: Military cooperation with Indonesia must be subject to stringent safeguards

Military cooperation with Indonesia must be subject to stringent safeguards

Phil Lynch
Human Rights

On 5 September 2012, the Australian government signed a Defence Cooperation Agreement with Indonesia. The agreement raises potentially significant human rights issues.

In a press release on the agreement, Indonesia disclosed that the agreement affirms principles of territorial sovereignty and non-interference in each other’s ‘internal affairs’. Disturbingly, there has been no reference by either side to the agreement affirming any commitment to human rights or containing any human rights safeguards. Australia’s Defence Minister, Stephen Smith, is reported as saying he has ‘no concerns’ regarding the human rights implications of military cooperation with Indonesia.

Nevertheless it is well documented that the Indonesian military has been implicated in serious human rights violations in West Papua. Recently the ABC’s 7.30 program reported that an Indonesian police unit which receives extensive financial and operational support from Australia may also be involved in human rights violations in the province.

Australia’s obligations to respect and protect human rights do not end at our borders, but extend to ensuring that defence cooperation with Indonesia does not in any way aid, assist or otherwise support operations which may lead to human rights violations. As a principle of international law, States have an obligation to avoid acts and omissions that create a real and foreseeable risk of ‘nullifying or impairing the enjoyment of human rights extraterritorially’ (Maastricht Principles on Extraterritorial Obligations of States in the area of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights at paragraph 13).

States are required to conduct prior assessment of the ‘risks and potential extraterritorial impacts of their laws, policies and practices on the enjoyment of human rights’. The purpose of such assessment is to ‘inform the measures that States must adopt to prevent violations or ensure their cessation as well as to ensure effective remedies’ (Maastricht Principles, paragraph 14).

In accordance with our international human rights obligations and our commitment to good international citizenship, Australia should ensure that all proposed military cooperation with Indonesia is subject to a comprehensive assessment of the human rights impacts and risks. We should also ensure that all such cooperation is subject to safeguards so that Australia does not in any way aid or support operations that may foreseeably lead to human rights abuses.

PHIL LYNCH is Director of the Human Rights Law Centre.

(2012) 37(4) AltLJ 282
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