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West Papua

8.27 pm

Lord Harries of Pentregarth rose to ask Her Majesty’s Government what representations they are making to further the independence of West Papua.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am grateful to the Government for allowing time for this short debate and, in particular, to the speakers who put their names down. We all feel some sympathy and admiration for the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, who has had to battle in such an indomitable way for so many hours already, and must now face a fresh subject.

West Papua may seem far away and its problems small compared with the very grave situation in the Middle East. To its people those problems are immediate and painful, and the principles at stake are fundamental to civilised life in the modern world. The issue at the heart of this question, as in the conflict in West Papua itself, is whether a people have the right to self-determination and, if so, how we ensure that they can freely choose to exercise that right. The West Papuans are a people—the same people as those of Papua New Guinea on the east of the island— who obtained their independence from Britain over 30 years ago. They have no desire to be ruled from Jakarta. As a Foreign and Commonwealth Office briefing in 1969, now publicly available, put it:

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It went on to say that,

That is putting it very mildly. The so-called Act of Free Choice consisted of 1,026 people being forced at gunpoint to vote for integration with Suharto’s Indonesia, and this being taken as the voice of the people.

That this is the case is now publicly recognised by the British Government. In a historic statement to this House in answer to a Starred Question in my name, the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, who was then the Minister, acknowledged that,

The question now is: what can be done to rectify this historical wrong and what is the next step? In particular, what steps are the Government taking? The policy of the Indonesian Government is to divide the country into three provinces, two of which have come into being with, in theory, a limited degree of local autonomy in each one. It has to be said plainly that this policy is not working and will not work. It is leading to increasing unrest, human rights abuses and the build-up of military forces in each of the three areas. I am afraid that it is the age-old policy of divide and rule—a policy that has a particular economic dimension in West Papua, when one province has the liquid gas. It will not satisfy the West Papuan people who wish for self-determination as a people, not rule from Java through a well-funded elite and a strong military presence. Where do we go from here? I have three questions for the Government. I leave the important question of arms sales, particularly arms that can be used for internal repression, to others.

First, will the Government take the lead in bringing this issue to the United Nations? I do not underestimate the difficulties. A number of powerful countries have strong economic ties to Indonesia, not least in the arms trade, and will be only too anxious not to make a fuss about this matter, as they were anxious not to make a fuss about it at the time of the so-called “Act of Free Choice” in 1969. We are, of course, one of those countries. But this Government, through the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, had the honesty to admit that what happened in 1969 was a total travesty. The Government can only enhance their reputation by carrying this issue forwards with—and these are the key words—a steady and consistent policy.

The public recognition in this House in December 2004 was only a first step. To mean anything, it must be pursued. In particular, will the Government make a public commitment to support a UN-sponsored rerun of the flawed in 1969 “Act of Free Choice”, this time as a genuine, one-person-one-vote referendum, internationally monitored and giving the tribal peoples of West Papua the chance to choose freely between independence, free association or continued integration with Indonesia.

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Secondly, will the Government make more specific representations about the human rights abuses taking place, documented by Amnesty International? It has been estimated that, since 1969, more than 100,000 West Papuans have been killed and there are now some 9,000 refugees in Papua New Guinea. The Catholic Church's Papuan Peace and Justice Secretariat reported in June last year that students who had been arrested after a peaceful demonstration and been interviewed by their investigators had been denied access to legal representation and had suffered physical and mental torture. At present, there are more than 100 political prisoners in West Papua of whom I mention only two this evening, Filep Karma and Yusak Pakage, who were jailed for 15 and 10 years respectively for raising the West Papuan national flag—the morning star—on 1 December 2004, and who have been recognised by Amnesty International as political prisoners. The date of 1 December is significant because that was the day in 1961 that the Dutch granted West Papua independence, an independence which was quickly and sadly lost when Indonesia invaded the island in 1962, claiming it for themselves.

