Soft On Crime: McCully’s Moral Duty To West PapuaPosted: October 23, 2010
With all the Hobbit-chat of late you could be forgiven for thinking it was a slow newsweek – but here at the Scoop offices it was nothing of the sort. On Monday the independent West Papua Media network released video it had received of Indonesian soldiers torturing two Papuan men: punching and kicking them, running a bayonet over one’s throat and burning the other’s penis with a charred stick.[WARNING: link features real and graphic violence]
Within hours the horrific footage made the headlines of Al-Jazeera, the BBC, CNN and the Sydney Morning Herald, while Amnesty International and other NGOs demanded an independent investigation by Indonesia’s National Human Rights Commission.
Meanwhile coverage here in the Shire was practically non-existent, other than here at Scoop and the equally tiny newsroom at Radio New Zealand International. Even MFAT didn’t bother briefing our foreign minister Murray McCully on the video – despite his going on a two-day trip to Indonesia the very next day.
It might not have been evident in my reporting, but I could sympathise with McCully’s situation. Imagine the midnight phone call; the gut-churning realisation that the complex system of memos and digests and reminders that diplomacy depends on has utterly failed you; knowing that the ‘Friendship Council’ you launched just hours ago will come across to many as a cruel joke and the knowledge that tomorrow morning you will have to walk back into the meeting room and make a very lonely choice about New Zealand’s foreign policy.
But McCully’s choice was a poor and predictable one, and that’s where my sympathy ends. McCully allowed his counterpart Dr. Marty Natalegawa to feed him the usual canned response: the Indonesian government took such incidents “very seriously”, their military had already begun an internal investigation and so on and so on.
But as any MFAT official worth his salt would know, the promise of an in internal investigation means absolutely nothing in the context of human rights abuse in Indonesia. Christ, we don’t even trust internal investigations here. But the notion of an Indonesian internal investigation is especially laughable, because we’ve played this game so many times before.
Consider the case of the Balibo Five, a group of journalists killed during the 1975 invasion of East Timor – a group which incidentally included a Kiwi cameraman, Gary Cunningham, and a sixth Australian reporter, Roger East, who was killed two months later while investigating their deaths. In the 35 years since the Indonesian government has refused point-blank to mount any kind of inquiry, even refusing to cooperate with a 1997 Australian coroner’s inquest which implicated Indonesian special forces commander Yunus Yosfiah in the shootings. Yet despite the court’s findings and pressure directly from the UN, the Serious Crimes Unit in Dili refused to press charges, making extradition impossible. [It should also be noted that despite literally decades of petitions from Cunningham’s own family, no New Zealand government has ever demanded Yosfiah’s arrest either.] Today Yosfiah is the most highly-decorated member of Indonesia’s army, a former Minister of Information and a senior politician, while the foreign journalists he murdered lie in a mass grave in Jakarta. If there was no justice for them, what hope is there for two unmourned villagers in the backblocks of West Papua?
Consider also the Santa Cruz massacre of 1991, when Indonesian soldiers gunned down a Timorese funeral procession for a young man killed by militia. 271 killed, 278 wounded and a further 270 ‘disappeared’ – and again a New Zealander died in the crosshairs; this time the 21-year-old Kamal Bamadhaj. The response from both the New Zealand and Indonesian governments is farcically familiar, as summarised in human rights activist Maire Leadbeater’s secret history Negligent Neighbour: New Zealand’s Complicity in the Invasion and Occupation of Timor-Leste.
It was clear that a cover-up was under way. The Indonesian Department of Foreign Affairs sent a preliminary response to the New Zealand Embassy that referred to Kamal’s ‘accidental death’ and insinuated that he should not have been taking part in the demonstration. The official inquiry would conduct a thorough and comprehensive investigation but would also look into Kamal’s ‘activities in Dili during his stay there as well as the nature of his presence among the demonstrators in the incident leading to his death.
Publicly, New Zealand diplomats stressed that they were vigorously pressing for a full explanation of Kamal’s death but the cabled reports suggest the diplomats were resigned to being fobbed off.
The Indonesian government did indeed mount an internal investigation, forming a ‘Council of Military Honour’ and court-martialling nine soldiers and one policeman in 1992. But as Timor-Leste’s president Xanana Gusmao has noted, none of those convicted had ordered the shooting, buried the bodies or participated in the attempted cover-up, and neither the report from the National Commission of Inquiry nor the Council of Military Honour’s report have ever been released in full. This was a massacre of literally hundreds of people, caught on camera by foreign journalists. Again, what hope is there for the two men in Monday’s footage?
Yet there is hope: McCully and his prime minister can publicly insist on a genuinely independent investigation. They can join calls in the Pacific Islands Forum for a fact-finding mission into human rights violations in West Papua. They can withdraw their joint training exercises with Indonesian law enforcement until the law is actually enforced in the region. There are all sorts of things they can do to give Monday’s victims and the people of West Papua hope. But trusting the butchers in Indonesia’s military to sort it out amongst themselves is not one of them.