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West Papua: Human Rights

Volume 699: debated on Tuesday 26 February 2008

asked Her Majesty’s Government how they intend to respond to human rights abuses in West Papua.

The noble and right reverend Lord said: My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to raise an issue that is of such life and death significance to the suffering people of West Papua.

When I go round to our local shops, I almost invariably carry over my shoulder a handmade bag. On this bag is a star against a red background with some blue and white stripes. If I shopped in West Papua with that bag, I would immediately be labelled a separatist and treated with brutality, as a woman was recently who was found making such a bag. Similarly, on 1 December last year, seven West Papuans were arrested for raising this morning star flag in the Catholic Church compound at Kwamki Baru village. Again, when the editor of a West Papuan newspaper was asked what would happen to him if he called for independence, he said quite simply, “Go to jail. Go to jail”. Perhaps this total lack of freedom—the freedom of the press and the freedom to form political parties—does indeed fall into the category of what the Minister said on 13 November last year were abuses,

“of a relatively small kind”,—[Official Report, 13/11/07; col. 346.]

even though we regard such freedoms as fundamental to the life of this country.

I wonder about torture. Two hundred and forty two cases of torture have been recorded in the past nine years in West Papua. All are well documented and set out in the recent report of Franciscans International. As that report put it:

“Torture is regarded by Indonesian security services as one of the most effective methods to obtain forced confessions and instil a climate of fear and is conducted repeatedly and systematically. Torture in Papua is also used strategically as a means to control the whole community”.

If this is still regarded as abuse “of a relatively small kind”, will the Minister say how many more cases of torture have to be recorded before it is admitted that there are abuses of a very grave kind indeed—abuses that the Government need to address with great seriousness and urgency?

This systematic brutality is of course all in support of the 1969 “act of no choice”. On 14 January this year, the Minister in the other place wrote to a Member describing the act in these words:

“A group of 1,000 Papuan representatives, who were given the responsibility to make the choice on behalf of the Papuan people, voted to remain part of Indonesia”.

The bland disingenuousness of that statement is almost unbelievable. Let us remind ourselves of the facts. Suharto sent this clear order to his military forces in West Papua: “See that the” act “on West Irian’s”—that is Papua’s—

“future status will yield a clear pronouncement in favour of Indonesia”.

The forces were duly obedient. As Brigadier-General Ali Murtopo put it to those selected to take part in the so-called “act of free choice” on August 1969:

“This is what will happen to anyone who votes against Indonesia. Their accursed tongues will be torn out. Their full mouths will be wrenched open. Upon them will fall the vengeance of the Indonesia people. I myself will shoot them on the spot”.

So it was that the then Minister in this House, the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, referring to this on 13 December 2004, said that,

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

Later, the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, described the 1969 process as “extremely flawed”. Will the Minister therefore say, in the light of the recent letter from the Minister in the other place, whether the Government are now back-tracking from the truth which they previously admitted? The acknowledgement of the truth of the 1969 travesty by the British Government has been one of the few crumbs of comfort offered to the suffering West Papuan people in recent years. Is even that crumb of truth now to be snatched away?

If all this is not serious enough, I have yet to come to the most devastating fact of all. In 1971, there were 887,000 Papuan people and 36,000 Asian Indonesians in West Papua, so even after eight years of Indonesian control, Papuans comprised 96 per cent of the population. On the basis of the latest figures, it is estimated that in 2005 Papuans comprised 59 per cent of the population and others 41 per cent. On present trends, by 2030 Papuans will comprise only 15.6 per cent and non-Papuans 84.8 per cent. These figures speak for themselves. Papuans are becoming a minority in their own country. Juan Mendes, UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, described West Papua as being among those countries whose populations were “at risk of extinction”.

The most decisive statement to date on the subject of genocide in West Papua has come from the Allard K Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic at Yale Law School, which published a paper in 2005 entitled Indonesian Human Rights Abuses in West Papua: Application of the Law of Genocide to the History of Indonesian Control. It said:

“Although no single act or set of acts can be said to have constituted genocide, per se, and although the required intent cannot be as readily inferred as it was in the cases of the Holocaust or the Rwandan genocide, there can be little doubt that the Indonesian government has engaged in a systematic pattern of acts that has resulted in harm to—and indeed the destruction of—a substantial part of the indigenous population of West Papua. The inevitability of this result was readily obvious, and the government has taken no active measures to contravene it. According to current understanding of the Genocide Convention, including its interpretation in the jurisprudence of the ad hoc international criminal tribunals, such a pattern of actions and inactions—of acts and omissions—supports the conclusion that the Indonesian government has acted with the necessary intent to find that it has perpetrated genocide against the people of West Papua”.

