West Papua Support Group: Presentation.

The next item on the agenda is the presentation by the West Papua Support Group. I welcome the group and I invite Mr. Vincent McMahon to speak. I have received correspondence from Mr. Mark Doris, the co-ordinator of the West Papua Action Group. He has asked me to indicate that his group, which was founded in 1996, is not part of the West Papua Support Group. The other visitor this morning is Mr. David Healy.

I remind our visitors that while members of the committee are covered by privilege, others appearing before the committee are not. I invite you to take ten or 15 minutes to make your presentation and we will take questions from members afterwards.

Mr. Vincent McMahon

I thank the Oireachtas Sub-Committee on Foreign Affairs for the opportunity to present an update on the West Papua situation. I also thank Deputies for their assistance with Sem Karoba, who is the main reason the West Papua Support Group was founded. I thank in particular, Deputy Michael D. Higgins, for his assistance with a visa application for Sem Karoba.

I wish to update the committee on the situation in the highlands of West Papua. As the Indonesian military is attacking civilians and burning schools in Aceh, in the far west of Indonesia, they are committing similar atrocities at the opposite end of the archipelago, hidden in the remote highlands of West Papua. On 4 April, the military command post in the central highland town of Wamena was attacked by unknown men. A large amount of ammunition and 26 M16 pistols were stolen and two soldiers and one of the attackers were killed. Initially, the TNI, the Indonesian military, accused separatists of the attack. However, it is strongly suspected that the TNI were behind the attack. This echoes the recent shootings of US citizens in Timika in August 2002 as justification for the presence of the military in Papua. Indeed, the army elite corps, the Kopassus, which was recently ordered to leave the province, has now been recalled.

Immediately following the attack, the military arbitrarily arrested and detained up to 30 Papuans. Many were beaten and tortured. While under military arrest Yapenas Murib was killed when he was tied by the neck with a chain to the back of a truck and dragged along a road. Another innocent person, Paulina Itlay, was beaten, mutilated, burned with cigarette butts and raped by military officers. Within days of the attack, 186 army personnel, including some of the notorious Kopassus units and others, were deployed to the region. The TNI began a mass sweeping operation through highland villages, arbitrarily attacking and killing civilians and destroying homes and crops. TNI arbitrarily shot people on sight. They also burned many homes and burned people alive, three schools, a health clinic, plantations and crops. They confiscated farming equipment. Many people were arbitrarily beaten and questioned regarding the attack on the military command in Wamena.

In conducting their operations, the army used East Timor style pro-Jakarta militia, which consists of 50 local people. As a result of these TNI operations approximately 1,000 people, mostly from Kwiyawagi, have been forced to flee their homes and are now hiding in the forest. The current situation is that many of the villages remain under military control and occupation. The villagers remain in the forest too scared to return to their homes. They have no access to food, are exposed to extreme conditions and are experiencing widespread starvation. They are unable to return to their crops as those that are not destroyed are guarded by military officers who shoot people on sight.

Already a number of adults have died due to starvation and exposure. The military has closed off the area and is refusing access to the churches, humanitarian aid and human rights workers. This type of disproportionate retaliation by the military in response to alleged separatist attacks that target the innocent civilian population is a regular tactic which has been experienced by the people of West Papua since the beginning of Indonesian occupation in 1963.

The atrocities reported here form part of a wider pattern being seen across Indonesia at the moment. Since Megawati came to power the role of the military has become ever more dangerous in particular in the regions of West Papua and Aceh. As commented by John Rumbiak, supervisor of the West Papua Institute for Human Rights Study and Advocacy: "West Papua and Aceh are becoming political commodities in the Indonesian military's attempts to restore their control over the politics in Indonesia to the levels they enjoyed during Suharto's regime."

In the light of this, those gathered recently at the fourth international solidarity meeting for West Papua in Brussels made the following demands. They called on the Indonesian military to withdraw immediately from the highland region of West Papua and allow human rights workers, church groups and most importantly humanitarian aid into the area. They urged the international community to place pressure on Indonesia to stop military operations in West Papua and to enter into peaceful dialogue with the Papuan community out of respect for the land of peace agreement approved by all Papuan groups and the police force.

In the light of recent reports of weapons and equipment sold by the UK, Germany and the Netherlands to Indonesia being used in Aceh and Papua, they urge the international community to enforce military sanctions against Indonesia for its illegal attacks on the civilian population in these provinces. They also pointed out that the root cause of conflict in West Papua derives from the denial of the original right of self-determination in particular the fraudulent 1969 "Act of Free Choice". They urge the international community to call on the UN to review its role in the act as a step towards resolving the problems in West Papua.

We have outlined some areas of assistance. First, we request the Irish Government to write to Kofi Annan requesting that he instigate a review of the UN's conduct in relation to the 1969 "Act of Free Choice". Second, there should be a fact finding mission to West Papua. Because there have been few or no fact finding missions into the area, the Indonesian Government can act without any international knowledge of what is going on except from the support groups the committee is hearing from. Third, with regard to the West Papuan highland area, Wamena, we request the Irish Government to do what it can to put pressure on the Indonesian military to withdraw immediately from the area and allow humanitarian aid into the area. Fourth, in relation to refugees in PNG, Papua New Guinea, we request the Irish Government to call on the UNHCR and the PNG, Australian and Indonesian governments to treat all West Papuan border crossers as legitimate asylum seekers and to give them full rights of refugees as laid out in the UNHCR 1951 convention relating to the status of refugees and the 1967 protocol.

