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West Papua

Volume 688: debated on Monday 8 January 2007

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:

“Privately, however, we recognise that the people of West Irian (West Papua) have no desire to be ruled by the Indonesians who are of an alien (Javanese) race”.

It went on to say that,

“the process of consultation did not allow a genuinely free choice to be made”.

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,

“there were 1,000 handpicked representatives and that they were largely coerced into declaring for inclusion in Indonesia”.—[Official Report, 13/12/04; col. 1084.]

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.

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,

“I can confirm that, despite repeated requests, the UNHCR has not been given permission by the Government in Jakarta to have access to West Papua”.

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 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.

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,

“70 per cent of oil and gas royalties originating in Papua—as well as 80 per cent of forestry, fishery and mining royalties—to the people of Papua”.—[Official Report, 13/12/04; cols. 1084-85.]

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 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.

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.

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:

“All peoples may, for their own end, freely dispose of their natural wealth and resources”,

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 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.

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.

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:

“Then you started to rip open and destroy our Land. We call our Land our Mother because she gives us everything we need to live. You sold our Mother to British, American & Australian companies like Rio Tinto & BP. You got rich whilst we West Papuans got poorer, not because we want your kind of riches, but because without our Mother we die”.

He concluded:

“Now you say that we are ‘free and equal citizens of the new Indonesian democracy’. But when we tell you we want to use this ‘new free democracy’ to campaign democratically and peacefully for independence and when we just want to see our own flag flying in our own Sky, you cover our Land with soldiers, you put us in prison, you torture us and you kill us”.

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.

I have often wrestled with this conundrum. Should one come down on the side of every possible move to try to hold the situation together, or are there some situations in the world in which that task is so impossible because of the realities on the ground—as I say, the genie is out of the bottle—that to try to do so would only make a bad situation worse and the time may have come to recognise and come to terms with the inevitable? Look at what happened in East Timor before, eventually, the natural conclusion was reached.

I refer to our responsibility and I put it in the context of our Government’s commitment, of which I am very proud, to democracy and human rights, and in the context of the logical follow-through from such declarations of intention of what is necessary when faced with such situations. Of course there are also more tangible reasons for our responsibility, including the importance of the economic relationship between Britain and Indonesia, not least through arms sales, which indirectly compound the situation that we are describing. I hope that the Government will take the noble Lord’s entreaties seriously and can come to a candid relationship with Indonesia in which realistic talk takes place about the way forward.

My Lords, I am afraid that the short answer to the Question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Harries, is none, as the UK does not support the independence of West Papua and we were accomplices in its unlawful annexation by Indonesia. The right of self-determination, while undoubtedly a legal right, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer, pointed out, is a matter of state practice in the absence of any rules for determining how it should be enforced. Therefore, is there any point now in reviewing the events that led up to the so-called act of free choice?

In the cases of Srebrenica and Rwanda, there were formal inquiries into how those appalling tragedies were allowed to happen. The Secretary-General himself took responsibility for investigating the Srebrenica massacre, in which an estimated 20,000 people were slaughtered by the Serbian militias. However, as two noble Lords have pointed out, in West Papua something like 100,000 people have been killed since the Indonesian occupation—five times as many as in Srebrenica—yet the UN has failed to review the conduct of the bogus operation carried out under its auspices that led to this enormous tragedy.

When I asked the Government six years ago whether they considered that an independent audit of the UN’s role should be commissioned, the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, said that she was satisfied that the study being conducted by the Institute of Netherlands History would serve that purpose. That report, by Professor Pieter Drooglever, was published in November 2005 and, as has already been said, it confirms that the outcome had been pre-determined by Suharto, who had issued instructions that nothing but a ruling in favour of Indonesia would be acceptable. The UN observers were allowed to see as little as possible and were ejected from the territory immediately after the so-called vote.

The UN was directly responsible for what happened because it was nominally in charge from 1962, when the Dutch left, until November 1969, the date of the fraudulent act, although, as has been pointed out, from 1963 onwards the Indonesians were allowed to govern the territory. The UN returned only in August 1968 under an agreement which required it to,

“advise, assist and participate in”,

the arrangements for the act of free choice, which was to be carried out,

“in accordance with international practice”.

That was immediately violated by the UN itself, which failed to organise a plebiscite and, instead, agreed that the decision would be made by an assembly, whose members would be indirectly elected by an undefined electorate. As we have heard, the Indonesians chose the 1,000-odd candidates, all of whom were elected unopposed in batches, with the so-called “voters” browbeaten or bribed into approving them by acclamation. UN observers saw the elections of 195 of these stooges but, significantly, their report to the General Assembly was silent on the conduct of the operation.

