Report – By Rory MacKinnon
New Zealand Prime Minister John Key is refusing to discuss human rights violations by Indonesian forces in West Papua – despite likely meetings with Indonesian delegates at a pan-Asian leaders’ conference this week.
Key’s office Tuesday announced plans to attend the East Asia Summit in Vietnam later this week along with Foreign Minister Murray McCully.
The talks bring together members of the Association of South-East Asian Nations, which Indonesia is due to chair in 2011.
Key said in a press release the summit had an ambitious role, including fostering dialogue between states and promoting cooperation in political and security issues.
But neither Key nor McCully’s office would say whether they would discuss allegations of torture and abuse with the Indonesian delegation at the conference.
A video released by Papuan media last week showed Indonesian soldiers torturing two West Papuan priests.
The video shows soldiers punching and kicking the men, running a bayonet over one’s throat and burning the other’s penis with a charred stick. [WARNING: link features real and graphic violence]
The video made international headlines but two days later McCully’s press secretary told Scoop the minister had not been briefed and was unaware of the video’s existence – despite McCully having left for a two-day meeting with the Indonesian foreign minister in Jakarta.
New abuse allegations quickly surfaced, including reports of Indonesian police burning a West Papuan village to the ground earlier this month and video footage from August of soldiers taunting a village elder as he dies of a gunshot wound.
But neither Key nor McCully would comment on any of the allegations.
Key’s office refused to comment and referred all questions to McCully’s office.
McCully’s office issued a brief press release Tuesday saying the minister welcomed the Indonesian military’s internal investigation; but refused to comment further.
Human rights organisations in Indonesia and abroad have criticised the response, saying the investigation must be independent to have any legitimacy.
Amnesty International spokesperson Donna Guest said the NGO had received regular reports of torture by members of Indonesia’s security forces.
“However, there are often no independent investigations, and those responsible are rarely brought to account before an independent court.
“The authorities must send a clear public message to all members of the security forces in Indonesia, especially in Papua, that torture and other ill-treatment is strictly prohibited at all times and, if it occurs, full criminal investigations will begin.”
Guest said her organisation had also received credible information on two unlawful killings by security forces in Papua between April and June last year.
Amnesty had not received a written response from Indonesian authorities regarding these incidents and had not seen any independent and impartial investigation, she said.
Historically, New Zealand governments have rarely demanded independent investigations of Indonesian human rights abuses — even where New Zealanders were the victims.
The commanders who ordered their killings have never been charged.
Indonesia annexed the western half of Papua New Guinea in 1963 and remain under the terms of a heavily disputed 1969 referendum.
Papuan nationalist movements are outlawed and have reported ongoing civilian killings and human rights violations by the Indonesian authorities since 1970.
Indonesia is New Zealand’s eighth largest trading partner.
Rory MacKinnon is duty editor with Scoop in Wellington.