In 1990, Protocol I of the Geneva Convention was adopted, providing for the protection of civilians. “The parties to a conflict must always distinguish between civilians and combatants. Starvation of civilians and attacks on the natural environment are specifically prohibited.” Under the Declaration on the Protection of Women and Children in Emergency and Armed Conflict proclaimed by the General Assembly in 1974:

“All forms of repression and cruel and inhuman treatment of women and children, including torture, shooting, mass arrests, collective punishment and destruction of dwellings and forcible eviction, committed by belligerents in the course of military operations or in ocupied territories are to be considered criminal”.

The legal status of combatants struggling against colonial and racist regimes for the right to self-determination was defined by the UN General Assembly in 1973. The principles agreed were as follows:

“Such struggles are legitimate and in full accord with the principles of international law.

Attempts to suppress struggles against colonial and racist regimes are incompatible with the UN Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples as well as with the Principles of International Law concerning Friendly Co-operation Among States. Such attempts constitute a threat to peace and security.” Participants in resistance movements and freedom fighters if arrested are to be accorded the status of prisoners of war under the Third Geneva Convention.

Amnesty International, while not permitted to enter the territory, has received many reports of ill treatment and torture of political detainees. Prisoners are said to be beaten, submerged in water tanks, burned with lighted cigarettes and given electric shocks. Lawyers who have visited some of the detainees report that they do not receive adequate medical attention. Many political prisoners have been transferred to Java without notice to the prisoners, their relatives or their lawyers. It is not only the psychological effect of such separation that can cause problems. In Indonesia prisoners often rely on food, clothing and medicine brought by visitors to supplement that which is received through the prison system and this separation raises a humanitarian concern, particularly for those who are elderly or in poor health.

One of the most common ways of showing peaceful defiance has been to hold flag raising ceremonies. One such event took place in December 1988, when approximately sixty people were arrested after gathering at the Mandala sports stadium in the capital, Jayapura. The ceremony began with a prayer reading, followed by the raising of the “West Melanesia” flag and the singing of the national anthem “Tanahku Melanesia” (My Country Melanesia). Before the ceremony could conclude, military vehicles arrived and soldiers detained all those present. Over the next month, thirty-seven of those detained, including priests, university lecturers and civil servants were found guilty of subversion and sentenced to terms of between 2 and 20 years in prison. The wife of the group’s leader was gaoled for nine years for sewing the flag.

Two of the better known cases of human rights abuses are those of Mecky Salosa and Arnold Ap. Salosa, one of many ill-treated West Papuan refugees involved in border crossing events in recent years, was murdered after being returned to Indonesia by the PNG government in 1901. Arnold Ap, anthropologist, traditional musician and cultural figure, was tortured and executed by Indonesian authorities in 1984.

The most recent abuses have occurred between June 1994 and March 1995 in an area close to the US based Freeport McMoRan copper and gold mine. Eyewitness accounts of events report that 22 civilians and 15 alleged guerrillas have disappeared or have been killed by the military, assisted by security forces employed by the Freeport McMoRan mine. Others were arrested, beaten, tortured or forced to flee into the jungle. The incidents occurred because of protests by the Amungme, Dani and other indigenous people, who with members of the OPM were demonstrating against the expansion of Freeport’s huge mine at Tembagapura. It is also reported that the Indonesian government is to relocate a further 2000 people from the Tembagapura area to the lowlands during 1995, leading to possible further human rights abuses and deaths in the resettled area due to malaria.

Australia has become the most important foreign provider of military training to Indonesia, displacing the United States, which cancelled all such training following the 1991 Dili massacre. The number of Indonesians training at Australian defence installations jumped from 5 in 1991 to 225 in 1995, increasing to 375 by 1996. Many of these will be instructors, who will in turn pass on their skills to others in the armed forces (ABRI). The scheme costs the Australian taxpayer $3.2 million. Kopassus, the Indonesian Special Forces Command, which has been involved in the program, has been criticised for human rights abuses in West Papua, East Timor, and other parts of Indonesia.

Australia also takes part in combined military exercises with ABRI, and is a supplier of arms to Jakarta. This is an issue of concern for many Australians, and Foreign Minister Evans and Defence Minister Ray should be made aware of the disquiet felt by many people in this country and abroad. (Refer to ‘Further Action’ section).