By that time, the UN team had been whittled down to a mere 16 members at the insistence of the Indonesians, and it would have been impossible for it to fulfil its remit, even with full co-operation, in a territory the size of California with only the most primitive transport and communication systems. However, members of the team did not complain when no interpreters were provided or when they had to ask permission every time they wanted to move outside the capital. They failed to blow the whistle when they saw Indonesian soldiers and officials pouring into the territory in far larger numbers than planned and exerting heavy pressure on the Papuans to choose integration and give up the dream of self-determination.

That fraudulent process was endorsed by the General Assembly with the approval of the UK. The Permanent Secretary at the Foreign Office had recommended not entering into correspondence about self-determination, and in the UN we firmly supported the betrayal of the West Papuans, not on grounds of principle but out of solidarity with the Dutch and as a means of improving our relations with the military dictator General Suharto, who had done a splendid job exterminating half a million communists and was therefore a man to be encouraged.

The Government may not seek to persuade the UN that there should be a rerun, as the noble Lord, Lord Harries, called it, of what happened in 1969, but they should at least seek an opportunity to get the Drooglever report upheld and endorsed by the General Assembly, and that is what I ask the Minister to agree to. In other cases where the UN has failed to uphold the rights of peoples, it has recorded and acknowledged its appalling mistakes and their tragic consequences. Will the Minister agree that the act of free choice cries out for the same treatment?

More than that, should not the international community try to alleviate the suffering now being endured by West Papuans, unseen by human rights organisations, foreign journalists, the UNHCR and MPs, all of whom, as we have heard, have been refused permission to enter the territory? The EU Troika was invited in 2005 but declined because, I understand, at that time the Aceh negotiations were at a crucial stage. Will Ministers now ask the German presidency to seek a renewal of that invitation so that the present EU troika can at least go to see what is happening in West Papua today?

Unfortunately, although President Megawati made offers of special autonomy to Aceh and West Papua in 2001, there has been a complete divergence between the fortunes of the two provinces since then. In Aceh, a peace agreement was concluded in 2005 and successful elections have now been held there. Could not the lessons of that peaceful outcome be transferred to West Papua in principle—not in detail but, as has been suggested, at least by starting negotiations towards an outcome similar to that in Aceh? The present deployment of extra troops and paramilitary police is not the answer, any more than it was in Aceh. We should be saying respectfully to Indonesia that a framework is needed for negotiating a political settlement, building on the experience of Aceh, although perhaps involving not just the OPM but representatives of all the diverse communities in West Papuan society, including civil society, traditional tribal leaders, the church and the MRP. If we can ask for that, we shall be getting somewhere.

My Lords, I too add my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Harries, on securing this debate, particularly following the media reports over the festive season that suggested tensions are increasing.

Indeed, there are claims that a force of between 2,000 and 5,000 military and police mobile brigade personnel are currently undertaking an operation in the Punjaya region. I hope that the Minister will be able to comment on these very concerning claims in her response. No doubt she recognises, as did the noble Lord, Lord Judd, that some nationalist groups fear that Papua could become the next East Timor. That has a significant bearing on today's debate.

Papua, a name adopted in 2002, is currently a province of Indonesia. It refers to what some of your Lordships might remember from days at school as the region known as Dutch, New Guinea during the colonial era. Papua—nee Irian Jaya—became a province of Indonesia following a UN Supervised Act of Free Choice in 1969, the legitimacy of which, as the noble Lords, Lord Harries and Lord Griffiths, have already highlighted, remains disputed.

As your Lordships are aware, West Papua was the major beneficiary of a nation-wide decentralisation process started in 1999 and the special autonomy status introduced in early 2002. Measures included the formation of the Papuan People's Council and redistribution of resource revenues. Those measures were welcomed but we are frustrated and disappointed, along with many Members of your Lordships' House, by the continuing failure regarding the implementation of the special autonomy law. We on these Benches believe that the full implementation will lay the groundwork for a long-term resolution to the growing crisis in West Papua and will offer stability for the province. What recent steps have Her Majesty’s Government taken to encourage the Indonesian Government to proceed with the special autonomy law? Can the Minister inform the House whether the Prime Minister raised the issue during his visit to the country last year?

We could not have had a debate today without mentioning the human rights situation in Indonesia. There can be no doubt that it has dramatically improved, for which the administration should be commended. However, there is still a very long way to go. Significant concerns continue to surround violations by the Indonesian armed forces, restrictions on access to Papua for journalists and NGOs and a number of cases where prisoners have been convicted for treason for displaying the Papuan flag. Many of your Lordships will find it very difficult to consider that Filep Karma and Yusak Pakage have been jailed now for 15 and 10 years respectively for peacefully raising the independence flag, and yet army officers convicted of involvement in the murder of the Theys Eluay, the independence leader, in 2001, received only three years. What steps are Her Majesty’s Government taking to ensure that there will be a public debate regarding the human rights issues in Indonesia and in particular guaranteed open access for NGOs and journalists? What consideration has the Minister given to the calls for the Papuan People’s Council to be fully involved with the central Government of Indonesia in working towards an acceptable solution?

