Parliament challenges UK Government over rights abuses in West Papua

26 Jul 2013

Members of the House of Lords held a debate about West Papua on 24 July in which they raised serious concerns about the human rights situation and called on the British government to take a stronger stand.

Lord Harries, who initiated the debate, noted the alarming pattern of ongoing political arrests in West Papua, citing evidence collected by TAPOL, and challenged the UK government about its funding of Special Detachment 88, the elite counter-terror squad which has allegedly been used in the arrest, torture and shooting of political activists in the Papua provinces. He questioned whether the training provided by the UK and others was doing anything to improve the human rights record of the unit.

Particular concern was expressed about access to West Papua. Lord Hannay called the Indonesian government’s policy of restricting access for foreign journalists and NGOs “misguided,” adding that “where secrecy prevails, rumour and allegations flourish.” Lord Avebury suggested “The situation in West Papua is almost certainly a lot worse even than we are able to describe, because of the barriers to access”.

Lord Harries criticised the Special Autonomy law as a “total failure” which “fails to address the political aspiration of the Papuan people,” and called on the UK to request an inquiry into the Act of Free Choice and support an internationally-monitored referendum.

Lord Kilclooney discussed the history of Papua, which he described as an occupation, stating “It is one of the worst tragedies I have come across. And coming from Ireland I know what tragedy is.” He added, “As we know from Ireland, there can be a security solution or a political solution. The way forward must be by political dialogue… beginning with the church leaders.”

Lord Avebury noted the outstanding request of the Papuan people for self-determination, and called on the UK government to “Invite President SBY to visit the UK in September 2014 [for the Scottish referendum on independence], to see how we deal with requests for self-determination.” Lord Hannay added that the Indonesian government should demonstrate respect for the culture of Papuans, and that any attempt to homogenise or encourage migration into Papua will bring tensions.

The government response was given by Baroness Warsi, Senior Minister of State at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office. In responding to the concerns raised, Baroness Warsi noted the high level of concern about freedom of expression during the debate, and agreed that freedom of expression in West Papua “is too often stifled.” She also noted with concern the “lengthy jail sentences for peaceful protest” and stated that she “fervently hoped” that the visit of the special rapporteur on Freedom of Expression takes place soon. In conclusion, Baroness Warsi echoed statements of all those who spoke in the debate, that all those with a stake in Papua’s future need constructively to engage in peaceful dialogue.

Read the debate

Watch the debate (start at 18:53:00)