Australia 'embarrassed' by Papua response

Australia 'embarrassed' by Papua response

ABC News, 22 November 2010


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MARK COLVIN: The US-based group, Human Rights Watch says the Australian government has been embarrassed by Indonesia's response to a video showing Indonesian troops torturing Papuan detainees.

It was a hot issue when Julia Gillard went to Jakarta a few weeks ago but when called on to raise it with Indonesia's presidents, she responded by relying on his pledge to investigate the matter fully. Now, it appears, there is no serious investigation and local human rights activists warn that a whitewash will undermine their cause for justice.

Matt Brown's report from Jakarta contains audio from the video and may disturb some listeners.

MATT BROWN: The video was graphic and shocking.

(Sounds of man screaming and crying)

MATT BROWN: Indonesian soldiers tortured a naked and bound Papuan man, taking a burning stick to his genitals, as they questioned him about weapons used by local insurgents.

(Sounds of man screaming and crying)

MATT BROWN: Australian government officials were alarmed by what they saw. But the Indonesian government quickly confirmed the torturers were soldiers and the president himself Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono pledged a swift investigation.

That was five weeks ago and Elaine Pearson from the US-based group, Human Rights Watch says the Indonesian military is stalling.

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

MATT BROWN: Australia's Prime Minister, Julia Gillard had the opportunity to apply that sort of pressure when she met Mr Yudhoyono at the start of this month - and local human rights workers urged her to do so.

But the night before she arrived Mr Yudhoyono reaffirmed the promise of an investigation and publicly warned Australia against raising the issue. Before Ms Gillard had even met him she'd clearly accepted that line of argument.

JULIA GILLARD: On these specific incidents President Yudhoyono has already said there will be an investigation.

JOURNALIST: But can you describe why you don't think it will be a whitewash? Can you describe, in terms of the investigation, why it wouldn't be a whitewash?

JULIA GILLARD: Well President Yudhoyono's said there will be an investigation and he's obviously indicating it will be a full investigation, he wants to see the matter dealt with and prosecutions arising.

MATT BROWN: After the two leaders met, the Prime Minister's spokesperson said the issue was discussed 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, it concerned a different bashing, also documented on video.

The military's said that it can't identify the men wielding the burning stick and a knife because their faces couldn't be seen. But Elaine Pearson says the victims provided detail of where and when the abuse occurred and the military must now follow up on their information.

ELAINE PEARSON: I think that the Australian Government should be considering this a test case for the Indonesian military. The fact that the Papuan Traditional Council was actually able to interview one of the victims and gather this information shows that there is clear information out there and so simply saying that, you know, you can't identify the perpetrators is really not sufficient.

MATT BROWN: However, the apparent, early commitment to transparency and justice has degenerated into farce.

The deputy military spokesman says his boss is at the Asian Games in China. But, but as far as he's concerned, there is no ongoing investigation and the case was closed with the irrelevant trial. To date, there's no evidence that Julia Gillard's assurances were based on anything more than an empty promise.

ELAINE PEARSON: President Yudhoyono gave her assurance so I think it would be absolutely appropriate and important for Gillard to be asking President Yudhoyono, 'what is the status of these investigations?'. And certainly calling for an independent investigation into these abuses. And I think if she fails to do so it really sends a message that the Australian Government is prepared to accept torture within the ranks of the Indonesian military.

MATT BROWN: As it happens, President Yudhoyono is in Papua today but local media reports that he's not planning to examine the torture issue. The president's spokesman said he was at a doctor's appointment and couldn't respond.

This is Matt Brown in Jakarta for PM.