By actively participating with the TNI in joint military operations and providing funding and training to Indonesia’s Special Forces, Australian capitalism strengthens its foothold in the Indonesian archipelago – another example of the fraudulent character of the “global war on terrorism”.

Interestingly enough, the main aim of the military in Indonesia appears to be revenue raising, the TNI receives approximately 45% of its budget from the government and must raise the rest themselves. Much of this is done through illegal means such as illegal logging, mining and offering to provide so called security to international companies such as the Freeport copper and gold mine.

A recent study conducted by Sydney University’s Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies and the Institute for Human Rights Study and Advocacy based in Jayapura, titled Genocide in West Papua? details the ongoing human rights abuses, the systematic violence, including rape, arson and torture, in the Indonesian-occupied territory of West Papua. The report documents eyewitness accounts of military campaigns which have destroyed whole villages in the remote highlands region, the report details military involvement in acts of arson and destruction of property, rape, torture and arbitrary disappearances. (More than 100,000 Papuans deaths are estimated to have occurred as a result of the Indonesia occupation since 1963).

The report concludes that Indonesia’s security forces act with total impunity and are the main source of instability in the territory.

Indonesian provocation and Australian blindness

The arrival of 43 asylum seekers in Australia in January 2006 brought the issue of West Papua to international attention, yet again. The result was to further strengthen ties between Australia and the TNI as the Australian Government studied proposals for the Royal Australian Navy, Air Force and Coastwatch to coordinate joint patrols with the Indonesian navy, to halt further boats travelling from Merauke and other southern ports to Australian shores.

Between 1984 and 1986, more than 12,000 West Papuan asylum seekers crossed into Papua New Guinea from the Indonesian province of Papua – known as West Papua to the Melanesian nationalist movement which has opposed Indonesian rule since the 1960s. During the 1990s, some of these people accepted voluntary repatriation. But today, more than twenty years later, there are still thousands of West Papuans living in official and unofficial camps along the border.

The Port Moresby office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the UNHCR, is monitoring a “population of concern” of over 8000 people in Papua New Guinea. On the latest available figures, this includes 7627 refugees and another 198 asylum seekers whose cases are being processed. Half of this refugee group are children under the age of 18. According to UNHCR, by early 2005 there were 2677 West Papuans at the East Awin camp in Western Province, 138 “stateless persons” in Daru, Western Province, another 5400 people dispersed in five unofficial camps along the border, and a handful of refugees in other urban centres. These dates are significant for another reason, which will become apparent later on.

Since the 1960s, West Papuans have sought refuge in Papua New Guinea in response to outbreaks of conflict between the Indonesian military and police, student and landowners groups, the nationalist OPM movement, and guerrillas of the TPN, the armed wing of the OPM.

The fall of the Suharto regime, independence in Timor-Leste and the creation of the pro-independence Papua Dewan Presidium in June 2000 all served to increase the tension between the West Papuan nationalist movement and the Indonesian military. The murder of Presidium chair Theys Eluay in November 2001 symbolised the crackdown on political dissent, and today there are ongoing human rights violations by TNI military, BRIMOB police and militia forces. Indonesia’s Special Autonomy Law for Papua has not been implemented effectively and an upsurge of protest in 2006 led to a number of political activists and their families fleeing the country.

This ongoing conflict raises sensitive issues for neighboring states like Australia and Papua New Guinea, whose governments support the territorial integrity of the Republic of Indonesia and oppose the call for the independence of West Papua. The presence of thousands of refugees in Papua New Guinea has largely faded from international concern and scrutiny, but could become a major problem if further clashes erupt.

Because the PNG government usually regards them as border crossers rather than asylum seekers, West Papuans have difficulty in being recognised as refugees. Many indigenous communities have land on both sides of a frontier that is simply a line drawn on the map, and there is a tradition of crossing back and forwards for cultural and economic purposes, including marriage, hunting, gardening and customary trade. Some West Papuans have also fled temporarily into Papua New Guinea over the past two decades because of Indonesian military operations against the OPM, but soon return home without seeking the protection of PNG government authorities or the UNHCR.

But many people arriving in Papua New Guinea refuse to return to their homes because they fear persecution. The UNHCR does not assume they are refugees, and says each case needs to be assessed individually. After the 1984 influx of asylum seekers, Papua New Guinea signed the 1951 Refugee Convention. Under the Convention, the processing of refugee applications is the responsibility of the PNG government, not the UNHCR, though the international agency provides technical and financial support.

