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House of Lords question on West Papua

July 27, 2011

House of Lords, Oral Question, 19 July 2011

Indonesia: West Papua


2.36 pm

Asked By Lord Harries of Pentregarth

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to encourage the government of Indonesia to enter into dialogue with representative leaders of the West Papuan opposition.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Howell of Guildford): My Lords, the United Kingdom has long encouraged the use of constructive dialogue to resolve differences between the Government of Indonesia and the credible representatives of the Papuan and West Papuan people. We welcome the Papuan peace conference held in Jayapura from 5 to 7 July, which included discussions between Indonesian government Ministers and Papuan community leaders addressing political differences over regional governance and possible avenues for further dialogue.

Lord Harries of Pentregarth: I thank the Minister for his reply. I am particularly glad that he has drawn the attention of the House to the recent peace conference, when more than 500 representatives of different aspects of West Papuan society gathered in order to call for serious negotiations with the Indonesian Government and to appoint five people to negotiate on behalf of the West Papuan people. Will the Minister ask the Indonesian Government to respond to this initiative?

Lord Howell of Guildford: I am grateful to the noble and right reverend Lord for his question. We are discussing these matters with the Indonesian Government. We know they are committed to trying to carry this process forward. It is a matter of them putting their money where their mouth is because Papua and West Papua receive by far the largest chunk of the regional funds from the central government. They want to carry this forward. I think the message of the noble

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and right reverend Lord is the correct one and we shall continue to encourage a constructive dialogue, as I have described.

Lord Avebury: Considering that, after many years of struggle and destruction of the economic potential, the Government of Indonesia came to an agreement with the people of Aceh on devolution, will the Foreign Office ask Jakarta to refrain from arresting and imprisoning dozens of people in West Papua for so-called subversion and at least have discussions with the OPM to see how the benefits of mineral exploitation, including BP’s LNG project in Bintuni Bay, could be more widely shared with the people?

Lord Howell of Guildford: On my noble friend’s final point, my understanding is that not only BP but Rio Tinto and other major investors are determined to work out ways in which the benefits can indeed be shared more widely with the people. My noble friend is absolutely right about that. We have raised queries about some of the arrests-there was one over displaying the wrong flag or something like that-and the size of the sentences seemed disproportionate. We are aware of these worries and we shall continue to raise them with the Government.

Lord Hannay of Chiswick: My Lords, does the Minister not agree that Indonesian policy in West Papua and Papua-I declare an interest as a regular business visitor there for eight years between 2001 and 2009-is a rather disturbing mixture of generosity-as the noble Lord has explained, those provinces are the biggest aid recipients of transfers of resources within Indonesia-and repression? It must surely be in the interest of the Indonesian Government to strengthen that generous strand and to reduce the repression and, above all, to allow the international press free access to Papua and West Papua so that they can see what is really going on.

Lord Howell of Guildford: The noble Lord is absolutely right: it is not only in the interests of Indonesia-wherever there is repression, it is not the right way forward-but in our national interest as well. It may seem far away, but the reality is that we are talking about an area mid-way between the Pacific rim and the Indian Ocean, where all the world’s growth, dynamism and accumulation of wealth and influence will be. It is very important that we are constructively and helpfully involved there.

The matter of journalists’ access to Papua and West Papua was discussed at the EU human rights partnership meeting with the Indonesians in Indonesia on 5 May. It is one that we continue to raise, because clearly access for balanced reporting would be of benefit to the situation.

Lord Anderson of Swansea: My Lords, in terms of human rights, it is normally best for representations to be made on behalf of the European Union as a whole so that individual countries are not picked off. What is the position here? Have there been representations by the European Union? Are we fully behind them?

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Lord Howell of Guildford: Yes. I described in my answer to the previous question that on 5 May there was an EU meeting that discussed a number of aspects of repression, including a matter that the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, quite often and rightly raises-the question of the apparent persecution of, and violence against, the Ahmadiyya community and other Christian communities. All these matters are indeed discussed and were discussed at that very helpful forum between the European Union and the Indonesian Government on 5 May.

Lord Liddle: The whole House will welcome the progress-uneven progress-being made on human rights in West Papua, and on human rights in the rest of Indonesia, and will welcome Indonesia’s joining of the UN Human Rights Council, but what positive progress is being made under the EU-Indonesia dialogue? What active support are the British Government giving, particularly in terms of ministerial visits such as that of Mr Jeremy Browne last year to Indonesia? How do the Government balance their proper concern for human rights with their present emphasis on expanding UK trade in emerging markets such as Indonesia?

Lord Howell of Guildford: The answer to the noble Lord’s general question is that we do balance. In many cases, one would argue that the two go together. If we can get expanded commercial and economic activity, effective inward investment and the expansion of trade, this will pave the way for a more open society and a more effective policing of human rights.

Results are a bit difficult to measure. All that can be said is that there is a human rights dialogue between the European Union and Indonesia. We support it fully. Our evidence in this increasingly transparent world is: first, that it is getting more difficult for any country that wishes to oppose and repress human rights to do so; secondly, that we intend to try to make it more difficult for them to do so; and thirdly, that the Indonesian state, whose territorial integrity we fully support, is anxious to carry forward and sensibly settle this and other human rights issues in a good and constructive way.

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