CathBlog - West Papuan blood on our hands


Some weeks ago there were reports in the media concerning the torture of West Papuans. Graphic images were displayed and cries of suffering could be heard.

There was widespread condemnation and seemingly, swift action by the Indonesian authorities who admitted that their military were responsible for these atrocities.

The Indonesian President said that justice would be speedily done and these assurances were accepted by the Australian  Prime Minister.

It is feared, however, that there will be no serious investigation at all, and that instead, another whitewash will be the outcome. There was a trial of sorts in West Papua, but amazingly, it concerned other unreported torture episodes caught on video.  

One can only wonder what response would have been made had we seen the photograph of a naked, tortured, white Australian, American or British person on the front page of our newspapers, but one does not have to wonder for very long.

“Worthy victims” have their names read out on their anniversaries as the bells toll; “unworthy victims” receive transitory head shakes and tut-tuts as they are sacrificed on the altar of the political and economic relationship with big neighbours.

The parallels between the treatment of the West Papuan people and that given to the East Timorese are compelling.  How can these things continue on our doorstep?

One of the reasons is the impunity that Indonesia enjoys, shown in the complete lack of responsibility taken for what happened in Timor-Leste between 1974 and 1999. 

That 24 year period saw the violent deaths of 183,000 Timorese men, women and children which occurred as a result of the brutal Indonesian occupation. The CAVR Report commissioned by the East Timorese Government and presented to the United Nations in 2005 clearly shows the extent of Indonesian guilt.  

There were some attempts to evade international scrutiny in the establishment of an ad hoc Human Rights Court and a Truth and Friendship Commission, neither of which brought anyone to justice. So no one has been held accountable for the crimes against humanity committed in East Timor, a situation which has resulted in a further vacuum of human responsibility in West Papua.

It was the visual evidence of full scale massacre in the cemetery in Santa Cruz, Dili, which finally woke the world to the suffering in East Timor.  With the veil of secrecy drawn aside by that event, other massacres came to light, displaying the endemic violence that inhabited East Timor all those years. 

It is criminal that similar treatment is being suffered by West Papuans; criminal on the part of Indonesia whose military machine still considers itself above human decency, and criminal on the part of Indonesia’s neighbours, including Australia.

“But what about forgiveness?” some will say. 

The delicate balance between justice and reconciliation has to be achieved however long it takes, but both elements are necessary in the evolution of a truly human response to suffering on such a scale. The Timorese people have already offered the hand of friendship to past oppressors, but the admission of guilt has to be part of the process at some stage, otherwise suffering is belittled and others are endangered, as is the case at present. 

One major difference between the Timor/Papua situations is this:  Australia might claim some small refuge in ignorance regarding Timor, but as we now know what Indonesia did there and how responsibility has been successfully evaded, we cannot claim any wide-eyed innocence regarding West Papua.

Susan Connelly is a western Sydney-based Sister of St Joseph who for many years has been the prime mover in the advocacy work of the Mary MacKillop East Timor Mission.

Disclaimer: CathBlog is an extension of CathNews story feedback. It is intended to promote discussion and debate among the subscribers to CathNews and the readers of the website. The opinions expressed in CathBlog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the members of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference or of Church Resources.

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