Farcical Indonesian Tribunal Exposes Liturgy of Lies.
By Charlie Hill-Smith
As YouTube evidence of Indonesian soldiers burning the genitals of West Papuan, Tunaliwor Kiwo, beams around the world; the Indonesian military (TNI) has been exposed holding a cynical mock trial in an effort to cover up systemic violence.
On command of Indonesian President Yudhoyono, Prime minister Gillard agreed not to mention West Papua during her recent visit to Indonesia on the proviso that the torturers of Tunaliwor Kiwo were brought to justice. Prime minister Gillard has been left red faced after the promised trial turned out to be a deceit. TNI soldiers from another; lesser ‘abuse case’ were paraded and given soft sentences, while Kiwo’s torturers remain on active duty.
Despite the Australian embassy in Jakarta telling Indonesian officials of Australia’s, “unhappiness with the military’s investigation”, the blatant contempt evidenced by the recent ‘show trial’, creates little confidence in Indonesia’s sincerity. So while Australia continues to train Indonesia’s disgraced Kopassus Special Forces, the Australian Prime minister and indeed the entire Australian Left seem to have lost their voices.
Where’s the outpouring of neighborly solidarity that lifted East Timor out of the geopolitical rubbish bin and into the minds of mainstream Aussies? In 1999 East Timor held a United Nations referendum, due in part to international and Australian pressure; and we all caught a disturbing glimpse of the Indonesian military as they tortured, raped and scorched their way back to Java.
1999 was also the year I first traveled to West Papua and discovered the best kept secret in the Asia-Pacific. Hiking with old mates amongst the highland farms of the Dani people we started hearing stories of dispossession, detention, torture and murder. Yale University suggests that 400,000 West Papuans have been killed by the Indonesian military since they invaded in 1962/63; yet few Australians know anything about these killing fields on our northern shoulder.
I had lived and traveled on and off in Indonesia for 15 years but tellingly had never heard a travelers tale, nor a whisper from West Papua. My mates and I departed West Papua shocked by the local’s stories and with a growing suspicion that we were being lied to. Obviously the Australian government has always known what’s happening in West Papua but has chosen placation over human dignity and moral leadership.
Back in Australia, no one had even heard of West Papua, as if this Indonesian province of 2.6 million people had been erased from the Papua New Guinean border. Why the silence? Where are the Churches, the students, and the humanitarian groups who fought for East Timor? Where are the unions who boycotted the Dutch in Indonesia and the racist regime in South Africa? Where are the conservatives who beat their chests after Howard ‘saved East Timor’?
A clue to this sustained silence can be gleaned from history. When General Suharto took power in Indonesia in 1965/66, he opened the floodgates to western resource companies. Every Australian government since Menzies kow-towed to this murderous bully, partially to ward off the feared disintegration of this 18,000-island republic; but mainly to gain access to Indonesia’s vast natural resources.
The first western company to do business with Suharto was the Freeport goldmine in West Papua. Partly owned by Australia’s Rio Tinto, the Freeport Mine is the largest gold/copper mine in the world and Indonesia’s biggest taxpayer; and yet West Papuans live in poverty, experiencing the worst health, education and development levels in Indonesia.
Freeport’s four billion dollar profit in 2009 didn’t come easily. Dr. Damien Kingsbury of Deakin University says of the local Amungme people, ‘These people have been kicked out, they’ve been given a token payment and if they’ve protested, they’ve been shot.’ None of this would have been possible without Freeport’s paid protection from the TNI. This neo- colonial business model, whilst wildly profitable, is internationally embarrassing and only works under a marketing umbrella of collusive denial.
But here’s the rub − the TNI is not a professional army, it only gets one-third of it’s military budget from the Indonesian government; the other two-thirds come from its own private businesses. As Dr. Kingsbury observes, ‘The TNI has been described by many commentators as a Mafia like operation, it’s like the Mafia but on a very big and very organised scale. It’s involved in illegal activities, like illegal logging, illegal mining, extortion, gambling, prostitution, gun-running and so on.’ This conflict of interest is at the heart of the TNI’s ongoing human rights abuses. How can they serve the county while serving them selves? West Papua has necessarily become a resource cash cow. A military fiefdom 3000 km from Jakarta, full of tribally divided, uneducated farmers; sitting atop a new Elderado.
Despite journalists still being banned, West Papua is no longer the secret it was in 1999. Prime minister Gillard should not be placated by Indonesia’s mock trial of torturers nor train them, in the form of Kopassus; but should work with Jakarta to reform the TNI and open up West Papua to international scrutiny. It’s time for Australia to step up for the tortured and murdered people of West Papua.
Charlie Hill-Smith – writer/director ‘Strange Birds in Paradise – A West Papuan Story’. – feature documentary nominated 4 AFI’s inc. Best Documentary 2010.