I understand that the Government are generally monitoring the situation of political prisoners through their embassy in Jakarta, but will they specifically raise the issue of these two prisoners of conscience, Filep Karma and Yusak Pakage, with the Indonesian Government and make it clear to them that not only must they be treated humanely, but that the basis of their charge and imprisonment is totally unacceptable in any society that claims to be democratic?

Then, thirdly, arising from this there is the whole question of freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom to form political parties, freedom of access for journalists and NGOs and the importance of achieving a genuine dialogue between the Indonesian Government and the people in West Papua who wish to raise the issue of self-determination.

At the moment the Indonesian Government lay down a pre-condition that this subject cannot even be raised in discussions. Yet that is the issue at the heart of this conflict. The West Papuans are a peace-loving people and they want to talk about what matters to them. At the moment, this is prevented by the heavy military presence and the refusal of the Indonesian authorities even to allow certain questions to be raised. Linked to this is their refusal to allow access to outsiders who raise these questions. In May of last year the UNHCR’s regional representative said in evidence to an Australian Senate inquiry,

Other aid agencies and nearly all foreign journalists, as well as Amnesty International’s fact-finding mission, have also been refused permission to visit.

After its historic recognition in December 2004, I hope that the Government will pursue this matter with a steady and consistent policy in three ways: first, with a view to achieving a genuinely free vote about self-determination; secondly, by raising the

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matter of serious human rights’ abuses, particularly in relation to Filep Karma and Yusak Pakage; and, thirdly, by urging the basic freedoms of speech, assembly and access, which are absolutely fundamental to any country that regards itself as democratic.

8.36 pm

Lord Griffiths of Burry Port: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, is to be congratulated on bringing this matter to our attention. He has long championed the human rights of the people of West Papua, keeping their plight before the House and the British public for a number of years. He is to be thanked for doing so again this evening, and the least that we can do for him in this short debate is to press my noble friend the Minister to inject some urgency into efforts to address the flagrant denial of justice to the people of West Papua. The noble Lord has put forward an admirable programme and some practical suggestions. If every speaker simply does that, it might give the weight of the whole House this evening to some practical outcomes.

As the noble Lord said, when my noble friend Lady Symons of Vernham Dean admitted in an answer to a previous debate that the 1969 Act of Free Choice was a flawed exercise, she went on to ask a simple question: “What should happen now?”. She gave the beginnings of an answer to her own question by suggesting that, as 35 years had passed since the flawed referendum of 1969, it would be better to look to new proposals then being put forward than to continue to harp on about ancient events. Special autonomy legislation only recently passed by the Indonesian Government would, she said, grant,

A truth and reconciliation committee had been set up to look into a number of the offences that people were complaining about. It would be best, said the noble Baroness, to see how the measures were embedding before we mapped a way forward.

What she did not say was that, between 1969 and 2004, the same 35 years that were considered to have consigned the referendum to ancient history, there had been a massive transmigration programme that brought 1.2 million people into West Papua of Javanese and Sumatran origin, nearly all of them Muslims. That changed the nature of Papuan society and culture radically. The Indonesian Government implemented the same policies at roughly the same time in East Timor and with the same objective—to change the nature and allegiances of a people who were being obstreperous and seeking their rights of self-determination. Incidentally, in Eritrea, Ethiopia attempted the same business of changing the nature of the population to achieve its ultimate goals.

The benefits of the new legislation—the special autonomy legislation—would accrue not to a Papuan population at all but to one so radically different that fewer than 50 per cent of the population were the original indigenous Papuans in the first place. The

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noble Lord, Lord Harries, mentioned the large number—more than 100,000 at the lowest estimates—of people of Papuan origin who had been killed in the same period.

We have seen in the way in which Eritrea was abandoned by its United Nations overseers in the post-war period to the whims of Ethiopia a similar case of injustice. It was a United Nations set-up body that in New York allowed Indonesia to annex West Papua to itself. The Eritrean People’s Liberation Army fought a long war of attrition to attain its rightful status, and I was present on the day of the referendum in 1993 when, with great jubilation, at last the Eritrean people felt that they had gained their objective despite the opposition of the international community; so, too, the Free Papua Movement may be counted on to maintain its opposition to the present arrangements and to seek the support of the world community in achieving its legitimate objectives.

