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Rights Groups: Joint Statement of Amnesty International USA, East Timor and Indonesia Action Network (ETAN), and West Papua Advocacy Team Concerning Congressional Letter to President Yudhoyono

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 18, 2008
2:34 PM

CONTACT: Rights Groups
John Miller, ETAN, 718-596-7668
Max White, Amnesty International USA, 503-292-8168

 
Joint Statement of Amnesty International USA,
East Timor and Indonesia Action Network (ETAN),
and West Papua Advocacy Team Concerning
Congressional Letter to President Yudhoyono
 
August 18 - On July 29, 2008, forty members of the U.S. House of Representatives sent a letter to Indonesia’s President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono requesting that he release two political prisoners: Filep Karma and Yusak Pakage. Karma and Pakage are serving 10 and 15-year prison terms for raising a flag during a peaceful protest in Abepura, Papua, Indonesia. Amnesty International has declared them prisoners of conscience and leads an international coalition seeking their release.

While President Yudhoyono has been silent about the letter, other members of Indonesia’s government have offered comments through the media. We must respectfully correct three of their assertions about the letter. In doing so, we do not presume to speak on behalf of the members of the U.S. Congress who wrote the letter.

First, the letter is about universally recognized human rights and therefore it is appropriate and even required that those rights be addressed by members of the global community, such as the United States Congress, without dismissing these legitimate concerns as merely political.

Ramses Wally, deputy chairman of Papua`s Provincial Legislative Council (DPRD)`s Commission A, said, "I think the US Congressmen`s request is a political rather than a legal move. They claimed they were acting based on the human rights point of view. The question is which human rights has Indonesia violated by sentencing Filep Karma and Yusak Pakage?" The arrest and detention of Karma and Pakage for raising the morning star flag during a peaceful demonstration violates their right to freedom of expression articulated in articles 19 and 20 (1) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers,” and “everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.”

It is reliably reported that Karma and some others at the same peaceful protest were beaten by authorities, which clearly violates Article 5, “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” It is, of course, a particularly extreme violation of human rights to kill a peaceful demonstrator, as recently happened in Wanema.

Second, members of Congress who signed the letter to the President of Indonesia are NOT advocating for Papua’s independence from Indonesia, nor do the NGO’s to which Ramses Wally referred. He said the letter was, “part of a political game mobilized by some international NGOs which were trying to internationalize the Papua issue so that West Papua could break away from Indonesia.” It is misleading to imply that the letter was initiated by the Free Papua Movement, as some have suggested. Amnesty International, West Papua Advocacy Team, and the East Timor and Indonesia Action Network do not take a position on independence for West Papua.

We and members of the US Congress know that Karma and Pakage should have fundamental rights regardless of their political views. They were not accused of engaging in any acts of violence and are imprisoned for simply expressing an opinion regarding self-determination for their people. As political activists do around the globe, they utilized a visual symbol to make their point.

We are encouraged by statements from the Defense Minister Juwono Sudarsono, who said in an interview with Reuters. "I'm trying to persuade my colleagues in government...that these outbursts of flag-raising or cultural dignity should be tolerated at a certain level."

Third and finally, we are well aware of the U.S. government’s human rights failings and actively work to ensure respect for human rights by our government, just as many members of the U.S. Congress do. Amnesty International USA, for example, vigorously opposes serious human rights violations by certain US government authorities. That the U.S. government has violated human rights does not justify human rights violations by the Indonesian government.

Therefore we respectfully disagree with Abdillah Toha, chairman of Indonesia’s House of Representatives (DPR)`s Inter-parliamentary Cooperation Body, who asserted that rights violations by the Bush administration was reason enough for President Yudhoyono to ignore the Congressional request to respect the rights of Karma and Pakage.

Sincerely,

Amnesty International USA
East Timor and Indonesia Action Network
West Papua Advocacy Team

###

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