West Papua is a small country a long way away. Indonesia is a big player with which we have major trade deals. West Papua is rich in natural resources, and major international companies such as BP, Rio Tinto and BAE Systems, among others, are active in utilising them.

There are those who think that if only they stall long enough the problem will go away, solved by demography if nothing else. But I should like to assure the Government and reassure the West Papuan people that this issue will not be dropped and already momentum is gathering round the world. Recently two US congressmen, Donald Payne and Eni Faleomavaega, have taken up the issue with the UN Secretary-General. They were particularly concerned with the way that human rights defenders were harassed after the visit of Mrs Jilani, the UN special envoy, last year.

Mrs Jilani concluded that a climate of fear prevails in West Papua, which has been borne out by the way in which those who sought to contact her have been singled out for special intimidation. The human rights abuses in West Papua are very grave and I ask the Government to pursue that issue with very great seriousness, conviction and urgency. In particular, human rights defenders need special protection, so I would ask the Minister to work for an international presence in West Papua to ensure that those who are raising human rights issues can do so without the present fear of intimidation, torture and death.

My Lords, the House is indebted, not for the first time, to the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, for calling attention to this tragic situation. This is not the first occasion on which we have discussed the appalling events in West Papua. Sadly, our debates have failed to lead to any improvement for the people of West Papua, or, apparently, to impress on our Government the magnitude of the suffering. The last occasion on which we spared a thought for this situation was on 13 November 2007, when the noble and right reverend Lord asked a Starred Question. My noble friend Lord Malloch-Brown replied with an undisguised candour that the Government do not propose to raise the matter in the Security Council and do not support Papuan independence.

We have not been privy to the Government’s reasoning which led to that conclusion, but if there are two propositions which defy reputation they are, first, that if they were permitted to express a view, the overwhelming majority of the population would choose independence. As the noble and right reverend Lord has said, the so-called act of free choice was a blatantly transparent charade. We know that the American ambassador reported at that time that 85 to 90 per cent of the population were in sympathy with the Free Papua Movement. Secondly, West Papua passes all the tests in international law for a right to the free choice of its own destiny. I shall not weary your Lordships by repeating what I said on that issue on 8 January 2007.

However, the subject of today’s debate is not about the right of self-determination, but about the consequences of leaving West Papuans to the mercy of a brutal, alien regime. During our exchanges on 13 November, my noble friend stated as the Government’s view that, while they are concerned by continuing human rights abuses in Papua, they believe that they are,

“of a relatively small kind”.—[Official Report, 13/11/07; col. 346.]

That is hardly the impression which emerges from what we have just heard from the noble and right reverend Lord.

It is hardly the impression that emerges from the 2007 annual report of Amnesty International, which records that the torture and ill treatment of detainees is widespread, and we recall of course that many detainees are imprisoned for peaceful protests. The report continues that prison conditions fall short of international standards. It speaks of extra-judicial executions and records that, in 2007, there were at least six occasions when security forces opened fire on civilians. It tells us that the perpetrators appear to enjoy immunity.

Nor did my noble friend’s characterisation of the human rights infringements accord with the recent Human Rights Watch country summary on Indonesia, which said that, in West Papua, peaceful political activists continue to be classified as “separatists”, which is a criminal offence. The report speaks of village “sweeping operations” carried out with great brutality by the army, the police and paramilitary units. It mentioned too that the regional military commander appointed in 2007, Colonel Siagian, was indicted by the United Nations for crimes against humanity in East Timor.

The Government’s view was not supported by the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in Geneva last August, which commented that at last Indonesia had complied with its reporting obligations under the convention. The report was six years overdue.The committee refrained from commenting that this road-to-Damascus conversion may be connected with Indonesia’s ambition to be re-elected to the United Nations Human Rights Committee. The report adds that Indonesia has still not implemented the convention in its domestic legislation.

