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Government called to account in West Papua

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South Australian Catholics are being urged to raise their voice and demand action about the ongoing human rights violations happening to Australia’s close neighbour, West Papua.

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Visiting Adelaide this month, Peter Arndt, executive officer of the Catholic Justice and Peace Commission of the Brisbane Archdiocese, said people could no longer ignore what was happening near our shores and needed to understand the part the Australian Government was playing by helping to train and provide resources to the Indonesian police and military.

“We want people to understand the depth of the problem. They need to know that Indonesian police and also the military abuse human rights – and they can do it with impunity.

“We discovered through our research in 2017 that just under 25,000 Indonesian police were trained at the Jakarta Centre for Law Enforcement Cooperation at which Australian Federal Police operate in conjunction with them.

“We know that the Indonesian police and the military have repeatedly abused human rights in West Papua so we’re asking for people to pressure the Australian Government to demand accountability,” he said.

Mr Arndt added the first step would be to get an independent auditor’s evaluation of the human rights risks and outcomes of Australia’s foreign aid support for Indonesian police and military.

Located just 250km north of the Australian mainland, West Papua has a population of 3.5 million, about half of whom are indigenous to West Papua. It has a significant number of Catholics who worship in the five dioceses.

Since it was annexed and put under Indonesian control in the 1960s, West Papuans have suffered constant intimidation, harassment, torture and killings, with an estimated 500,000 “slaughtered” by security forces in that time.

Mr Arndt, who has made six visits to the province in recent years including in April and December last year, said his efforts to raise awareness about West Papua had received significant support within the Australian Catholic Church.

In 2018 he prepared a report for the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council and Bishop Vincent Long had been “very supportive” in sharing information with his counterparts. The National Council of Churches in Australia also endorsed a speaking tour along the eastern seaboard last year.

“My initial call to everyone is to call, email, write to your local MP, the Prime Minister and the Foreign Affairs Minister asking them to take action to evaluate the human rights outcomes in West Papua as a result of our training and resourcing of Indonesian police and military – and do what they can to stop that abuse.

“It’s about building greater awareness and support for action in the churches, unions, student groups, NGOs and the community more widely, and trying to work harder to build commitment from all politicians towards taking significant action.

To learn more about fundraising events being held by the West Papuan Association in SA, contact Rosemary McKay 0433 101 568, email scotiaforever@hotmail.com; or www.freewestpapua.org to know more about the campaign.

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