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House of Lords Dialogue On West Papuan Human Rights

House of Lords
Thursday, 16 December 2010.
16 Dec 2010 : Column 726


11.22 am

Asked By Lord Harries of Pentregarth

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will make representations to the Government of Indonesia regarding the initiation of a dialogue with the indigenous West Papuan opposition.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Howell of Guildford): My Lords, the UK remains committed to the territorial integrity of Indonesia. We will do all we can in support of measures to address the widespread poverty in the area in question, and to raise our concerns about human rights abuses wherever they occur. We encourage, along with other international partners, a meaningful dialogue which would be of assistance in finding an acceptable solution.

Lord Harries of Pentregarth: I thank the Minister for his reply, but would he urge on the Indonesian Government the sheer seriousness of the present situation. He will not need to be reminded of the statement of the Foreign Secretary in the other place that friendly relationships with states should in no way preclude our raising human rights abuses in the strongest terms. Would he draw the attention of the Indonesian Government to the fact that 10,000 people are assembled in June to reject the so-called special autonomy measures? The West Papuan people do not believe that these are helping them, and a dialogue is needed with their leaders.

Lord Howell of Guildford: I appreciate the very strong feelings on this subject, not only of the noble and right reverend Lord but of many people about some of the reports from that area. I fully endorse what my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary said in another place. Our ambassador raised with the governor authorities only a couple of weeks ago some aspects concerning human rights that clearly concern us greatly. The Deputy Prime Minister raised questions of human rights in the area and of access of journalists, to see just what is going on, when he met senior Indonesian Ministers at the Asia-Europe summit in October. So we certainly have not been silent on this matter, but we do believe that it really is the responsibility of the central, district and provincial Governments and all the parties concerned to work out exactly how a dialogue is going to go forward. There are real restraints on how much we can do from outside, except to keep raising our voice about the clear abuses of human rights that have, sadly, occurred.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, I declare an interest as having been involved for two and a half years in the negotiations between the Indonesian Government and the Atonese people, which led to a successful conclusion. Has the example of that process, and in particular the use of mediators, been considered by the parties? If not, could it be suggested by the Government to the Indonesians?

16 Dec 2010 : Column 727

Lord Howell of Guildford: In instances such as the one that my noble friend has mentioned, mediators and facilitators can play a part. We have not been asked to play such a role ourselves, but I would not question the proposition that in very difficult and intense situations of the kind that we are discussing, this kind of mediation can undoubtedly play a part. However, we have not been asked to play that part.

Lord Hannay of Chiswick: Will the Minister confirm that the Indonesian Government are maintaining their ban on foreign journalists going to Papua? If that is so, does he not agree that the ban is entirely counterproductive, because it nurtures the view that there is something going on there that has to be concealed? Will he therefore say whether the Government will follow up the intervention by the Deputy Prime Minister at the Asia-EU summit and press the point on the Indonesian Government in their own best interests?

Lord Howell of Guildford: Certainly what has been raised by the Deputy Prime Minister will be followed up. The noble Lord mentioned concealment. If he has visited websites, as I have, to look at reports of what is going on there, he will have seen enough to realise that horrific and dreadful things have occurred. While the case for greater access for journalists is always strong and we will pursue it, we can already see what is happening there.

Baroness Liddell of Coatdyke: My Lords, the noble Lord will be aware that one of the associated problems in Indonesia is that of people-smuggling. In view of the tragedy overnight off Christmas Island, will the Government do everything in their power to raise again in international fora the need for concerted international action against people smuggling?

Lord Howell of Guildford: Yes, of course we will. One has to echo the words of the noble Baroness about the sadness and tragedy so graphically depicted in photographs in our newspapers this morning of these refugees-boat people of a kind-going to a terrible death in the storms off Christmas Island. It is very sad.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, the Minister was kind enough to tell us that the ambassador raised these issues, as did the Deputy Prime Minister at the summit a couple of months ago. Will he tell us what the response of the Indonesian Government was to having these matters raised?

Lord Howell of Guildford: Not in detail, except that they recognised we have these concerns. The ambassador was in the West Papua region and talked to the governor and to the police authorities. He made the point very clearly that the reported abuses of human rights are completely unacceptable and that we are very concerned. As far as concerns their response, we must try to look forward to the possibility of getting a dialogue going so that an acceptable solution can be found. However, from outside it is very difficult for us or for any other international partner to define what that solution should be and how it should go forward.


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