Nor is the Government’s assessment in accordance with the report by Franciscans International, which notes that,

“in the Province of West Papua, the steadfast pattern of human rights violations, including torture, repression of the freedom of expression, unfair trials, arbitrary detention and the denial of social, economic and cultural rights, have created a culture of fear and have resulted in a stagnated development, which has made Papua the least developed province of Indonesia”.

I leave it to other noble Lords to comment on the rape of Papua’s mineral wealth, which is now being shared between the Indonesian Government and foreign investors, but not by the Papuan people.

In at least one respect, I sympathise with the Government’s problem. It is not easy in the present state of international law, and in the absence of charter reform, to suggest a simple remedy. Of course, no one would recommend an invasion as anything but a final resort when diplomatic approaches, appeals from human rights organisations and sanctions have failed to provide a solution. But a reference to the Security Council by a Government who carry the international respect of the United Kingdom could be a beginning and could reassure the West Papuan people that someone cares.

I suspect that history will not understand how human suffering on such a scale continued year after year while the world looked on complacently and Governments in more fortunate countries pronounced the atrocities as “of a relatively small kind”. What a pity that we cannot ask the people of West Papua whether they agree.

My Lords, I congratulate my noble and right reverend friend Lord Harries on giving us this opportunity to speak on the important subject of human rights in West Papua. Since Indonesia took over the administration of the territory nearly 45 years ago, the plight of the indigenous Melanesian population has deteriorated and been largely ignored by the international community. I have been involved in some of the other tragic situations in Indonesia in recent years, especially the bitter conflict initiated in 1999 by Lasker Jihad in Maluku and Sulawesi. I was present during some of the most severe violence there and witnessed the suffering of both the Christian and the traditional Muslim communities. I was in Ambon when 4,000 to 5,000 Lasker Jihad warriors were stationed there and I visited Poso in Sulawesi shortly after Lasker Jihad carried out brutal attacks on the Christian and Hindu communities.

I was also privileged to respond to a request by the Christian and traditional Muslim leaders to help to promote reconciliation between the communities and reconstruction of the devastated infrastructure by helping to establish the International Islamic Christian Organisation for Reconciliation and Reconstruction, a title that mercifully abbreviates to IICORR. Noble Lords will see the relevance of this in a moment. The organisation was launched in Jakarta with former President Abdurrahman Wahid as its president, and we were delighted when Her Majesty’s Government used IICORR to bring an interfaith delegation to the United Kingdom to develop principles and policies for reconciliation and reconstruction away from the conflict zone. We were also very pleased when, on its return to Ambon, a resurgence of conflict was quickly contained as a result of the good faith that had been established between the leaders of the two communities while here in Britain.

I refer to these events for two reasons. First, they might provide a precedent for helping to resolve the tensions and conflicts in West Papua and, secondly, they are one example of Indonesia’s progress in trying to improve its record on human rights and the development of democracy and civil society. The situation is therefore all the more a tragic blot on Indonesia’s record of endeavours to achieve improvements. I hope that this debate, which will highlight the problems, may prompt the Indonesian authorities to address them as a matter of great urgency.

Religious faith is at the very centre of West Papuan life and identity. Christianity arrived in West Papua in 1855. I understand that now approximately 95 per cent of the indigenous population is Christian. The remaining 5 per cent includes a small Papuan Muslim population, whose conversion to Islam predates the current period of Indonesian rule. As my noble and right reverend friend has said, the demographic change is extremely serious. In 1970, indigenous Papuans made up 96 per cent of the population but, as the result of state-sponsored and spontaneous Indonesian immigration into West Papua since 1963, by 2005 indigenous Papuans made up only 59 per cent of the population, with 41 per cent non-Papuan, mostly Javanese Muslims. According to recent research by Dr Jim Elmslie of the West Papua Project at the University of Sydney’s Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, if present demographic trends continue, West Papua will be a majority Indonesian, predominantly Javanese Muslim population by 2011, while by 2030 the indigenous Melanesian, predominantly Christian Papuans will be a dwindling 15 per cent minority.

With 1,500,000 West Papuan Christians in an Indonesian state of 230 million mostly Muslim Indonesians, it would be an easy mistake to portray this conflict in terms of Christian versus Muslim, but that would be a misleading and dangerous oversimplification. The conflict is primarily political—a struggle for West Papuan independence—with the West Papuans seeking their internationally recognised right to self-determination in a UN-administered, one-person-one-vote referendum. The so-called “Act of Free Choice”, to which reference has already been made, is now generally recognised as state-managed by Suharto’s Indonesia. It was an affront to democratic values. Moreover, the events of 1969 must not be seen by the international community as an acceptable, just and final situation.

