Activists say Papua torture inaction 'embarrassing' for Australian PM

Activists say Papua torture inaction 'embarrassing' for Australian PM
ABC, 22 November 2010

By: Matt Brown


Soldiers tortured a naked and bound Papuan man.[Asian Human Rights Commission]

VIDEO: Indonesia admits its soldiers have tortured detainees

Human rights activists say it is a farce that no serious investigation will be undertaken into the events surrounding a video that showed Papuan detainees being tortured by Indonesian troops.

It was a hot issue when Prime Minister Julia Gillard went to Jakarta a few weeks ago, and Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono promised a swift investigation into the matter.

The video was graphic and shocking.

Indonesian soldiers tortured a naked and bound Papuan man, taking a burning stick to his genitals, supposedly looking for weapons used by local insurgents.

Australian government officials were alarmed by what they saw and the Indonesian government quickly confirmed the torturers were soldiers.

To date there is no evidence that Dr Yudhoyono's assurances to the Australian Government were based on anything more than an empty promise.

Elaine Pearson from the US-based Human Rights Watch says the Indonesian military is stalling.

"Once these cases fade a bit from the media spotlight, unless there's concerted pressure coming from donor countries and countries that cooperate with the Indonesian military, then we're unlikely to really see serious efforts to prosecute these perpetrators," she said.

Ms Gillard had the opportunity to apply that sort of pressure when she met Dr Yudhoyono at the start of this month, and local human rights workers urged her to do so.

But the night before she arrived Dr Yudhoyono reaffirmed the promise of an investigation and publicly warned Australia against raising the issue.

Before Ms Gillard had met him she had clearly accepted those assurances.

"On these specific incidents, president Yudhoyono has already said there will be an investigation ... he wants to see the matter dealt with and prosecutions arising," she said at the time.

Ms Gillard's spokesperson said later that the issue was discussed when the two met but there was no detail about the terms or tone involved.

Then, a few days later, a trial got underway in Papua but it turned out to have nothing to do with the torture in question.

In a sign of how prevalent these abuses might be, the trial concerned a different bashing, also documented on video.

The Indonesian military has said it cannot identify the men wielding the burning stick and a knife because their faces cannot be seen.

But Ms Pearson says the victim has provided detail of where and when the abuse occurred and the military must now follow up on the information.

"I think the Australian Government should be considering this a test case for the Indonesian military," she said.

"The fact that the Papuan Traditional Council was able to interview one of the victims and gather this information shows there is clear information out there and so simply saying that, you know, you can't identify the perpetrators is really not sufficient."

The deputy military spokesman says his boss is at the Asian Games in China.

But, as far as he is concerned, there is no ongoing investigation and the case was closed with the irrelevant trial.

Human Rights Watch says Ms Gillard has been embarrassed by Indonesia's response.

"President Yudhoyono gave her assurances, so I think it would be absolutely appropriate and important for Gillard to be asking president Yudhoyono, 'what is the status of these investigations?'," Ms Pearson said.

"And certainly calling for an independent investigation into these abuses.

"I think if she fails to do so it really sends a message the Australian Government is prepared to accept torture in the Indonesian military."

Dr Yudhoyono is in Papua today, but local media has reported he is not planning to examine the torture issue.

The president's spokesman said he was at a doctor's appointment and could not respond.