This has been a most interesting and detailed, if specialised, debate. As my right honourable friend William Hague said:

“We have the privilege of living in freedom. But with that privilege comes the responsibility to use our liberty to speak up for those who are denied it”.

It is important to consider West Papua within both its historical and current context, as much as we have great sympathy with many of the concerns raised today—indeed, we share some. However, we do not believe that meaningful dialogue with the Government of Indonesia can take place on the basis of calls for Papuan independence.

We support the UK Government in respecting the territorial integrity of Indonesia. We are not calling for the independence of Papua, but for an open, inclusive and frank discussion and the full implementation of the special autonomy law. We value our good relationship with Indonesia but we believe that it is dragging its feet on this issue. The Government could and should press harder to find, through dialogue, a peaceful, just and dignified resolution.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, for introducing this debate. It is an important issue in which he has a long-standing interest. The people of West Papua are lucky to have such a fine and vociferous champion in the noble Lord.

I have listened carefully to the debate, but must start with a clear statement that the UK does not support independence for Papua. Like the vast majority of other international players, we respect Indonesia’s territorial integrity and have never supported Papuan independence. I note the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Harries, that the people of West Irian have no desire to be part of Indonesia. I respectfully point out that voter turnout of over 70 per cent in the elections last March perhaps suggests that they are becoming a little more content with the situation.

The best way to resolve the complex issues in Papua is through promoting peaceful dialogue between Papuan groups and the Indonesian Government. Meaningful dialogue with the Government of Indonesia cannot take place on the basis of preconditions of Papuan independence. President Yudhoyono has said that he is committed to a just, comprehensive and dignified solution, including through consistent implementation of special autonomy. We welcome this important objective, and encourage him to press ahead with it. The special autonomy legislation is enshrined in Indonesian law, and was supported by Papuan groups and the international community. Full implementation of the legislation will lay the groundwork for a sustainable resolution to the internal differences and the long-term stability of the province. The UK is of course also committed to improving the well-being and political participation of Papuan people, as well as encouraging freedom of expression throughout Indonesia.

My noble and learned friend Lord Archer of Sandwell cited the economic covenant, and many others have referred to the special autonomy legislation on oil and forestry revenue. The special autonomy legislation grants Papua 70 to 80 per cent of the royalties from natural resources rather than the tax revenue. Papua is receiving this and, to make up for the fact that it receives none of the tax revenue, the central Government pay 2 per cent more than to other provinces in Indonesia under devolution. In 2006, it received $438 million, higher than every other province in Indonesia bar one.

My noble friend Lord Griffiths of Burry Port referred to special autonomy issues. Many such issues still need to be implemented in the legislation, but progress is being made; for example, the establishment of the Papuan People’s Council and the election of a provincial governor. Legislation has been, or is in the process of being, approved on the use of Papuan symbols—essentially the flag and certain anthems—the special autonomy budget, forestry issues, protection of customary rights, health and education. Of course, there is much more to be done and we will keep pressing them to do so.

The noble Lord, Lord Harries, asked if the Government would support a review of the Act of Free Choice. If your Lordships will forgive me, I have lost that section of my papers, so I will come back to it shortly because I have something to say on that.

We are working with the Indonesian Government to support the most pressing economic and social needs of the Papuan people. Under Indonesia’s decentralisation laws, Papua’s directly elected governors and district heads have significant political and fiscal authority. The central Government have devolved control over every area but five to Papua: foreign affairs, defence and security, fiscal and monetary policy, religious affairs and justice. The UK, through the multi-donor decentralisation support facility and other projects, is working to build administrative capacity and ensure that these local Papuan governments are accountable to the people that they serve.

I return to the Act of Free Choice. Although we recognise that it was extremely flawed, the UK has no plans to support a review of that Act. We believe that is a matter for the Netherlands and the UN. As the 1962 New York agreement was between the Dutch and Indonesian Governments, and the UN oversaw the 1969 Act, we have little locus to question the legality of either. The 2001 special autonomy law allows the establishment of a truth and reconciliation committee to look at the incorporation of Papua into Indonesia in the 1960s, which we believe indicates that the Indonesian Government recognise the need to address the long-standing problems in Papua.