There is, however, a significant religious dimension to the conflict. Christianity is officially recognised under the Indonesian constitution, and the provisions in the Pancasila have been generally honoured throughout most of Indonesian society. Christians have by and large been allowed to settle and flourish, until the intrusion of militant forces in recent years and the emergence of significant elements within Indonesian society that have sought to use Islam as a vehicle for Indonesian nationalism and the forcible extension of authoritarian control to outlying regions such as West Papua. This facet of the West Papua conflict was highlighted by an Australian Special Broadcasting Service television report in 2005, which featured an interview with a Papuan who claimed to have infiltrated a Lasker Jihad training camp in the town of Sorong. These are his words:

“The sort of activities Lasker Jihad were involved in, in Sorong, were firstly, intimidating and killing Papuans who were involved in the Papua Independence Movement, and secondly, spreading rumours in various places, to create fear”.

As recently as 23 February—only a few days ago—the West Papuan Baptist leader, Reverend Socratez Sofyan Yoman, stated:

“Jihadists are now operating in every aspect of [West Papuan] society, including in the military and police, business, and throughout the government”.

West Papuans are primarily persecuted by Indonesian security forces simply for being Papuan, but within that persecution are significant anti-Christian elements. Papuans report regularly being abused by Indonesian soldiers and police with terms such as “kaffir” and “pig eater”. West Papuan Christian leaders who bravely speak out about human rights abuses regularly report being subjected to intimidation and threats from Indonesian intelligence agents, police and soldiers. For example, Reverend Benny Giay, leader of the Tabernacle Church, Kingmi, has received threats and is regularly accused of being a separatist. Also, a Roman Catholic priest, Father John Jonga, from Waris, has been forced into hiding because of death threats from a local commander, who accused him of,

“spreading false allegations about conditions in Waris to local and international NGOs and of being a provocateur and betraying the Indonesian state”.

Seven religious leaders made a statement on 7 February this year calling for international dialogue for West Papua. They included leaders of the Roman Catholic, Baptist and Pentecostal churches, as well as leaders of the Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist communities. Entitled West Papuan Churches & Other Religions Appeal for an International Dialogue, their statement included an appeal to the international community to have,

“an honest and peaceful dialogue similar to the Aceh peace process”.

They recommended that,

“a solution to the difference of ideology in West Papua must be dealt with immediately by a dialogue between the central [Indonesian] government and the native West Papuans … facilitated by a neutral third party approved by both parties”.

While they recognise that there are many sensitive issues, they believe that these could be solved through dialogue and reconciliation.

The church and other religious leaders also catalogued numerous concerns, including the excessive number of military personnel in West Papua; the military personnel’s failure to understand or try to learn the local culture; their suspicion of the people, treating them as enemies, creating widespread tensions; the authorities’ unwillingness to implement the special autonomy law resulting in an inequitable distribution of educational, health and economic services throughout all Papuan regions; widespread unemployment, leading to tensions and divisions between Papuan tribes; massive exploitation of the region’s natural resources; and numerous examples of killings and destruction of religious buildings. The conclusion of their report, signed in Jayapura, West Papua, on 11 February 2008, is that the special autonomy law No. 21/2001 is a total failure, which has brought disasters to humanity and destroyed the future of native West Papuans. The fact that this appeal was signed by leaders of the different faith communities is evidence of the deep concerns of people of different faiths that their future as West Papuans is under threat.

In an earlier debate in the House on West Papua, the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, said:

“Papua is in many ways the last blot on Indonesia’s global reputation”.—[Official Report, 8/1/07; col. 104.]

I therefore ask the Minister whether Her Majesty’s Government will take a more active and urgent interest in the problems associated with the violations of human rights in West Papua and urge the Indonesian Government to undertake urgently needed measures to lead ultimately to a peaceful resolution of the conflict in accordance with the democratic will of the West Papuan people. In particular, would the Government consider facilitating Indonesian-West Papuan dialogue without preconditions under UN or EU auspices? Alternatively, I am sure that IICORR would be very willing to assist in ways similar to those used in the successful initiative in Maluku.

