The cheek is turned

The announcement of a new “security” agreement between Australia and Indonesia – unsurprisingly supported by the Murdoch paper that’s always loved despots, especially Soeharto – should be taken with a large grain of salt. Max Lane, one of Australia’s finest experts on Indonesia, cautions the development:

At this point in political developments in Indonesia, the Armed Forces as a whole, as well as through its various factions, remain a partisan force in Indonesian politics. They have interests and political agendas of their own. These include protecting their current impunity from effective prosecution for past and present human rights abuses or corrupt practices. It also includes protection of special political privileges in some parts of Indonesia, such as West Papua.

The active defence of these privileges by the Armed Forces in the face of opposition and the struggle for change by a range of other parts of society means that they are not simply the neutral instrument of an elected government (if, in fact, they are really that anywhere). They are a major component of the alliance of political groupings defending the remaining most undemocratic aspects of the old order, connected to the authoritarian regime of ex-President General Suharto.

Apparently the agreement also commits Australia to some kind of policy of opposing or not supporting separatism in Indonesia. This will also operate as an intervention into the internal political processes in Indonesia. In West Papua there are already groups, and these have been active for some time, who advocate independence for West Papua. At the moment their rights to freedom of speech and freedom of organisation are suppressed. The existence of these groups, and the fact that there are other groups throughout Indonesian in dialogue with these Papuan groups, indicates that in Indonesia itself there is a debate on the status of West Papua. The Australian government is now intervening into this debate within Indonesia on one particular side. It is doing so in a way which seems to imply also that it will take measures against groups taking the opposite or a different side. As regards this issue the rights to freedom of speech and freedom of organisation of people in Indonesia (Melanesian Papuan or otherwise) who advocate independence, an act of self-determination or any such thing should be freedoms that are defended, whatever views anybody holds on these questions.