Activists call on Obama to press Papuan rights | Connect Asia

Activists call on Obama to press Papuan rights

Activists call on Obama to press Papuan rights

Updated 18 January 2012, 17:20 AEDT

A graphic and disturbing video has emerged from the Indonesian province of West Papua which shows a Papuan man reportedly being tortured by Indonesian security forces.

The mobile phone footage shows the naked man being poked in the genitals with a burning stick in the remote village of Puncak Jaya. The footage has been released by the West Papuan Advocacy Team. It's release comes as Jakarta faces continuing criticism about abuses by its security forces in Papua and just weeks ahead of US President Barack Obama's visit to Indonesia. The activist group is now calling on President Obama to demand an investigation into human rights abuses in West Papua.

Presenter: Linda LoPrespti

Speaker: Ed McWilliams, West Papuan Advocacy Team and retired Senior Foreign Service Officer from the US State Department

LOPRESTI: First of all, what can you tell us about the man in the footage that we've seen in the video?

MCWILLIAMS: Well the footage that first emerged on YouTube is now being scrutinised by a number of organisations, including Human Rights Watch, to determine some of the details that have been difficult to ascertain thus far, including the identity of the man that appears to have been tortured. The first indications we have is that he is a local church leader, who disappeared earlier this year, apparently perhaps in relationship to this incident.

LOPRESTI: Can you verify who the perpetrators are in the footage, do you know whether they are with the military or whether they are with the police?

MCWILLIAMS: There again, it is difficult to know exactly. We note that by the attire that they have, including military attire, that they appear to have been military personnel. We are not sure whether they would have been Brimob which is to say the militarised police or perhaps elements of Detachment 88, which is a US and Australian funded anti-terror group or possibly Kopassus or other straight line military force elements involved. I think the initial reading by most of the analysts that have seen suggest that they are from Kostrad which would be a formal Indonesian military troops.

LOPRESTI: Now why has this footage been released now. The timing is interesting, given that it comes just weeks ahead of a planned visit to Indonesia by President Barack Obama?

McWILLIAMS: Yes, I would like to clarify. It was not the West Papua Advocacy Team that released it. It was released first on YouTube and my understanding is that a number of human rights organisations were trying to essentially bring together the details of the footage basically to have a more informative release and it was released ahead of time, essentially by someone we have not yet identified through YouTube.

LOPRESTI: I understand.

McWILLIAMS: But, of course, to your point, from the US perspective, it's very important to note that it comes on the eve of the visit of President Obama to Indonesia.

LOPRESTI: Do you think this is what is seen in the footage is a reflection of Jakarta's policy or just the anti-separatist sentiment among security officials on the ground in West Papua?

McWILLIAMS: Well, if we go back over the years, indeed, decades, we find repeated incidences of abuse of human rights by the Indonesian military and police Brimob, and Kopassus and Detachment 88 and so on and it is interesting if we look back at each instance, officials will say oh this is just an isolated instant, it's an aberration. The point is that the frequency of these occurrences point to the fact that there is something systemic wrong with the security forces in Indonesia, that in part I think is simply the fact that they essentially operate with impunity. There is no accountability for these abuses within the Indonesian legal system.

LOPRESTI: So what are you hoping that President Barack Obama can do during his Indonesian visit? Are you making calls to the White House for him to raise this issue with Jakarta?

McWILLIAMS: Well, our public release has specifically indeed called on him to raise this with President Yudhoyono. But in addition to that, we are also calling for the US to suspend its military assistance, particularly training and cooperation with the Kopassus and Detachment 88 and any units that might have been engaged or involved in this particular incident. We've made these appeals in the past, and we are now just essentially reaffirming them.

LOPRESTI: And this has to be a bit of a sticky situation for the president, because his continued the Bush administration's policy of supporting Indonesian security forces and they are tyring to engage Indonesia to combat militant Islam. So I guess if he brings up West Papua, that could be derailed?

McWILLIAMS: Well in point of fact, he has not only continued the policies of the Bush administration. From our perspective, he has made them worse, that is specifically that he has opened cooperation with Kopassus, the Indonesian special forces which probably have the most notorious record with regards to human rights abuse within the Indonesian security forces. But yes, certainly this will be an awkward moment for the president, for the US administration, but nonetheless, this is an example of the kinds of things that we in the human rights side have been pressing many administrations with regards to for many years.

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