14 Sep 2010

Questions over benefits of NZ training Indonesian police in Papua

8:03 pm on 14 September 2010

There are questions over the benefits of New Zealand's police training programme in Indonesia's Papua and West Papua provinces.

The New Zealand Police are the first foreign force to be invited into the troubled Papua region to undertake training in community-policing.

A recent six week training course in Papua involving twelve New Zealand officers followed similar programmes in 2008 and 2009.

But, as Johnny Blades reports, Indonesian police are linked to a long history of human rights abuses and repression of the indigenous people by security forces in Papua.

Recent moves by Jakarta to disallow international development agencies such as the International Committee of the Red Cross from Papua are a sign that access to the region is more restricted than ever.

Indonesian Human rights observer Andreas Harsono says the government is channelling all international assistance intended for Papua through its own agencies rather than indigenous Papuans.

He questions how New Zealand can engage under a system he describes as biased against Papuans, and co-operate with a police force linked to ongoing abuses.

"There is no investigation against police officers that committed human rights abuses. So ask the New Zealand Aid, what do they do? Because the police are still acting very badly in Papua."

The Senior New Zealand Police Liaison Officer based in Jakarta, Tim Haughey, says the personnel receiving the training are Inmdonesian police trainers themselves and not special forces or paramilitary units such as Brimob, often linked to violence in Papua.

He says the training has given Indonesian police a valuable tool for helping resolve problems in Papua.

Probably a first for many of the trainees, that they had actually sat down with members of the community and talked about problems in the community, things that worried them. And the feedback we got from the community was overwhelming support. They really welcomed the opportunity to talk to police in a non-threatening and collaborative fashion.

But Maire Leadbeater of the Indonesia Human Rights Committee feels the programme is not doing much good.

What you're looking at with West Papua is a police force that has got a record of grievous human rights violations and i think it would be naieve to think this is because of the failings of individuals. It makes much more sense to me to look at this in terms of a structural problem.

She says it's unclear whether New Zealand's assistance supports genuine reform within Indonesia's police or is being directed in ways that will not challenge the established order and vested interests.

Too optimistic in the extreme to think that the contact with a few New Zealand police is going to make a difference to a situation which is embedded structurally. And the alternative is that Indonesia takes the other message from it - and I believe they have because there's a lot of mention about this police training programme, there's been an article in the Jakarta Post and so on, I understand - so they're using it as a kind of whitewashing, if you like, of a record which really doesn't any whitewashing at all.

New Zealand's government says it continues to press Indonesia to address human rights abuses.

But Marie Leadbetter says New Zealand's method of quiet diplomacy hasn't brought any help for Papuans but rather increased co-operation with the forces of repression in the troubled region.