ICRC Papua Branch Office Was Illegal, Ministry Says

ICRC Papua Branch Office Was Illegal, Ministry Says

The Jakarta Globe
Ismira Lutfia

The government suggested on Friday that the International Committee of the Red Cross was operating in Papua illegally because the agreements governing its operations in the country did not cover the troubled province.

Teuku Faizasyah, a spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, also denied that the request to close the international organization’s office in Jayapura, the capital of Papua, had anything to do with the ICRC’s visit to prisons in the province, as reported by various media outlets on Friday.

He said the two agreements, signed in 1977 and 1987, should have automatically been invalidated by changes in the country’s political conditions and ICRC policies.

"We regret that they opened an office [in Papua] without proper notification," said Faizasyah, adding that agreements did not include opening ICRC offices in Aceh Province or Papua.

The agreements, according to Faizasyah, stipulated that ICRC’s Jakarta office serve as the regional headquarters overseeing its work in the Asia-Pacific region.

He said that in 2004, the government proposed a draft of a new agreement that would include ICRC’s standard operating procedures in Indonesia, following changes in both parties’ conditions that saw the need to readdress the terms of references laid out in the 1977 and 1987 deals, but that the humanitarian organization had never responded.

"We asked them several times to respond to the proposal," Faizasyah said, adding that since 2004 the government saw the humanitarian organization open branch offices, contrary to the agreements.

According to Faizasyah, the ICRC reasoned that it had been busy with the post-tsunami work in Aceh.

But he said the agreements needed to be renegotiated as the ICRC’s work had changed. "Their policies now focus on international humanitarian law, while previously they focused on political prisoners," Faizasyah said, adding that this was acceptable as the organization contributed to educating the country’s law enforcement bodies on international humanitarian laws.

"We see this as ignorance on their part since we have asked to renegotiate the deal since 2004," Fazaisyah said.

He said that while the request to close the ICRC office in Papua had nothing to do with the organization’s prison visits, the group had violated procedures.

"They should have contacted us first," Faizasyah said, explaining that international organizations that planned to visit prisons in Indonesia must first obtain a permit from the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights.

He added that with Indonesia now being an open and democratic country, there was no longer any need for human rights abuse monitoring.

"International organizations have to tune in with the changes [in Indonesia]," Faizasyah said.

An attempt to reach ICRC Jakarta was unsuccessful on Friday, but ICRC Indonesia delegation head Vincent Nicod was quoted by Reuters as saying earlier that the Indonesian government had approached the ICRC in early 2000 to rewrite the deal, but said the existing agreement officially had no expiry date.