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Australia has a role to play in West Papua


Steve Spinks
18 October 2012
One of the witnesses to the Biak massacre in West Papua believes the Australian government has a big role to play in the promotion and protection of human rights issues in the troubled Indonesian province.

Dr Eben Kirksey – who is speaking at a function hosted by Southern Cross University’s Research Centre for Tourism, Leisure and Work today (Thursday October 18) – holds high hopes West Papua could become an issue at next year’s federal election.

“Australia has a big role to play in the future of West Papua,” Dr Kirksey said.

“I have met with Jane Prentice, the federal MP for Ryan, who is also a member of the Parliamentarians for West Papua. There are 10 MPs who are members of this organisation in Australia and they are working on the issue of West Papua.

“It seems at the moment the Labor platform is based on strong relationships with Indonesia but the citizens of Australia elect the officials and I think many Australians believe Australia could play a similar role to what they did in East Timor. After all, the conflict is on their doorstep.”

West Papua came under Indonesian Administration in 1963 following the withdrawal of the Dutch and its population has never had the right to vote for self-determination.

Dr Kirksey’s recently released book Freedom in Entangled Worlds: West Papua and the Architecture of Global Power, details the 35-year-old’s spine-tingling experience of his visits to West Papua. The book is published by Duke University Press. It explains how he was caught up in the massacre at Biak on his way to an anthropological site via ferry in July 1998.

“The harbour was occupied by protesters who were flying the Morning Star flag, which is the flag of independence. There was an intense feeling and a sense of expectation because it was the first time they had flown the flag in 40 years and they had high hopes that a delegation from the United Nations may visit or that some journalists may cover the story,” he said.

“I became trapped on the island because my connecting ferry didn’t come into the harbour because of the protests so I booked into a hotel. Three days later the Indonesian military, along with the police, started massacring people. I heard from the hotel many gunshots and I saw one guy, who hid behind a building next to the hotel, led out and then a single report when he was shot. I eventually did my Masters at Oxford University and I returned to West Papua to figure out what exactly happened.”

According to Dr Kirksey, Indonesian authorities shot and killed as many as 50 protesters and then loaded the survivors, estimated at more than 100, onto boats which eventually dumped them at sea.

“One group I spoke to estimated there was 157 people loaded on the ships. What is known is that 32 bodies were washed up on the shore a few weeks later. The Indonesian authorities said the bodies were as a result of a tsunami that occurred 1000km away,” he said.

Forced by his conscience to bear witness to the Biak massacre – he has testified before the US Congress and spoken to officials in the White House – Dr Kirksey is now committed to advocacy work on behalf of independence seekers. He has since relocated from his native United States to work at the University of NSW.

Dr Kirksey will speak from 5pm to 6pm at Café IRA, Gold Coast Highway, Tugun, on Thursday October 18.

Dr Kirksey’s lecture continues the program of research by the Research Centre of Tourism, Leisure and Work under the area of Dynamics of Civil Engagement. Through its research, the Centre is forging links and focusing on issues throughout the Asia-Pacific region. A number of experts on West Papua, as well as Burma, have previously lectured or studied at the University.

Photo: Dr Eben Kirksey, right.