Fifth, on military sanctions, we request the Irish Government to become a signatory to the call and do what it can to put pressure on governments to implement military sanctions. With regard to impunity, we request the Irish Government to do whatever is in its powers to ensure the correct people are tried for these crimes and Indonesia conducts credible investigations and prosecutions according to international standards of justice and fairness. This has not happened in the past. The trial for the recent assassination of Theys Eluay, chairperson of a praesidium council, was recently completed and only low ranking officers were found guilty. Obviously they had been given orders by senior officials and nothing has been done about this. Finally, we request that the Irish Government look favourably on West Papuans wishing to stay in this country.

I welcome the West Papua Support Group. I am sure the group understands that a great number of Deputies and Senators are interested, but this meeting is taking place at a difficult time which probably explains why there are so few people present.

On a number of occasions I have raised with the Department of Foreign Affairs by way of parliamentary question the issue of the 1969 consultation known as the "Act of Free Choice", which is very clearly flawed. It was an alleged consultation with elders without people who were directly involved having an opportunity to express their wishes on independence. The flaws in that process are documented, among other places, in a book published by an assistant Secretary General of the United Nations. This fact has been brought to the attention of the Minister for Foreign Affairs and his Department.

The replies to the questions seem to be consistent and make the same point. The Irish representation at the United Nations suggest that it would be very difficult to get the United Nations to acknowledge its mistake and reverse its stance. They argue that the Act of 1969 will not be revisited. This issue was raised during the Irish period of membership of the Security Council as well as before and afterwards.

In order to be positive and not negative about this, I have suggested that the still existing decolonisation committee of the United Nations would be an appropriate forum in which to raise this. One of the most distinguished contributors to the debate about the future work of the decolonisation committee was the late Erskine Childers III, son of President Childers, who died a couple of years ago. That is one forum in which the issue could be addressed as an unresolved issue while saving the United Nations the embarrassment of acknowledging the issue of 1969.

Looking at the groups advising Indonesia at present, including the National Democratic Institute from the United States, it seems to me that one of their primary concerns is in ensuring that whatever administration takes place in Indonesia, multinational contracts will be observed. That is their role. It is interesting to note that they have many former Irish personnel heading their operations.

I have an interesting experience in regard to the Australian position. On the occasion of the Australian constitution when I suggested not that the land be given back to the original occupants of Australia but that their existence be recognised, many of those on the previous Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs worked themselves into a lather of sweat and agitation suggesting that Irish relations with Australia would be irretrievably damaged. The former Chairman of the committee, Desmond O'Malley, was approached by the Department of Foreign Affairs to advise that the Australian ambassador was deeply upset and he described my motion, which recognised the original occupants of Australia, as unhelpful, unfriendly and several other things. People from the Border region spoke of piggeries being assisted by the Australian contribution to the Ireland Fund, not recognising that Mr. Howard's government had cut the contribution to that fund. One has to be careful about one's comments in relation to Australia, even in here. I regard its relationship to this issue as disgraceful. The committee should urge that this issue be taken up with the Australian Government. I am in agreement that we recommend the proposal which has been made and send it forward to the main committee and those involved.

Perhaps our Chairman should raise the question whether this sub-committee on human rights should have the capacity, at some future time, to send people to places such as West Papua to investigate issues of arbitrary killings, arrests and removal of people. Murder is a regular occurrence there. There is also an issue of human rights people who are becoming enforced refugees. It is my understanding that the Australian Government does not confer full political status, in terms of the United Nations Convention on Human Rights, on those who are not free to return. There are huge issues in that regard.

I suggest the most practical course we can take is to continue our pursuit of the reintroduction of West Papua through the decolonisation committee of the UN, in terms of political rights being accorded and a UN approach being made to the Australian Government. In the European Union, I believe that many member states are still exporting arms to Indonesia which are being used in sustaining repression in West Papua. That important issue should be addressed.

Does Mr. McMahon wish to make any closing comments?

Mr. McMahon

I agree with all the points raised by Deputy Higgins.

Deputy Higgins has formally proposed that the seven point plan put forward by the delegation should be taken on board by this sub-committee and that we make the appropriate requests and representations. I formally second that proposal. The Deputy has also suggested that the sub-committee should investigate the possibility of taking a closer look at the situation. I will follow up on that suggestion.

There is a danger that the matter will be left to linger. A visit by two or three Members of the Oireachtas would bring media attention to what is a neglected issue. When I discussed this issue in New York, the general attitude was that people hoped it would go away. It should be borne in mind that President Megawati Sukarnoputri's Government has two Islamic parties snapping at its heels and the Indonesian situation, in a global sense, will probably deteriorate in the short to medium term. It is appropriate that we should look at this issue.

We will pursue the seven point proposal with the Minister for Foreign Affairs. On the issue of this sub-committee taking an initiative to visit the region, we will pursue that with the main committee as actively as possible.

It is also important to pursue the question as to what is happening to the suggestion that the situation be reviewed through the mechanism of the decolonisation committee.

I thank the members of the delegation for their attendance. I regret the relatively poor attendance of members of the sub-committee but I assure the delegation is not due to any lack of interest. Unfortunately, there are several committees meeting this morning and the Dáil and Seanad are in session. The presentation has been very worthwhile and we will act on it in so far as we can. Should we wish to discuss relevant issues in future, we will communicate with the groups.

Mr. McMahon

Just to clarify the position with regard to the two groups, our group was set up primarily as a result of our association with Sem Coroba, who fronts the DEMAC organisation from the highlands. That is where we are focused.

Thank you. Before we conclude, we have a request for a presentation by the Ethiopian National Congress, which I propose we take at our next meeting. Is that agreed? Agreed.

The sub-committee adjourned at 11.15 a.m. sine die.