Unless an effective intervention is undertaken urgently, the people of West Papua may be condemned to such continuing oppression and violations of fundamental human rights that their cultural identity and physical survival will be threatened. That is why I passionately hope that they will hear some reassuring message from Her Majesty’s Government tonight.

My Lords, the last time we debated West Papua on an Unstarred Question, that, too, was initiated by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries. He was looking at the issue then primarily from the standpoint of self-determination, which has been referred to by both the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer, and the noble Baroness. Now the noble and right reverend Lord is asking us to focus on human rights more generally, although he set that in the context of the right to self-determination.

I begin by reminding your Lordships of the observation by the special rapporteur on self-determination, Hector Gros Espiell, at the Human Rights Commission in 1975, repeated in the report that he made to the General Assembly of 1980. He said that the right of self-determination is of fundamental importance as the prerequisite for the enjoyment of all other human rights. It may be too late to rectify the unlawful transfer of sovereignty from the Netherlands to Indonesia in 1969, but the international community could make some amends for being accomplices in that fraudulent act if we made far greater efforts to persuade Jakarta to follow the pattern wisely adopted in the case of Aceh, to which the attention of your Lordships has been drawn by the noble Baroness, of negotiating a genuine local autonomy.

As the noble Baroness said, West Papua and Aceh were both covered by local autonomy laws, but while Aceh proceeded to free elections—in which members of the Free Aceh movement achieved high office in the case of Governor Irwandi Yusuf and Deputy Governor Muhammad Nazar—in West Papua the people continue to be in the iron grip of the military and Brimob, the paramilitary police. Surely there is a lesson to be drawn from the comparative experiences of Aceh and West Papua. Several years of painstaking negotiation over Aceh, in which I was involved for some time as an adviser to the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue in Geneva, which was the facilitator at that time, led to a successful outcome, and the same could be true of West Papua.

As has been said, there have been several authoritative reports on West Papua over the past year, notably that of the UN special rapporteur on human rights defenders following her visit in June. She was deeply concerned by the evidence that she received of the harassment and intimidation of defenders and the restriction of their access to victims and sites of human rights violations throughout Indonesia, but she found that the trend was more pronounced in West Papua, where she received credible evidence of arbitrary detention, torture, harassment through surveillance and interference with freedom of movement and with monitors’ attempts to investigate human rights abuses. As has been said, these were not the minor infringements of human rights that they had been portrayed as by the Government on a previous occasion.

There were cases where the defenders themselves were threatened with prosecution. Despite assurances given by the authorities that there was no institutional policy of targeting defenders, the concerns of the special rapporteur persisted and she made recommendations for improvements to the mechanisms of oversight and accountability of the police, the military and the intelligence agencies. Can we in the European Union ask the Government of Indonesia what steps they are taking to implement the special rapporteur’s proposals, and can we ensure that this matter is on the agenda for the Human Rights Council at its forthcoming meeting in Geneva? I hope that the Minister will be able to answer that.

The US State Department records a number of cases where the Brimob military has killed civilians at demonstrations. In one case a man was actually beaten to death. The State Department says that, although there are always promises of investigations of these abuses, no member of the security forces has ever been charged. There has been a climate of impunity more generally in Indonesia going back very many years, as we were reminded last month by the death of former President Suharto, who was largely responsible for the institutionalised violence against popular opposition. That included the demand for cultural autonomy in West Papua in the mid-1980s. Today the security forces in West Papua behave as if Suharto were alive and well; they get away with it because large areas of the province are closed to outside scrutiny. I agree with the proposal that has been made that there should be an international presence there to monitor what goes on.

One of the factors that have led to gross human rights abuses in the past has been the operations of the international resource companies, particularly Freeport-McMoRan, the copper and gold mining company at Timika, which brought in military units that have clashed periodically with local people, leading to a number of deaths and serious injuries. Now, as we have heard, BP is investing $5.5 billion in its LNG plant at Tangguh. That has already led to an influx of 10,000 non-Papuans and to the displacement of local inhabitants. BP says that it is not going to repeat the mistakes made by Freeport, but Carmel Budiardjo of TAPOL, in an article in the February issue of Liberation, says that there were no consultations whatever with local people who lost their occupations and territory, and no compensation was offered to them for their displacement.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer, mentioned that there are a good many political prisoners in the territory. They have been convicted on charges of subversion for participating in peaceful demonstrations or raising flags asserting Papuan identity. In a directive that was issued by the chief of police in December 2005, it was ordered that anyone engaged in commemorative activities on certain dates, but particularly 1 December, was to be charged with subversion. This was revealed by TAPOL, the Indonesian human rights campaign, of which I have had the honour of being president for many years. I declare my interest.

