Papuans 'within their rights' to seek asylum

Abdul Khalik and Tiarma Siboro
Jakarta Post, Jakarta
April 6, 2006

Indonesia may end up breaking its own laws if it keeps trying to secure the return of 42 Papuan asylum seekers recently granted temporary visas in Australia, an official says.

The chairman of the Working Group on ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism, Marzuki Darusman, said Wednesday that Indonesia had no reason to be incensed by the Papuans seeking asylum because they were exercising rights guaranteed by the Constitution and the 1999 Human Rights Law.

"The visa granting has nothing to do with our sovereignty, given that we have the Constitution and a law guaranteeing their right to seek political asylum anywhere (they choose)," the former head of Indonesia's first national human rights body told The Jakarta Post.

Article 28G of the amended 1945 Constitution rules that every individual has the right to political asylum in another country, while Article 28 of the 1999 law stipulates that an individual may seek asylum to gain political protection from another country.

Article 1A (2) of the 1951 Geneva Convention relating to the Status of Refugees defines an asylum seeker as a person who, "owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country ..."

Australia has ratified the conventions on refugees and asylum seekers, although Indonesia has not.

The legislator from the Golkar Party said if Indonesia continued to prod Australia to cancel the visas for return of the Papuans, it could be considered to have contravened the Constitution and the law.

The Papuans, who accused Indonesia of conducting genocide in the resource-rich province, were granted temporary visas by Canberra last month.

The move sparked anger in Indonesia, with Jakarta calling home its ambassador to discuss the matter and legislators urging the severing of ties. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said Monday relations with Australia, including joint efforts to stop people smuggling, would be reviewed.

Theo L. Sambuaga, also a Golkar legislator who was among those who included the right to seek asylum in the amended Constitution, acknowledged that people with justified cause had the right to seek asylum.

"We only regret that Australia granted visas to them so easily, as if they accepted the accusations that we conducted genocide that led to them living in fear," he told the Post.

Theo will lead a group of legislators on a visit to Australia next week to express Indonesian concerns.

Meanwhile, AFP reported that a spokesman for Australian Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone confirmed Wednesday there had been reports of more Papuans arriving in Australia, but refused to comment further.

TNI spokesman Rear Adm. M. Sunarto acknowledged Wednesday there were several points along the country's borders that were prone to illegal migration, and the establishment of more military posts was vital.

In Papua alone, the military has 73 posts where about four battalions of troops are stationed to guard the 770-kilometer-long coastline in the south, Sunarto said.

"Last week, the military installed a radar in Biak for aerial safety purposes, but locals will prefer the sea passage to reach neighboring Papua New Guinea and Australia, while we have only two to three patrol boats to monitor that vast sea territory."

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