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ABC: Australia Lets Human Rights Takes a Back Seat with Indonesia

September 11, 2012

ABC: Australia Lets Human Rights Takes a Back Seat with Indonesia

September 11, 2012

ABC Australia
By Phil Lynch

Australia should take a number of steps to ensure that our security
cooperation with Indonesia does not in any way aid operations which
may lead to human rights violations, writes Phil Lynch.

It should be a matter of great concern to all Australians that Defence
Minister Stephen Smith, says he has "no concerns" about the human
rights implications of Australia’s enhanced military and security
cooperation with Indonesia.

Last week, the Australian Government signed a Defence Cooperation
Agreement with Indonesia. While the agreement is confidential and not
available publicly, an Indonesian Government press release disclosed
that the agreement affirms principles of territorial sovereignty and
non-interference in each other’s "internal affairs". This is
diplomatic speak for "you mind your business and we’ll mind ours".

Disturbingly, there has been no reference, by either side, to the
agreement affirming any commitment to human rights or containing any
human rights safeguards. Indeed, The Age reported Mr Smith as saying
"he has ‘no concerns’ about alleged human rights abuses by Indonesian
soldiers in the province of West Papua."

That the Defence Minister should make such remarks just a week after
the ABC’s 7.30 program aired evidence that an Indonesian
counter-terrorism unit, which receives extensive training and support
from the Australian Federal Police, has been involved in torture and
extra-judicial killings in West Papua, is deeply concerning. The
evidence included interviews with victims and witnesses, together with
video of alleged incidents of abuse by the unit, known as Detachment
88.

Previous allegations of torture and ill-treatment perpetrated by
members of Detachment 88 – together with Indonesia’s special forces,
known as Kopassus – have been verified by Human Rights Watch and
specifically brought to the attention of the Australian Government.

Smith’s comments are also surprising given the strong call by his
colleague, Foreign Minister Bob Carr, for a "full and open"
investigation into the killing of West Papuan independence leader,
Mako Tabuni, allegedly by Detachment 88. There is support for such an
approach in Indonesia, with a 27-member parliamentary committee,
comprising representatives from all nine major political parties,
being convened just days ago to "formulate and implement comprehensive
and peaceful programs in Papua".

While, of course, Indonesia bears primary responsibility for
protecting and ensuring respect for human rights within its provinces,
Australia’s human rights obligations do not end at our borders. As a
principle of international law, states must avoid acts and omissions
that "create a real and foreseeable risk of nullifying or impairing
the enjoyment of human rights extraterritorially".

International law also provides that states have an obligation to
conduct due diligence to identify the "risks and potential
extraterritorial impacts of their laws, policies and practices on the
enjoyment of human rights". The purpose of such due diligence is to
"inform the measures that states must adopt to prevent violations or
ensure their cessation as well as to ensure effective remedies".

In accordance with our extraterritorial human rights obligations and
our commitment to good international citizenship, Australia should
take a number of steps to ensure that our military and security
cooperation with Indonesia does not in any way aid, assist or
otherwise support operations which may lead to human rights
violations.

First, we should immediately suspend support for and cooperation with
Detachment 88 pending a full, independent and public investigation
into the alleged involvement of its members in recent human rights
abuses in West Papua. In 2008, the US cut off assistance to Detachment
88 due to human rights concerns.

Second, we should develop a comprehensive human rights impact
assessment procedure, the completion of which is a precondition to any
Australian support for Indonesian military and security forces. As a
matter of due diligence, we should also develop a vetting procedure to
ensure that units and members of military and security forces accused
of human rights violations are precluded from receiving Australian
support until those allegations are fully investigated and
perpetrators held to account. HRW reports that at least 10 Kopassus
personnel implicated in gross human rights violations over the last
decade continue to serve in the military.

Finally, we should make human rights safeguards central to all
policies and practices relating to Australia’s military and security
cooperation with all states. This means that agreements such as the
new Australia-Indonesia Defence Cooperation Agreement should contain
human rights clauses and guarantees. Similarly, human rights modules
should be a significant and essential component of any training
provided to Indonesian forces.

To be "concerned" about the human rights implications of providing
Australian military and security support to another country is not to
interfere or "meddle" in their affairs. Rather, it is to do what all
Australians expect, which is to show principled leadership and act as
a force for peace, security and stability in the region.

Phil Lynch is executive director of the Human Rights Law Centre. View
his full profile here.

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