West Papua - Question

– in the House of Lords at 3:21 pm on 15 November 2017.

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Photo of Lord Harries of Pentregarth Lord Harries of Pentregarth Crossbench 3:21, 15 November 2017

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the petition presented to the United Nations by the people of West Papua requesting that the United Nations carry out its 1962 commitment to let the West Papuan people exercise the right of self-determination.

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State

My Lords, we are aware of recent media reporting on a petition on Papuan independence. We have not received a copy. The relevant UN bodies have informed us that the petition has not been formally submitted to them. We will of course continue to follow the situation in Papua with great interest.

Photo of Lord Harries of Pentregarth Lord Harries of Pentregarth Crossbench

I thank the Minister for his Answer, but does he agree that this petition was truly remarkable? It was signed by 1,804,421 people inside the country, 95.77% being indigenous West Papuans and 4.33% Indonesian transmigrants. The estimated 1,708,167 signatures by indigenous West Papuans represents 70.88% of the population. Is this not truly remarkable? Is it not a startling contrast to what happened in 1969 when, after the occupation of West Papua, Indonesia hand-picked only 1,026 people and forced them at gunpoint to declare support for Indonesian rule?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State

My Lords, the noble and right reverend Lord is referring to the media reporting on the petition, and he has presented the facts as reported in the media. However, on receipt of this Question I checked with our mission at the United Nations in New York and we certainly have not ourselves received a copy of the petition. Furthermore, the UN Secretariat has not received such a petition. As for the situation in Papua, particularly West Papua, the noble and right reverend Lord speaks with great experience and I know of his interest. The United Kingdom continues to seek to ensure that all rights, including those of media reporting, are upheld and we have been encouraged by the recent steps that the President of Indonesia has taken in granting increasing clearance for journalists to report from that region.

Photo of Lord Collins of Highbury Lord Collins of Highbury Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (International Development)

My Lords, the Minister will know that at the beginning of this year his predecessor, the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, shared the concerns of the noble and right reverend Lord about human rights abuses. One thing that is clear is that those abuses are continuing and the Government are monitoring them. Will the Minister take this matter up at the UN and support the request for a special representative to investigate the continuing abuses of human rights?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State

With regard to the United Kingdom’s presence, our ambassador is visiting the region. The noble Lord referred to previous exchanges in your Lordships’ House; we of course remain concerned about the reports of abuses there and the human rights situation on the ground. We continue to make our representations clearly in international fora and, I assure the noble Lord, in direct representations at the highest bilateral level to the Indonesian Government themselves.

Photo of Lord Dholakia Lord Dholakia Co-Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrat Peers

My Lords, if I may follow up on the previous question, the matter of human rights abuses was and is being investigated by the Government of Indonesia. They are looking in particular at the accountability of the security forces which opened fire on a peaceful demonstration. Can the Minister get in touch with his counterpart in the Indonesian Government to see how far this investigation has advanced and what action could be taken against those who perpetrated such serious crimes? While we are on the matter of independence for West Papua, have the Government raised it with the UN General Assembly to identify what other routes West Papua can take to address democratically the matter of independence, in accordance with international law?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State

On West Papua, it is important to say for the record that the United Kingdom retains its position on supporting the integrity of Indonesia. I will follow up with my opposite number in the Indonesian Government to get an update on the situation raised by the noble Lord. Let me be clear also that we are cognisant of the situation on the ground; that is why our ambassador has visited the region a number of times. I also draw to the House’s attention the fact that when the universal periodic review took place earlier this year, we raised human rights issues with specific reference to journalists who were not being allowed to report freely from the region.

Photo of Lord Hannay of Chiswick Lord Hannay of Chiswick Crossbench

My Lords, will the Minister accept that I have an interest in this because I advised BP on its gas deposit in West Papua and visited there regularly for seven years? Can the Minister say whether journalists, both Indonesian and international, now have free access to West Papua? Do they have the ability to shine some light on the accusations of human rights abuses—and, if not, will we continue to press the Indonesian Government to give that right of access?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State

The noble Lord speaks with great experience of the region and the country. I can assure him that, as I alluded to in an earlier response on this Question, President Jokowi has granted many more open rights. He has granted an equalisation of rights of access for journalists reporting on West Papua. Of course, the situation continues to be monitored on the ground. To answer the noble Lord’s question directly, there certainly is reporting. That is why we raised in the UPR that the free access to which the President has certainly committed is not translating itself on the ground. I assure the noble Lord, and your Lordships’ House more generally, that we will continue to raise not just the freedom of journalists within the region but all issues of human rights in West Papua.

Photo of Lord Lea of Crondall Lord Lea of Crondall Labour

My Lords, with Indonesia being the fourth-largest country in the world by population, and by far the largest in ASEAN, the trend towards a degree of autocracy in ASEAN is worrying. Have the Government had discussions with our friends in Australia about their experience of being a close neighbour? Have they suggested that we in Europe can be of more assistance in getting the balance right in Indonesia—as the Indonesians are our friends—between human rights and all the economic development, religious and other questions that face a very complicated country such as Indonesia?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State

There are many parts of the world, including our own, where the challenges and complications of any population are a priority for any Government. Let us not forget that Indonesia is, first and foremost, a democracy and that the current President was elected on a mandate of pluralism. We welcomed his election and, from his statements and the actions he has taken, are encouraged by what has been done centrally. There are of course worrying issues of human rights; we can talk in terms of the journalist fraternity or about minority rights, including minority religious rights, in Indonesia. Those remain of deep concern to Her Majesty’s Government and we continue to raise them bilaterally and in international fora, as appropriate.