US concerned about Indonesia's attitude to West Papua

US concerned about Indonesia's attitude to West Papua
ABC / Radio Australia, 27 September 2010

Serious concerns have been raised in the United States about the treatment of West Papuans under Indonesian rule.

For the first time a US Congress hearing has been dedicated to the issues affecting the Melanesian province.

Representatives were told of ongoing human rights abuses and heard accusations that Indonesia is failing to grant West Papua the special autonomy it promised 9 years ago.

Leading the hearing was American Samoa's Congressman, Eni Faleomavaega, who is also chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Asia-Pacific and the Global Environment.

Presenter: Helene Hofman
Speaker: Eni Faleomavaega, American Samoa's Congressman

Listen: Windows Media

FALEOMAVAEGA: To my knowledge this is the first time that the United States Congress has ever held a hearing on the whole question of West Papua, just everything and it's history and how the whole situation came about, especially during the time of the colonial ruling of the Dutch and then how it was militarily taken over by the rulings of Sukarno as well as Suharto by the Indonesian Government.

HOFMAN: So the US has two main concerns, as I understand it, and one is the push for independence and the other is human rights violations?

FALEOMAVAEGA: No, the issue of independence has always been part of the thinking of some of the people among the West Papuans. I have been following this issue now for well over 10 years and I felt that given the number of years that we have been trying to work with Jakarta, especially when it announced that it was going to provide a special autonomy law for the people of West Papua since 2001 and the hope was that to give the people of West Papua more autonomy. Well nine years later, there has not been much movement in granting more autonomy for the people of West Papua. There are those of us who expressed concerns about the rights of the people of West Papua and in that regard, we have been following this issue for a number of years and hopefully Jakarta will be responsive to our questions and our concerns.

HOFMAN: I understand there has been some issue about the human rights violations as well. I know you for one have been wanting to refer to it as a genocide, something which there is some opposition to in the United States?

FALEOMAVAEGA: Well, this has been an issue that has been ongoing. Before East Timor was granted its independence, the Indonesian military tortured and murdered some 200,000 East Timorese. The Indonesian military did the same thing to some 100,000 West Papuans and that's just a real conservative estimate on the killings that took place by the Indonesian military over the years. Some estimates go as high as even 200,000 West Papuans have been murdered and tortured and killed mercilessly by the military. So, yes, there are questions of genocide. I am very, very concerned that this continues and we just wanted to make sure that these people are treated fairly.

HOFMAN: What can the US do about this? You've had the special hearing now. What is your hope of what might eventuate?

FALEOMAVAEGA: Well, our system of government is quite different from the parliamentary systems and in our system Congress is a co-equal branch of the administration and we work together. We all know that Indonesia is the largest Muslim country in the world. It's just recently tried to involve itself in becoming a democracy and all of that we all support. But at the same time, it leaves itself with this legacy of what they have done to the West Papuans, first under the colonialism by the Dutch, now another colony colonise these people again with the promise that they are to be treated as Indonesian citizens. But yet because these people have no cultural, ethnic, historical connection whatsoever to the Indonesians, or you want to say the Javanese, those who live on the mainland of Indonesia. These people are Melanesians and culturally, there is a real, real concern that these people are becoming more and more a minority group within their own lands and their own part of the world and there is some very serious concerns as to what's Jakarta doing about this.

HOFMAN: But what exactly can the US do? Why would the Indonesians decide to listen to the US?

FALEOMAVAEGA: Indonesia doesn't have to listen to the US. But I am sure that perhaps may be other countries of the world will see. Hey, we can say the same thing about apartheid, on the issue of South Africa, what happened to them. If the world did not put pressure on the South African country to change its ways, and of course the bigoted policy of apartheid, nothing ever would have happened and I think what we need to do is to give attention to this in the same way that the United Nations gave attention to the pleas of the problems that the people of East Timor went through.

HOFMAN: So what's the next step after this hearing?

FALEOMAVAEGA: Well, the hearing is part of the process. This is how our American system of government operates. We hold oversight hearings and on the eve of our elections coming up in November, there may be changes in the Congress and we will cross that bridge when we get there and if I get re-elected, I can promise you I will continue raising this issue, not only with Jakarta, but also in the Congress as well as with the United Nations. We need to pay more attention to the problems that the people of West Papua currently face.