BRISBANE archdiocese’s Catholic Justice and Peace Commission (CJPC) has called on the new Foreign Affairs Minister Bob Carr to change the direction of Australia’s approach to conflict in the Indonesian provinces of West Papua.
The CJPC also formed part of a demonstration in King George Square on March 16, the same day as the final court appearance of five West Papuan independence leaders.
CJPC executive officer Peter Arndt said the demonstration included placards bearing the photographs of the five men.
“We later learnt the men had each been imprisoned for three years,” he said.
The men were initially arrested after an attack by Indonesian military units on crowds gathered for the Third Papuan People’s Con-gress last October.
A number of unarmed Papuans were killed following the attack.
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.
Mr Arndt said the militarisation of West Papua had led to great problems in the region, situated on the western half of the island of New Guinea.
“The indigenous Melanesian people of West Papua have never accepted the Indonesian takeover of West Papua in the 1960s,” he said.
“While there has been a small armed independence group in West Papua, non-violent, peaceful groups challenging Indonesian rule and the abuses of security forces have grown in recent years.
“Despite their commitment to peaceful action, Indonesian security forces respond with brutal tactics to keep a lid on their activities.
“The Indonesian Minister for Law and Human Rights recently said there were no political prisoners in Indonesia, but many Papuans are in prison for peaceful political actions like raising the Papuan flag.”
Mr Arndt hoped the appointment of Mr Carr as Foreign Affairs Minister “will give Australia a chance to take a stronger stand on military brutality and intimidation in the region”.
“We also hope Mr Carr can encourage the Indonesian Government to sit down with all political groups in West Papua and find a way to end a conflict which has lasted fifty years,” he said.
The CJPC, late last year, hosted a visit to the archdiocese by West Papuan human rights lawyer Olga Hamadi who, along with 20 other lawyers, helped defend the five independence leaders in court.
“Olga spoke to me on the phone after the trial and said she and other lawyers had been harassed by members of security forces,” Mr Arndt said.
“Reference to this harassment was also made by one of the lawyers during the trial.”
Ms Hamadi visited Brisbane with Indria Fernida, a fellow member of the Indonesian human rights organisation Kontras.
At the time, she told The Catholic Leader some of the prisoners were suffering injuries from beatings and were often sent to police hospitals “which was not a good thing”.
Mr Arndt appealed for donations to help run the region’s Catholic hospital to help treat such prisoners.
He said a special West Papuan fund had been set up to receive such donations. “Since then we have had several donations, including a very generous amount of $500,” he said.