The 1969 Act of Free Choice was both cynical and wrong. It involved about 1,000 hand-picked people; a significant number of them were tribal leaders who were rounded up a month before the referendum and indoctrinated so that they would vote as they were obliged to, at gunpoint, on the day of the referendum. The voting exercise was overseen by, of all people, the Indonesian army, mainly. There were a couple of objective overseas observers, but they left before the vote was completed. All responsible commentators agree with that analysis. No amount of truth and reconciliation will hide or play down that basic fact.

Indonesia has been seen by all the major players in the West as an important bastion against communism. The United States has played a significant part in seeing the outcomes that we are discussing this evening come to pass, but our own country is associated with it and so is Australia. Even the Vatican, because of the significant number of powerful Roman Catholics in the Indonesian republic, has preferred to turn a blind eye to some of these questions on the margin of its consideration.

In view of that, we must ask ourselves how we implement an ethical foreign policy towards this small region. The question will not go away; it did not do so in Eritrea or East Timor, nor will it in West Papua. I hope that my noble friend will help her colleagues in government to show a preferential option to those suffering injustice, as this is a case clamouring for appropriate attention.

8.43 pm

Lord Archer of Sandwell: My Lords, together with my noble friend Lord Griffiths, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Harries on again drawing attention to a subject that for too long has represented a dereliction of responsibility by the international community. Any unlawful usurpation should evoke condemnation if international law is not to be brought into disrepute, but here there has been persecution, murder, evictions and burning of the villages of innocent human beings, while the world has looked on. Surely that will reflect opprobrium on our generation from those who come after us.

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We could debate at length the precise criteria for the right of a people to self-determination. Those debates go back to the League of Nations, but today we are spared legal hair splitting. Here, there is a population of 800,000 people, racially differentiated from the population of Indonesia, with its own history, culture, and inhabiting a clearly defined territory, yet ruled by an alien administration which by a persistent policy of repression and terror has made itself hated and feared.

We have every criterion for the right to self-determination. The principle is declared in Article 1.2 of the United Nations charter and further enshrined in the two human rights covenants of 1966. There is clear consensus that two principles follow. First, the right includes the right of a people to decide how to exercise its choice. It is for the people to decide who their delegates are to be and what the decision-making process is to be. They are entitled to do that free from any pressures, internal or external, after such free discussions as their choice may require. Secondly, the right is continuing and not exhausted once it has been exercised, validly or otherwise. A right to choose entails a right to make continuing choices as circumstances change or simply if there is a change of mind. A third principle, while we are passing, is that the right includes a right to enjoy the natural resources of the area and to decide how they are to be developed and exploited. Article 1.2 of the international economic covenant reads:

subject, of course, to existing obligations.

The situation has a shamefully long drawn-out history of which the international community has no reason to be proud. In 1949, the Netherlands Government conceded independence to Indonesia, but vast areas had been included in the territory purely for the purposes of administration and not by any stretch of the imagination because they were a natural part of Indonesia. The Indonesian Government said that the newly acquired statehood should extend throughout that territory. The Netherlands Government said that the peoples of West Irian were entitled to decide whether they should be included in the new state or whether they should have some other status.

Up to that point, the Papuan people had not been invited to participate in the discussions. The Netherlands said that the issue should be decided by the United Nations. Indonesia said that it was an internal matter, not the concern of the international community, and that it should be resolved by negotiations between Indonesia and the Netherlands, which clearly would never eventuate in an agreement. Nevertheless, the General Assembly discussed the question in 1954 and again in 1961 but was unable to agree on a resolution. It is worth pointing out that in those debates West Papua had no representation—it had no seat in the General Assembly.