I think that my noble friend Lord Judd mentioned transmigration. Non-Papuan migrants make up about 35 per cent of the total population. However, in 2000 the Indonesian Government ended the transmigration programme in response to concerns about the ethnic mix. Spontaneous migrants continue to arrive in relatively large numbers, but there is no government programme to increase the number of non-ethnic Papuans in the region. I suggest that the special autonomy programme is therefore relevant to the lives of most West Papuans.

DfID is closely involved in formulating the governor’s development strategy, which will focus on the millennium development goals. DfID is looking to align its own funding for Papua with the governor’s vision. The DfID-funded multi-stakeholder forestry programme has been working to improve land use in Papua, by supporting detailed mapping and informed policy change. Papua is also a key area of focus for DfID’s HIV/AIDS programme, working through the Indonesian partnership fund for HIV/AIDS. Other donors are also engaged in Papua to improve conditions on the ground.

The UK is also working in a number of areas to promote dialogue and improve political participation in Papua. UK-funded human rights projects in Papua include funding for the Indonesian human rights commission—to travel to remote areas of Papua to investigate alleged human rights violations—public education about rights regarding treatment by the police, human rights training for the police and providing a police complaints post.

In respect of human rights, we do indeed have an interest, and I hear what your Lordships, including my noble friend Lord Judd, have said about the human rights situation in Papua. We believe that the human rights situation in Papua too is improving. There is little credible information to suggest that major systematic abuses of human rights are currently taking place, although I hear what the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, said. The major concerns are chronic low-level harassment, freedom of expression and association, and social and economic rights—as in other areas of eastern Indonesia. Of course, we will continue to take reports of human rights violations seriously; we raise these with the Indonesian Government, together with our European partners and as part of our bilateral dialogue. In response to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, we will certainly make representations to the German presidency to resume the troika idea.

Several Jakarta-based correspondents, including representatives of the BBC and the Washington Post, received permission to visit Papua in 2006, including sensitive areas in the central highlands. We welcome this increased access for journalists. We regularly encourage the Indonesian Government to permit journalists to visit Papua to promote better international understanding of conditions within the provinces.

The noble Lord rightly raised the case of Filep Karma and Yusak Pakage who were shamefully imprisoned in 2005 for flying a flag identified with the separatist struggle. The Indonesian Government have obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and their own constitution to guarantee freedom of expression throughout Indonesia. We encourage the Indonesian Government to implement those obligations. As the noble Lord suggested, our embassy in Jakarta is monitoring the case; it will look into it further and make representations, if appropriate.

Several noble Lords mentioned that 100,000 people were killed. There were certainly brutal operations in Papua in the 1970s, which we deeply regret and condemn, but we believe that there is nothing to substantiate the figure of 100,000 people, but even if it were “only” 10,000, that is 10,000 too many. We continue to take reports of human rights violations seriously.

Papua is one of the wealthiest provinces in Indonesia in fiscal terms. However, most Papuans do not see the benefits of that wealth. Papua is the province with the highest level of poverty—40 per cent of Papuans live below the poverty line—and health, education and infrastructure are consistently below the national average. Much of that discrepancy can be put down to corruption, which is serious and endemic at the local government level. The UK’s projects to build local government capacity, which I described earlier, aim to improve that. We welcome the fact that, at the urging of the new governor, Papua’s provincial budget is now being scrutinised by the national anti-corruption commission.

I heard noble Lords’ graphic descriptions. Papua is in many ways the last blot on Indonesia’s global reputation. As the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, said, the situation in Aceh has improved, and perhaps that can be built on. The UK Government believe that the best way forward for Papua and its people is through peaceful dialogue between representatives of the Papuan people and the Indonesian Government and the implementation of the special autonomy law of 2001. We will do all we can to support that process, and we will continue to raise all of these issues with the Indonesian Government. I do not know whether the Prime Minister raised them on his recent visit, but I shall find out and write to the noble Baroness.

My Lords, in her response, the Minister stated that 70 per cent of the people of Papua took part in a recent election and that confirmed their acceptance of the situation. However, 70 per cent of the people of Scotland vote in elections, and a large proportion of them do not accept the constitutional position of Scotland within the United Kingdom. Participation in an election does not imply acceptance of the constitutional position.

Will the Minister confirm yet again the percentage of non-Papuans who are in Papua? It would not be surprising if a very large percentage of the majority which supports the present situation were migrants into the territory.

My Lords, I heard what the noble Lord said about participation in elections and will reflect on it. I said that non-Papuan migrants make up about 35 per cent of the total population of Papua.

As I said, we will do everything that we can to support the implementation of the special autonomy law and the dialogue between the representatives of the Papuan people and the Indonesian Government. In the mean time, we are working to improve the economic and political situation for ordinary Papuans through targeted development assistance, the encouragement of dialogue between the Government and their representatives, and project-funding to improve human rights and local government accountability.

House adjourned at 9.26 pm.