Human Rights Watch documents a number of these cases, although because of the lack of transparency in the courts and the widespread fear among witnesses and relatives of being charged themselves there may be many others that are not in the public domain. For example, Linus Hiluka was given a 20-year sentence and, in the most notorious case of all, Filep Karma and Yusak Pakage got 15 and 10 years respectively for their activities in peaceful demonstrations.

Human Rights Watch makes a number of recommendations for dealing with this situation. It asks that international donors and Governments raise concerns about regressive policies and curtailing free expression in meetings with President Yudhoyono and government officials; that we regularly monitor trials and meet defendants; that we support comprehensive training in international human rights standards and applicable international law for all members of the judiciary; and that we support comprehensive training in international human rights standards and, again, applicable international law for all members of the police force. I hope that our close friendship with Indonesia will enable us to raise all these matters. Knowing President Yudhoyono, as I do, I am sure that he will listen to us.

My Lords, I thank the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, for bringing to the House tonight the important issue of human rights abuses in West Papua. While these abuses have been ongoing, a year has passed since West Papua was last debated in this House. It is important that we do not lose sight of the atrocities committed there, despite its geographical distance from Westminster.

Human rights violations in West Papua are frequent. The Government of Indonesia repress the freedom of expression, enforce arbitrary detention and deny the social, economic and cultural rights of the Papuan people. The noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, set out very eloquently some of the other abuses, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer of Sandwell, and the noble Lord, Lord Avebury.

Torture is a central pillar of West Papuan rule. It is deemed by the Indonesian security services to be one of the most effective methods of keeping order. According to the few charities that do have access to the country, the police paramilitary unit, the Brigade Mobile, is responsible for raping, killing and beating unarmed civilians in Papua. Despite this, with one exception, no one from the unit has been convicted of any crime. This is a chilling place, where there is no jury, no judge and no verdict that is not Indonesian Government-controlled. Merely to fly a West Papuan flag or sell a West Papuan souvenir can merit a life sentence. The murder of 2,000 people in East Timor is the dark precedent that looms behind this picture. Let us not forget that the Indonesian Government stand to lose even more than they did with East Timor through West Papua’s independence, possessing as it does the largest reserves of gold on the planet.

We on these Benches seek to avoid unnecessary bloodshed at all costs. I therefore believe that Her Majesty’s Government should work with the Indonesian Government to establish an inclusive and frank discussion forum to try to achieve a basic standard of human rights. What discussions have Her Majesty’s Government had with Jakarta about Papua? Has the Foreign Secretary met his Indonesian counterpart since his appointment?

In March 2006, the BBC website reported widespread protests against the Indonesian Administration. The UN special representative of the Secretary-General on human rights defenders, Ms Jilani—mentioned by the noble and right reverend Lord—observed after her visit that nearly every West Papuan she talked to expressed high levels of dissatisfaction with the Indonesian Government. The Papuan People’s Council does represent an attitude of the West Papuan people. Does the Minister agree that any solution must include this political voice alongside the central Government of Indonesia? Not only will this give the West Papuans some sense of involvement in their Government, it will also give the independence groups a peaceful means of making themselves heard and, one hopes, go some way to ending the current culture of violence. Does the Minister agree that the Papuan People’s Council must be involved in any negotiation with the Indonesian Government if an adequate solution is to be reached?

Have Ministers had any discussions with the international community on how it might apply pressure on the Government of Indonesia to harmonise their laws in line with the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment? Are there any plans to enter into talks with other members of the international community so that a unified and properly considered diplomatic plan can be negotiated with regard to West Papua?

I very much look forward to reading the published findings of the UN special rapporteur on torture, Dr Manfred Nowak, on the state of West Papua. I hope that this House will have an opportunity to debate the report and recommendations that he gives to the UN Human Rights Council. I am pleased to see that the first informal signals show that while Nowak was concerned about abuses in a number of areas, there were some improvements. He noted an improved openness to prisons in West Papua, including for those charged with political offences, who are normally the worst treated. While the Indonesian President and his Government’s attitude towards human rights may still be very far from our own, requests for improved conditions for the West Papuan people seem not to have fallen on entirely deaf ears.

