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Lord Bishop of Oxford asked Her Majesty's Government:
Whether they will support the call for the United Nations Secretary-General to instigate a review of the United Nations' conduct in relation to the Act of Free Choice in West Papua in 1969.
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, in 1969 the United Nations accepted by a majority vote the results of the Act of Free Choice which led to West Papua becoming a province of Indonesia. Because the Act of Free Choice has subsequently raised so much controversy, the Indonesians have introduced the 2001 special autonomy law for Papua, including a truth and reconciliation commission. The British Government support the implementation of these measures.
The Lord Bishop of Oxford: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that reply. She referred to the so-called Act of Free Choice giving rise to controversy. Is she aware that Suharto's Indonesia handpicked a little more than 1,000 people, out of a population of 800,000, and forced them to vote 100 per cent for union with Indonesia? Is she further aware that the secretariat of the UN advised the UN Assembly to accept the result of that vote as fair, even though it had agreed to be a guarantor of the fairness of the election? Does she agree that the present unrest in West Papua and the violence by the Indonesian Government are in part responses to the failure at that time?
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I agree with the right reverend Prelate's summing up of the position. As he is aware, this took place in 1969, some 35 years ago. He is right to say that there were 1,000 handpicked representatives and that they were largely coerced into declaring for inclusion in Indonesia. The question is what should happen now. Although the 2002 special autonomy legislation has been passed it has not yet been fully implemented. It grants, for example, 70 per cent of oil and gas royalties originating in Papuaas well as 80 per cent of
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forestry, fishery and mining royaltiesto the people of Papua. It refers to a change in the name of the province; to its having its own regional flag and legal system based on traditional values; and to positive discrimination for Papuas, together with the truth and reconciliation committee. Under the new president, these measures ought to be given a chance to imbed in order for us to see whether the greater autonomy thereby granted eases the situation.
Lord Avebury: My Lords, is not the real question whether or not the province should be divided into two or three parts, irrespective of the ruling by the constitutional court? Does the Minister believe that we should encourage President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, when he visits the territory on 26 December, to consult the people and ascertain whether it is their wish to have a unified administration rather than splitting the province into several divisions, which seems to be contrary to the will of the people? While he is there, could he be encouraged to launch an inquiry into the atrocities which are continuing in Puncak Jaya, as revealed in the Amnesty International report last week?
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, there have been representations to the new President of Indonesia. Our Ambassador, Charles Humfrey, visited Papua in September and has discussed his findings with the Indonesian Government. Michael Williams, the Foreign Secretary's special adviser, also visited Indonesia this month and raised the issue of Papua with senior members of the Indonesian Government. The President of Indonesia has stated that the resolution of the conflict in Papua is one of his priorities, and we support him. There are press reports that he will be spending Christmas in Papua. We shall encourage him to consult as much as possible with the people of Papua about how they see a way forward.
Earl Attlee: My Lords, is the Minister satisfied that everything necessary to resolve these difficulties is being done on the part of the Dutch Government?
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, the international community has a responsibility in this respect. Of course, given their history, the Dutch Government have particular responsibilities. Through the EU, we have supported the Indonesian Government's implementation. The Dutch Government have obviously been a party to that. I do not think that anything specific is going on with the Dutchfor example, at the United Nationsbut, as a whole, the United Nations wishes to have consultation with the UN's office about any planned review of the Act of Free Choice.
With the new president we have seen greater positive action from the Indonesian Government. It is wise to allow the Indonesian Government to deal with these issues in the first instance, as they have indicated they wish to.
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Lord Beaumont of Whitley asked Her Majesty's Government:
Whether they will reconsider their decision to prevent the British people of the Chagos Islands returning to their original homes.
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, the Government undertook a study that concluded in 2002 to look at the feasibility of resettlement by the Chagossians of the outer islands of the Chagos archipelago. The conclusions of that study stated that resettlement would be precarious and the cost of maintaining long-term habitation would be prohibitive. The Government will therefore not reconsider their decision to prevent resettlement, which was taken after long and very careful consideration.
Lord Beaumont of Whitley: My Lords, is it not extraordinary even by the standards of a British government that a people should be expelled from their country, that that should be declared legally inadmissible and wrong and that the British Government should then forbid them to return to their settlement, which the judgment would have allowed them to do? Regarding the possibility of how precarious their position would be if they arrived, is that not a matter for them to decide?
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, over the passing years, there are many issues on which governments have cause to reflect. The expulsion of the people from these islands took place in the late 1960s and, as I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, is aware, the Government have already paid compensation to the Chagossians. There were two payments, which altogether amounted at the time to almost £5 million. In today's value that amounts to some £14.5 million. At that time, the Chagossians' own lawyers advised them that that represented a fair and reasonable settlement. It is important to remember that when the noble Lord impliesas he managed to do in his Questionthat we have somehow behaved dishonourably.
There is now legislation by Order in Council, which is the normal procedure for amending the constitution of an overseas territory. For some territories, Orders in Council are made under statutory powers. For others, such as the BIOT, they are under royal prerogative. The noble Lord will know that that status is being challenged by judicial proceedings and it would be inappropriate for me to comment further on the legality.
Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, will the Minister kindly tell me approximately where are the Chagos Islands?
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Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, the Chagos Islands are near Mauritius and the Seychelles. Some of those who were expelled went to settle in Mauritius and some went to settle in the Seychelles. Now that they have access to British nationality, which this Government granted them, some are resident in the United Kingdom.
Lord Avebury: My Lords, apart from the cases of mass deportation by Stalin in the Soviet Union, is this not the only instance in the past half-century where a whole people have been uprooted and removed from their ancestral territories? What advice did the Government take before the Orders in Council were promulgated on whether this action by the Government is consistent with the ECHR?
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, the noble Lord should be jolly careful not to over-egg his pudding with his reference to Stalin. The fact is that these people were paid compensation: I do not believe that that happened under Stalin. The noble Lord should be a little more careful when drawing his analogies. Of course proper legal advice was taken before the Government proceeded with the Orders in Council.
Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, why do the people want to return? Will they be physically prevented doing so or is this a legal matter? Do they merely have nostalgic ideas about how good life might have been there?
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