On 31 December 1961, West Papua achieved a very short-lived independence. The Indonesian Government terminated it unilaterally by military

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force. In 1962, Indonesia and the Netherlands reached the New York agreement, which was designed to resolve the issue. The Netherlands would transfer administration of West Papua to a United Nations Temporary Executive Authority established by and answerable to the Secretary-General. It was said that arrangements would be put in place for the people of West Irian to choose in accordance with international practice and with the participation of all adults, male and female. That agreement was approved by the General Assembly, so it was accepted by all concerned that the population of West Papua was a separate and identifiable people entitled to self-determination. I hope that, in replying, my noble friend will clarify whether the Government accept that conclusion or, if not, why not.

The outcome of such a choice was predictable. We now know that John Kennedy’s ambassador reported 85 to 90 per cent of the population as being in sympathy with the Free Papua Movement. That outcome would have left Indonesia, as my noble friend Lord Griffiths said, blaming the West. The United States was concerned that if Indonesia turned to the communist bloc there would be an outpost of communism in east Asia. The Temporary Executive Authority proved to be very temporary. It was persuaded by the United States to acquiesce in the assumption of control by the Indonesian Government. That was fatal to any hope of a fair entitlement. It led to the infamous Act of Free Choice about which both noble Lords have already spoken, and I will not repeat that. It has been condemned by international lawyers and by other authorities again and again.

There the situation rests. The Indonesian Government introduced the special autonomy law in 2001, as my noble friend Lord Griffiths pointed out, but there has been no autonomy, and the atrocities go on. As all too often, the persecution, the murders and the incarcerations will continue for as long as the protest continues, and that will continue as long as the situation remains as it is. Any form of international action can take place only if it is initiated by a national Government. The United Kingdom Government still carry respect and influence in these matters. The question is whether they retain their dedication to an ethical foreign policy. I am sure that I know the answer that my noble friend would like to give; many of us are looking forward to hearing the answer that she is authorised to give.

8.51 pm

Lord Judd: My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, on introducing this important debate tonight. There were many reasons for wanting to intervene; perhaps the whole issue of human rights, to which the noble Lord referred, would be sufficient in itself. We have a Government who claim that they want to see a world based on human rights, accountable government and democracy. They want to play a full part in working towards that world. It logically follows, therefore, that we have an interest in the injustice of the situation in West Papua.

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I am afraid that I see in the situation too many sinister and ominous parallels with East Timor. I have visited Indonesia on a number of occasions, and I visited East Timor in the final stage, just before the terrible conflict that led to independence. The people of that part of the world are wonderful; they deserve more than they are enjoying.

Sometimes in debates of this kind we become a bit theoretical and remote in our analysis, and I therefore am not ashamed to bring to the attention of the House a letter that was brought to my attention fairly recently. It is an open letter written by Benny Wenda, the chairman of the Koteka Tribal Assembly and the leader of the West Papua Independence Movement, to the Indonesian ambassador in Britain, who had apparently expressed surprise that West Papua was seeking independence. This letter, written with some passion, was to tell him why. In the letter, Benny Wenda referred first to what we have already heard about the invasion of their land. He then referred to the referendum that was offered as a so-called act of free choice, which in fact was in the context of the ruthless intimidation of those who were likely to vote for independence. Then there was the removal of people to make way for the exploitation of gold, copper, oil and timber reserves. Again, ruthless techniques were employed, such as bombing from helicopters. People were rendered homeless, raped and murdered; all this was part of what happened.

Perhaps I can quote directly from the letter, which is passionate and written with real feeling:

He concluded:

I have no first-hand experience by which I can assess these accusations, but I have the experience of visits to Indonesia and to East Timor and I am afraid that the accusations ring all too true to me.

Obviously, it is not convincing to contemplate a world in which every ethnic group has a national identity of its own. That would make neither political nor economic sense. But consent is essential if countries are to stand together in meaningful democracy and freedom, and consent depends on trust. Where trust is absent—and it seems to be totally absent in this case—consent can hardly be expected. The genie is out of the bottle.

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