Indonesia: Letter to Australia on Papua asylum seekers

News and Press Release
Originally published
PO Box 15774, Washington, DC 20003
20 January 2006

Prime Minister John Howard
c/o Embassy of Australia to the United States
1601 Massachusetts Ave, NW
Washington, DC 20036-2273
Via facsimile: 202-797-3168

Dear Prime Minister Howard:

We strongly urge your government to respond with compassion and in compliance with legal and international obligations with respect to the 43 West Papuan refugees seeking asylum who arrived at Port York on January 17. While Australia is to be commended for its timely and successful efforts to assist these men, women, and children after their harrowing journey, it is equally important that they now be accorded the full rights and privileges which accrue to their refugee status.

The circumstances of their plight, especially the systemic human rights violations which impelled them to make this arduous voyage, are not in question. International human rights organizations, the media, and West Papuan rights organizations now under threat have convincingly documented the widespread and intensifying abuse in West Papua carried out by Indonesian authorities, primarily by the military and police. In December 2003, Yale Law School published a report that addressed both the scale and seriousness of the situation in West Papua. It said in part:

The Indonesian military and security forces have engaged in widespread violence and extrajudicial killings in West Papua. They have subjected Papuan men and women to acts of torture, disappearance, rape, and sexual violence, thus causing serious bodily and mental harm. Systematic resource exploitation, the destruction of Papuan resources and crops, compulsory (and often uncompensated) labor, transmigration schemes, and forced relocation have caused pervasive environmental harm to the region, undermined traditional subsistence practices, and led to widespread disease, malnutrition, and death among West Papuans....Many of these acts, individually and collectively, clearly constitute crimes against humanity under international law.

The military and police operate with impunity within Indonesia's corrupt judicial system. Increasing military deployment and continuing development of "militia" to intimidate the local population, as well as the central government's plan to divide the province, have led to a potentially volatile climate. The marginalization of West Papuans in their own land, reflected in a dearth of fundamental health, education and other basic services as noted in recent World Bank reporting, has created intolerable conditions.

It is certain that the 43 West Papuan refugees would face persecution should they be sent back to Indonesia. We urge you to ensure that they have the fair hearings to which they are entitled.

Thank you for your consideration.


Karen Orenstein, Washington Coordinator
East Timor and Indonesia Action Network

Bama Athreya, Deputy Director
International Labor Rights Fund

Kevin Martin, Executive Director
Peace Action and Peace Action Education Fund

Emily Goldman, Senior Program Officer
Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights

Mary Anne Mercer, Deputy Director
Health Alliance International

Joseph K. Grieboski, President
Institute on Religion and Public Policy Secretary General, Interparliamentary Conference on Human Rights and Religious Freedom