As was explained earlier, part of the difficulty of monitoring exactly what is going on in West Papua, and the level of injustice that people suffer, is its geographical location. As one half of an island that guards its border from the glare of international journalists, with many of its inhabitants tribes people living in the thick of the rainforest, it is difficult to establish quite what goes on. Therefore, I should be interested to know whether any foreign diplomats are residing in West Papua. Do the Government have any idea when was the last time that a British journalist was allowed to report on the country? Can the Minister tell the House how much aid Her Majesty’s Government are giving to West Papua and do they have any indication how this money is being spent?

The difficulties of West Papua are great but they are not insurmountable. It is only through continued attention and serious debate around the world that we might be able to pave a path to some sort of solution.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, for introducing this debate. It is an important issue in which he has a long standing interest. In many ways I am embarrassed to be on the other side of the argument tonight. Certainly, I recognise much of what he says about West Papua. He raises issues that are not acceptable anywhere—not there or anywhere else that we were to find them. Yet if I can recognise and feel a common shame and concern at what has happened in West Papua, I do not recognise what the noble and right reverend Lord or other speakers have described tonight as Indonesia. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, who knows President Yudhoyono, will also know that there has somehow been an enormously unfair characterisation of that country in this debate.

Indonesia is a country that has changed enormously over the past decade, including making significant improvements in the field of human rights. It is a country that now has an active parliament, an effective and outspoken civil society and a lively free press. Although your Lordships would not know it from tonight’s discussion, it has one of the most effective human rights commissions in the region, and played a key role in pushing for a human rights element in the Association of South-East Asian Nations charter.

The military, which dominated the country under Suharto, has evolved away from its traditional role. The formal participation of the military and the police in parliament ended in 2004. The peace agreement signed in Aceh in 2005 has been acknowledged in our debate; critically, it continues to hold and is a major achievement. Certainly, we judge that the Indonesian Government are committed to further improvements in human rights. Like other speakers, I welcome the visits to Papua by Hina Jilani, the UN special representative on human rights defenders, in June of last year and Professor Manfred Nowak, the UN special rapporteur on torture, last November. Both, I might say, went at the invitation of the Indonesian Government. That openness to international scrutiny reflects the progress that Government have made in addressing human rights concerns.

However, I certainly acknowledge the points made by the noble and right reverend Lord and by the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, and others, since both reports obviously acknowledge real concerns—notably the one on detainees and their conditions. Similarly, in her visit and report, Hina Jilani highlighted the continued challenges for human rights defenders. She detailed her concerns at their situation and noted their lack of access to justice and the restrictions on human rights monitors entering Papua. Yet she balanced that against the positive steps taken by the Government since 1998 to strengthen the legal and institutional framework for the promotion and protection of human rights. As her report also covered Aceh, it noted the improved situation of human rights defenders there.

I could go on with the institutional improvements that Government have made: accession to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, as well as that on economic, social and cultural rights in 2006. Equally, however, I agree with those who have spoken in this important debate that many challenges remain. We share their concerns about the human rights situation in Papua, including allegations of human rights violations by the Indonesian armed forces, restricted access to Papua for journalists and NGOs and, indeed, a number of cases of prisoners being convicted of treason for displaying the Papuan flag.

Again, however, let us put that concern in context. The new special autonomy legislation for Papua makes provision for that flag to be flown. It has not been translated into local legislation, however, so at this point that change is half-pregnant or in abeyance, or whatever the appropriate metaphor would be. I would urge your Lordships to bear in mind that flags are provocative things even in democracies that put an absolute premium on freedom of speech. The confederate flag in the United States continues to cause eruptions in every presidential campaign that I can recall. So please let us show some understanding for a country, Indonesia, which is in a transition of its own as it moves towards being a full democracy.

My Lords, you do not go to prison for 20 years for flying the confederate flag in the United States.

My Lords, my point is that there is now legislation on the books in Jakarta that would allow the flying of the Papuan flag. But this is a process where there has to be continued political pressure as there was in Aceh to make sure that the spirit and letter of the special autonomy allowed in that legislation is met. Flags are, if you like, a good indicator of whether or not there is progress. So like the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, I will be watching for and will applaud the day that this flag can be flown.