But the PNG government placed significant reservations on its signature and does not accept all the obligations detailed in the Convention. They key phrase reads:

The Government of Papua New Guinea in accordance with article 42 paragraph 1 of the Convention makes a reservation with respect to the provisions contained in articles 17 (1), 21, 22 (1), 26, 31, 32 and 34 of the Convention and does not accept the obligations stipulated in these articles.

Thus the Papua New Guinea Government does not accept convention obligations covering: wage-earning employment (Article 17), housing (21), public education (22), freedom of movement (26), refugees unlawfully in the country of refuge (31), expulsion (32) and naturalisation (34).

After the influx of refugees in the mid-1980s, PNG authorities initially charged people with illegal entry and repatriated them. But there were pressures for greater acceptance of international refugee law, and Papua New Guinea allowed the UNHCR to establish an office in Port Moresby. The office was closed in 1996 due to funding constraints, but reopened in 2003 to encourage the establishment of a formal refugee protection framework in Papua New Guinea and monitor further displacements from Papua.

Australia’s Pacific Solution

When the detention centre was set up at Lombrum Naval Base on Manus Island on 21 October 2001 it was widely criticised by PNG church and community leaders. They asked why Australia would spend tens of millions of dollars on the Manus centre while humanitarian agencies were using limited resources to support nearly 8000 West Papuan refugees and border crossers. In October 2001, the Catholic Bishops Conference of Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands stated:

The conference notes with amazement the haste with which Papua New Guinea has been drawn into this Australian election issue. Suddenly we have an Australia ready to support, with funds and infrastructure, accommodation in Papua New Guinea for people from far away. We ask why similar support has not been extended to assist us with hosting our recently arrived Melanesian refugees from Irian Jaya?

From 2001, over $42 million was spent to establish and run the Manus centre for less than 400 refugees. In July 2003, the Manus detention centre was wound down, leaving one last remaining asylum seeker, Aladdin Sisalem, who was imprisoned on Manus by himself for another ten months at a cost of over $250,000 a month.

As Papua New Guinea is a signatory to the Refugee Convention, the appropriate authorities to undertake refugee status determination processing in the country are the local authorities. But the processing of Pacific Solution asylum seekers on Manus Island between 2001 and 2004 was conducted by Australian officials. UNHCR refused to participate after expressing serious reservations about the Australian policy of sending asylum seekers to overseas countries. In 2002, the organisation explicitly criticised Australia’s policy of offshore detention, stating:

“UNHCR is concerned about the detention of refugees on Nauru and Manus Island. We consider such detention inconsistent with the provisions of the Refugee Convention.”

Fear and Trembling – Australia’s on-going relationship with Indonesia

While it remains in the interests of capitalist Australia to support the TNI while turning a ‘blind eye’ to the human rights abuses which are perpetuated across the Indonesian archipelago by units such as Kopassus and detachment 88 it is worth giving some thought to what lengths Australia goes to in maintaining this double standard.

I have written extensively on Blak and Black about the plight of Captain Fred Martens who spent nearly three years in jail on trumped-up charges brought against him, by the AFP, to further Australia’s neo-colonial ambitions and security situation in Indonesia and PNG.

The Queensland Court of Appeal quashed Captain Martens conviction after hearing evidence that the AFP failed to locate evidence that would have exonerated him at his original trial. Amazingly, even though the AFP were responsible for gathering the evidence used to prosecute Captain Martens and failed to ‘find’ the evidence that would have exonerated him, the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions (“CDPP”) argued that the evidence should not be taken into account in Martens appeal because it should have been produced at his trial!

One of the tasks assigned to Martens by the PNG Government was to fly reconnaissance flights along the Indonesian/PNG boarder. The very boarder that was causing friction between Australia, PNG and Indonesia and was causing problems for Prime Minister Howard in implementing Australia’s Pacific Solution to Australia’s asylum seeker issues.

One of the many questions that remain unanswered following the botched prosecution of Captain Martens by the AFP is: who took over the contract and/or obligations to fly reconnaissance flights along the Indonesian/PNG boarder after Martens was removed following his arrest by the AFP on the aforementioned trumped-up charges?

