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West Papua

Volume 779: debated on Tuesday 21 February 2017


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what representations they have made to the government of Indonesia concerning human rights abuses in West Papua.

My Lords, we raise our concerns about West Papua on a regular basis. Our ambassador and his staff visit West Papua periodically, most recently last month. President Joko Widodo has committed to a peaceful and prosperous West Papua and taken steps to improve the situation there. We support these initiatives and would like to see further progress in implementing the President’s vision. We will continue to engage with the Indonesian authorities on this issue.

I thank the Minister for her reply. Sadly, however, human rights violations have dramatically increased since 2014, particularly the denial of the West Papuans’ right to freedom of expression. A particularly sinister development is the appointment of retired General Wiranto, who has been indicted by a UN-sponsored tribunal for crimes against humanity. Despite what President Widodo has said about free and fair access to the press, that is simply not the case. Therefore, will Her Majesty’s Government support what is now a range of nations in the South Pacific that are continuing to raise these issues at the General Assembly of the United Nations?

My Lords, we should recognise that overall the human rights situation in Indonesia has improved significantly since the late 1990s. Of course, we have some specific concerns, including about respect for some communities, and the noble and right reverend Lord has raised specific issues about West Papua. Throughout all these issues of concern on human rights it is important to note that the President has made it clear that he pays more attention than his predecessors to the importance of the future prosperity of West Papua—and it is the case that prosperity tends to follow proper respect for human rights, which we uphold through the UN.

My Lords, I declare a past interest as an adviser to BP on its big gas investment in Papua. Will the Minister express a view on whether it is correct to feel that these human rights abuses and the cases that are brought forward of such abuses are completely counterproductive to the Indonesian Government’s policy of trying to reconcile the indigenous inhabitants of Papua to being part of Indonesia? If she says that that is the Government’s view, do we convey that view to the Indonesian Government?

My Lords, we convey the view to the Indonesian Government that we wish to work with them in their stated objective of improving the condition of people in West Papua. With regard to abuses, it is the case that the Indonesian President is committed to addressing the problems in the region. The previous co-ordinating ministry for legal, political and security affairs established an investigative team to resolve past cases of human rights abuse. However, we remain concerned by the slow progress that has been made and we are encouraging the Indonesian Government to prioritise a swift resolution. The fact is that where human rights are recognised and protected, prosperity tends to follow.

My Lords, the Minister reiterated the point about exerting a more positive influence on the Indonesian Government, particularly with regard to religious freedom. What practical steps have the United Kingdom Government taken to ensure that religious freedom is able to be practised in West Papua, particularly in terms of the practical training of police and other civil servants to ensure that the words of the President are not only heard but fully implemented?

My Lords, it is of course important that we are able to talk as we do with the Indonesian Government about ensuring that security has to be maintained. It is a fact that Indonesia faces the threats of terrorism and instability that are around the region, not just in Indonesia, so we have to respect the action it needs to take on that. What we do is work with the Indonesian Government to ensure that there is support for their work both in Indonesia and at international level. That work is done through the FCO but also more broadly in government.

My Lords, with West Papuans continuing to be arrested and imprisoned for peaceful actions such as—as has already been said—demonstrating and even handing out flyers, and after Steven Itlay, leading a prayer ceremony in West Papua on 5 April 2016 to pray for West Papua to be accepted as a full member of the Melanesian Spearhead Group, was arrested and convicted of treason and spent seven months incarcerated, will the Minister reassure noble Lords that Her Majesty’s Government have specifically condemned these actions?

My Lords, I ought to make it clear, against the background of the actions that the right reverend Prelate described, that we fully respect the integrity and sovereignty of Indonesia. In that particular case, arrests were made because of actions to propose that West Papua should be separated from Indonesia. We are concerned by reports of pre-emptive arrests of West Papuan people in various cities across Indonesia more recently, in December 2016 —as well as by the reports to which the right reverend Prelate referred of security forces harassing individuals with alleged links to separatist groups, particularly in advance of the West Papuan elections. However, we should note that, regardless of that, in the democracy that Indonesia now is, the recent elections in December passed off peacefully.

My Lords, the Oxford Foundation for Law, Justice and Society last year advised the ending of all UK military training and equipment for Indonesia until we could be sure that there were reliable mechanisms in place to verify its adherence to human rights standards. Can the noble Baroness tell us whether that has been done?

My Lords, we always take a very rigorous view about how our training and also any supply of material may be used. As I have said at the Dispatch Box before, if we receive credible information that there has been misuse, of course we will take appropriate action and either cease supply or make sure that future supply is under specific rules—and we have not had to remove our supply.