I have followed Papua from outside and followed, as an international development official, the dramas around the exploitation of its gold resources that make it the richest part of Indonesia, and watched before that the massive migrations into Papua from other parts of Indonesia. This region has faced a turbulent development and has been left behind in terms of its political development and, indeed, the well-being of its citizens. These are issues that the central Government in far-off Jakarta, which I suspect to some in Papua seems nearly as far away as Westminster, need to address and overcome. What I want to challenge is not the claim that there are major human rights abuses, and if my remarks in November were taken in any way as seeking to diminish or demean the suffering of the people of Papua, I apologise. My disagreement with other speakers is not about the realities of the human rights situation, it is just on whether we can put confidence in Indonesia and work with it to see it improve the conditions in Papua and to respect its special autonomy legislation.

In terms of our tracking of this, the noble Lord, Lord Astor, asked about the international presence there. I do not know whether there are permanent embassy staff there. I shall certainly seek to give him an answer. Our own embassy in Jakarta follows the situation closely. An official from our embassy visited Papua last week and held discussions with local officials, NGOs and representatives of religious organisations on many issues, including, very centrally, human rights. We have sought to work through the United Nations envoys and local NGOs, and through our strong and good relationship with the Government of Indonesia, to press them on the agenda that all of us in the House tonight share.

When Hina Jilani was there last June, she raised with the Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and chief of police threats against human rights defenders. Our embassy in Jakarta has raised the same issues with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which has confirmed that it has taken this up directly with the security forces and local authorities. Supporting the work of human rights defenders is a priority for the Foreign Office. That is reflected in our annual human rights report, which in 2006 was dedicated to human rights defenders. There is evidence that the Indonesian Government are focusing on not just words, new institutions and signing international covenants, but really on bringing justice home to Papua itself.

On 25 January this year, the Indonesian Supreme Court reinstated the conviction against the former Garuda pilot Pollycarpus for conspiracy to murder the human rights activist Munir Said Thalib in 2004. Pollycarpus was sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment. On 11 February—just a couple of weeks ago—the former President of Garuda, Indra Setiawan, was sentenced to 12 months’ imprisonment for his part in the murder of Munir. So we are seeing real progress.

I was asked whether our Foreign Secretary has met his counterpart, Hasan Wirajuda. He has spoken to him twice on the telephone, although I am told it was not about Papua. I have also met with Hasan Wirajuda for the same reason that the Foreign Secretary has spoken to him. The modern Indonesia is one of our great allies in our efforts in Burma. It is a fellow member of the Security Council at the moment, not a small issue in terms of some of the tactical suggestions tonight. It is also, as it happens, a member of the Human Rights Council. Nevertheless, I imagine that Manfred Novak, in his report to the council the week after next, will be raising his visit to Indonesia. I will myself be at the council next week and hope to see Manfred Novak on the sidelines of that.

I was asked what we are doing in terms of development support. We look at the governor of Papua who visited recently and saw the Minister in the Foreign Office who covers this region, Meg Munn. He is very involved in development activities and we have been supporting him as much as we can. We have funded human rights training for the police in Papua and supported security training for human rights defenders through the NGO Peace Brigades. In addition, DfID is providing funding for four development advisers to the governor of Papua. Their work will focus on poverty alleviation, public finance and infrastructure. DfID is also funding HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment activities in Papua as well as focusing on improving forest governance livelihoods to address poverty reduction and deforestation.

I think that we are as engaged as all the noble Lords who have spoken tonight would wish us to be. It is true that we are putting our confidence in this new democratic Government of Indonesia to live up to their responsibilities to their people. It is true that we continue, as have every British government, to accept the outcome of what happened in 1969. We recognise their shortcomings, but we believe that the way forward is an internal dialogue between the people of Papua and the Government in Jakarta. This is a process which delivered results in Aceh. We hope it can similarly deliver results for Papua. I will certainly express to my other colleagues in the Foreign Office the need that we continue in our dealings with the Government of Indonesia and President Yudhoyono to press the case for the people of Papua for human rights and justice and their right to a peaceful, prosperous development.

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do adjourn during pleasure until 8.52 pm.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 8.47 to 8.52 pm.]