Similarly, Julian Moti QC the former Attorney-General of the Solomon Islands, the same nation whose Catholic Bishop criticised the way Australia had politicised Australia’s refugee issues in the lead up to a national election found himself at the sharp-end of Australia’s neo-colonial ambitions. During the same period in which Martens was removed from the scene because of his potential to disrupt Australia’s cosy if immoral relationship with Indonesia, Moti was removed from the scene, by the same organisation, the AFP, using exactly the same allegation used against Martens, coincidence?

I’m not sure what Australia fears more; the TNI, non-white people migrating to Australia or the ‘rule of law’ – whichever it is, as a nation we tremble at the sound of all three. That’s what I call hypocrisy in action!

The people of the Pacific and members of the Pacific Islands Forum need to keep Australia’s hypocrisy in mind when they are asked to vote on which country deserves a non-permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council.


  1. Actually Bakchos this post provides an interesting analysis. I didn’t realise that while we were pouring money into the Manus Detention Centre 8,000 Papuan refugees were suffering in the jungles of PNG without even the basics of life. Fuck what a joke Australia is when it comes to human rights. A bloody disgrace.

  2. What’s happened to that poor bugger Martens?

  3. Bakchos an interesting choice for yout title. I guess you know where it comes from and what it means? Australia really needs to get its act together when it comes to human rights. There needs to be accountability and openess. Someone in either the L/NP or ALP needs to stand up and show some leadership. What happened to our democracy?

  4. Paula yes there does need to be more accountability from Australia’s political leaders and indeed more leadership. There will come a time when the mining boom ends and the lucky country will cease being so lucky. What will happen then in the face of the lack of leadership we now have? Bill I intend to write about Martens tomorrow – hopefully!

  5. Australia has a long way to go in the growing-up stakes. Every life is of the same value, black and white, Australian or Papuan, this should come before corporate profits. What we really should be investigating is who owns the Australian companies that benefit from Australia’s neo-colonial acticities in the region.

  6. Bakchos I thought that the number of Papuan’s killed since the so called vote of free choice was closer to 400,000 than 100,000. I appreciate that you have a valid source for your figures, but we all need to be careful when quoting figures to ensure that we don’t play down the true magnitude of the genocide currently underway in Papua.

  7. It doesn’t matter if its 100,000 0r 400,000 it shouldn’t be happening at all. End the genocide and let’s have some accountability.

  8. felicity that’s right even one is too many.

  9. Why is it that every politician in Australia seems to lack the one fundamental necessary for humanity – basic human dignity. Basic human dignity should say that genocide or off shore processing of asylum seekers or anti-Muslim rhetoric is wrong. My father was a wharfie for years and a die in the ditches Labor supporter, he would turn in his grave if he could see the current state of the ALP. Gillard it’s time to go, Labor it’s time to grow some spine.

  10. Oi Bakchos I agree with ya, Oz should not get a UN seat, keep at em for our and everyone else’s rights.

  11. The major problem with Australia, PNG and Indonesia is that Australia and PNG are scared of Indonesia. It is not a good place to be a few white fellas in a sea of indigenous people. We need to start to build bridges as equals not in fear and trembling.

  12. If one party fears the other there will never be equality or justice. Australia grow up.

  13. The AFP are tough when it’s 3,4 or 5 onto one, but when it comes an equal bully like the TNI or Indonesian Government they go cowering in the corner like the snivelling scum that they are. Australia wants accountability NOW!!! Fuck the bully boys in blue off.

  14. Mahmud Ahsan via Facebook says:

    A life is a life as others have said. Where does Australia get off thinking indeed saying that one life is worth more than another. Guess what, a black or brown soul is the same as a white soul.

  15. I also agree with what you say Mahmud.

  16. There is no excuse for the way in which Australia treats refugees, or the way as a nation we cower before Indonesia.

  17. Mahmud yes u r right one spul = another – white or black

  18. How can Australia stand before the United Nations and asked for a seat on the Security Council when it has demonstrated such blatant hypocrisy in its own backyard, the Pacific? Australia does not deserve any international recognition. Australia clean up your own mess before you start asking for the job of international cleaner. The PIF should say NO to Australia!

  19. Paulo, mahmud and Paul I’m with you mob, Australia get some balls, remember that white and black are as one, then ask the world for some recognition, tell then keen your mouth shut.

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