The Australian government has made it clear that it will not offer consular help to activists on the West Papua Freedom Flotilla if they are arrested by Papua New Guinea NG or Indonesian authorities.
The flotilla is expected to enter Indonesian territory early next month. Carrying West Papuan and Australian Aboriginal activists, its aim is to raise awareness about the occupation of West Papua by Indonesia.
Papuan activist Ronnie Kareni told ABC’s Radio National the flotilla is also “a peace journey that is really driven by the Australian Aboriginal people and it's great to see the indigenous people come together ... connecting the cultural and family links together and especially the land.
“This is a cultural exchange following the Songlines and Dreamtime stories so this is very significant and it goes way back before colonisation.”
The flotilla participants are using Aboriginal Australian passports and visas from the self-declared independent state of West Papua. Neither is an internationally recognised document. Indonesia refused visas to the participants.
Indonesian authorities warned they would detain and possibly arrest the activists if they enter Indonesian territory.
Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono used the opportunity to warn other countries not to violate Indonesian sovereignty, reaffirming that it views West Papua as part of Indonesia.
West Papua has been occupied by Indonesia since the 1960s, despite an ongoing struggle for self-determination.
Australian foreign minister Bob Carr backed Indonesia’s warnings, saying the flotilla activists could not expect help from the Australian consulate.
“In a case like this where people have got every choice in the world and they are given an explicit warning by their government, we don't believe we're under any obligation, if they get into trouble, to have our diplomats spending whole days of their time seeing them in prison or making representations to the government of Indonesia or Papua New Guinea,” Carr said.
“I'm somewhat tired of seeing Australian taxpayers' money invested on a huge scale in support of people who are given warnings and then engage in high risk behaviour...Indonesia will take what action it's entitled to take under its laws. It's Indonesian waters and Indonesian laws apply and we would not intervene.”
"There's no way any Australian government, Labor or coalition, would give any support or encouragement to an enterprise of this type. We are opposed to it and we're advising against it."
Carr has described the international campaign for West Papua as a “cruel deceit by self-indulgent people”. Aboriginal activist Uncle Kevin Buzzacott said in a statement: “We’ve given ‘em big hope, not a cruel hope, I can’t walk away from that, you’ve got to dream, you’ve got to follow that dream, we will struggle together until full freedom.”
Senior Tauwurrung elder Uncle Larry Walsh said “Aboriginal people have a long history of standing up for other oppressed people; in the 1930s we supported Jewish people in Germany when no-one else would, we supported the East Timorese in their struggle for independence, South Africans against apartheid, and now we are supporting the struggle of the indigenous people of West Papua”,
The Aboriginal Tent Embassy said in a statement: “Senator Carr and his government need reminding of Australia's obligations to respect and defend Human Rights as set out in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
“The world has been watching closely how Australia mishandles Asylum Seekers, the 'Manus Island affair', and now we see an unwarranted attack on the democratic and human rights of peaceful unarmed people aboard a small Australian registered vessel.
“Senator Carr has an obligation to ensure human rights are upheld and respected in any encounter this vessel has with authorities. Instead Senator Carr has virtually invited the Indonesian and PNG governments to arrest and hold the human rights activists, which would make them political prisoners under those same instruments of international law the Senator is flagrantly ignoring.”
Kareni said: “It's a shameful thing for the Indonesian goverment and Australian government to stand on their side and also for Papua New guinea government to be just following what these two other governments are saying. Papua New Guinea goverment should stand up for its Melanesian brothers and sisters and start addressing what is a matter of concern for humanity.”
PNG has failed to give outright support for West Papua, despite its shared border and close cultural links. Other Melanesian nations are being courted by Indonesia. Solomon Islands opposition spokesperson Manasseh Sogavare criticised PM Gordon Darcy Lilo’s recent visit to Indonesia saying it was one more block to the image-building strategy of Indonesia – using a member of the Melanesian Spearhead Group.
He said the so-called civilised world needs to understand the people of West Papua are victims of more than 40 years of international political blunder and indecisiveness by the powerful who put their political and economic interests above the rights of West Papuan people.
“It is utterly disappointing to note that these interests are still predominant and influential in shaping the foreign policies of key countries of the United Nation in their dealings with Indonesia and Solomon Islands has become an unwilling participant in this international blunder and together with these countries turned a blind eye on the issues that really matter in our relationship with Indonesia and the people of West Papua,” he said.