IN 1998, United States cultural anthropologist Dr Eben Kirksey, when he was a college exchange student, wit-nessed the massacre of more than 150 civilians by Indonesian troops in West Papua.
Dr Kirksey will discuss this and other experiences in a talk at St Joseph’s College Gregory Terrace on October 17 in conjunction with the publication of his new book Freedom in Entangled Worlds – West Papua and the Architecture of Global Power.
Brisbane archdiocese’s Catholic Justice and Peace Commission (CJPC) executive officer Peter Arndt, who organised Dr Kirksey’s visit, said it was important for Australians to be aware of the human rights violations occurring on a regular basis “right on Australia’s doorstep”.
Over the past decade, Mr Arndt has sought to support the indigenous West Papuans’ struggle for independence.
“It’s still a very difficult struggle,” he said.
“In the current year, it’s obvious security forces are clamping down on anyone who challenges the status quo.
“Many arrests and human rights violations are occurring.”
In March this year the CJPC formed part of a demonstration in King George Square to protest against the treatment of five West Papuan independence leaders.
The men were initially arrested after Indonesian military units had used violence against crowds gathered for the Third Papuan People’s Congress in October 2011.
A number of unarmed Papuans were killed.
The congress was held in the Zakheus Field in the West Papuan town of Abepura in Jayapura.
The field is in the grounds of a compound which includes the Sang Surya Franciscan Friary and the John Maria Vianey Diocesan Seminary. Last year’s Brisbane protest was the same day as the men’s final court appearance.
“We later learnt the men had each been imprisoned for three years,” Mr Arndt said.
He said focus was now on the treatment of West Papuan human rights lawyer Olga Hamadi. The CJPC, late last year, hosted a visit to Brisbane archdiocese by Ms Hamadi who, along with 20 other lawyers, helped defend the five independence leaders in court.
“Amnesty International has recently received credible reports indicating Ms Hamadi has been threatened for investigating and legally representing five other men in Wamena, who were allegedly tortured or otherwise ill-treated by police in detention,” Mr Arndt said.
“On the morning of September 19, 2012, the third day of the pre-trial hearing, Olga was blocked from entering the Wamena District Court by a crowd of people.
“Police officers did not take any steps to assist her.
“On September 20, 2012, due to ongoing concerns about her safety and the lack of protection from the authorities, she withdrew the pre-trial application and returned to Jayapura.
“She fears for her safety if and when she travels to Wamena in the future.”
Mr Arndt said Dr Kirksey, now a lecturer at the University of NSW, would also be speaking at other venues in south-east Queensland including the University of Queensland.
Dr Kirksey’s talk in St Joseph’s College hall starts at 5.30pm.
“Entry is free, but donations to support human rights work in West Papua will be gratefully accepted,” Mr Arndt said.
For information contact (07) 3336 9174.