Foreign Correspondents in Indonesia

Jul 1st, 2013, in Featured, IM Posts, by

DC Guy piece today was going to be a trashing of foreign journalists. Instead, upon thinking, DC Guy thought to ask a relevant question about hiring trends of expats across Asia.

Should foreign correspondents - and ex pats in general - speak the local language?

I'm asking because my original piece was going to be called, "Why Foreign Correspondents Suck and What they're Not Telling You about Indonesia".

In my wide-eyed thirties sometime last decade I rocked up to a cocktail-gathering of foreign correspondents in Indonesia, somewhere behind the Mandarin Hotel at the Hotel Indonesia Roundabout. I was all excited, imagining a smoky room full of spies and Year of Living Dangerously reporters. I mingled. I exchanged business cards. I chit-chatted about politics.

At first it seemed cool. One Bule reporter guy in his 60s ranted about Bangkok in the '80s and how pathetic and lazy young journalists were. Cool. Another 40-something guy had just been laid off and was drinking away his severance package in bars in Asia. Cool. Some angry BBC chick was broadcasting her opinions (not so cool, but interesting). But then it struck me.

Most of them are tourists. Almost none of them spoke Indonesian.

"I've got a translator to do that"

said an Australian newspaperman.

"We've got fixers [slaves who set up appointments, get coffee, interns] for that"

said another Australian TV reporter. (A lot of Australians for some reason.) One English wire service reporter was even more blunt: they hire us [ex pats] for our skills - the locals do the language work. (In fairness, he was of Indian origin, not a bule.)

Guy Hamilton, The Year of Living DangerouslyAs the evening went on, I realized how little any of these supposed Guy Hamilton (Year of Living Dangerously) types actually cared about their stories. I paid attention and over the next few cocktail nights I realized that the Big Name correspondents rely on the Jakarta Post, Jakarta Globe and wire services to get their views. Maybe a few phone calls here and there to a diplomat, but in general they know much less than you, if you live in Indonesia, or me.

Let's get this straight. They can't understand the TV. They can't understand the radio. They can't read local blogs, websites, or newspapers. All they have is the English language sources. Granted, there's a lot in English. Some email listserve called 'Joyo' apparently collates all the English language reporting and sends it out. One drunk American freelancer told me all he reads is Joyo and that's enough.

Would you trust a White House reporter who didn't speak English?

And why should I listen to a tourist? Why should the rest of the world? I don't think they should. I think the foreign correspondents are generally a week or two behind the local press. I think they miss most of the most important stories. And I think the snootiness and arrogance hides an uncomfortable truth: they don't know what they're talking about.

That's why the Aussie press writes about cheap drug dealers like Schapelle Corby getting busted. It's why the Western wires were obsessed with Bird Flu whilst ignoring current epidemics such as Malaria or Dengue Fever. (Who cares, they're just local brown people?) It's why they sucked up to Indonesia's lame duck President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono when everyone in Jakarta knew he was an armchair general. It's also why they're obsessed with terrorism when traffic jams and bad hospitals are more of a threat to most of the population.

The fixers' version was even more telling. Some of them were kinda hot and came to the cocktail nights. They didn't have much respect at all for their bosses. Sure, they kissed their asses, as we all do. But when it came down to it, it turns out the fixers do the work. They read the local newspapers, watch TV, make the phone calls, set up the appointments. And then bossman or woman walks off with all the credit. Why not just give the job to the local?

In fact companies across Asia are waking up to it. In an NYT piece For Westerners in Asia, the Job Market Grows Tougher, the writer talks about a tightening job market for ex pats; strangely, employers in Hong Kong wanted people who could speak Chinese.

I want more than anything to get back out there - preferably Jakarta so I can get up to my old tricks. But I know I've gotta pick up my game. I can't just turn up like I did a decade ago, hang out a shingle and say

"unemployed white guy - hire me"

DC Guy's message: the Western media is failing you. Ignore them. Read the Jakarta Post, the Jakarta Globe, get an RSS feed to blogs you're interested in.


159 Comments on “Foreign Correspondents in Indonesia”

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  1. avatar Josh says:
    July 2nd, 2013 at 11:23 pm

    I take issue with a lot in this article.

    If they’re any good at all, Journalists are moved around a lot over their careers. Some are sent to various Southeast Asian bureaus to develop a broad view of the region, for example. Others move to whatever posts open up. I can say that in all but one of my postings, I picked up some local language though I never became fluent. Learning every local language would be beyond most people’s capabilities.

    And there’s a lot more to journalism than speaking in the local language. There is having a nose for a story that’s hidden, and equally important, having a nose for the bullshit people will try to sell you. In my experience many journalists from Southeast Asian countries, having never been raised in a free society, are hobbled by culturally specific notions of politeness and fear of upsetting business and government leaders. Foreign journos are necessary and they’re not always going to speak the language.

    This means fixers and translators are also necessary. It’s wrong if expat journos let them do all the work — but I’ve literally never seen that happen in 17 years as a journalist across Asia. Generally the fixers grow into strong journalists, under the tutelage of more experienced colleagues.

    THIS line for example, the nut of what he’s saying, is patently inaccurate:

    “As the evening went on, I realized how little any of these supposed Guy Hamilton (Year of Living Dangerously) types actually cared about their stories. I paid attention and over the next few cocktail nights I realized that the Big Name correspondents rely on the Jakarta Post, Jakarta Globe and wire services to get their views. Maybe a few phone calls here and there to a diplomat, but in general they know much less than you, if you live in Indonesia, or me.”

    This is simply not the way it works.?

    I think the fact the author naively expects to meet “spies” at a journo mixer says a lot about how realistic his worldview is. The Year of Living Dangerously was a long time ago. He shouldn’t worry, though; these ‘old Asia hands’ he describes are a thing of the past and will be replaced with PR lackeys pushing infomercials, and college grads who know nothing about verifying sources or journalistic ethics. At best, you’ll have the parachute journalism; at worst, none at all.?

  2. avatar Chris says:
    July 3rd, 2013 at 7:57 am

    Hi DC Guy,

    Having lived in Indonesia for almost a decade, I can usually tell which foreign correspondents know what they’re talking about.

    The photo is of Matt Brown, a reporter for ABC (Australian government-funded TV channel; in Indonesia, ABC News is shown on the satellite TV channel Australia Network). He’s now covering the civil war in Syria, suggesting – unlike some of the hacks described above – he’s a committed journalist, and doesn’t mind roughing it.

    By the way, a few years ago Patung put together a news aggregator website. You might find it useful.

  3. avatar DCGuy says:
    July 3rd, 2013 at 8:46 am

    Hi Chris,

    Care to elaborate on who knows what they’re talking about? As for Australia’s ABC — like I said — do they speak Indonesian? To be honest, for all the rhetoric I heard about Australians knowing their regional turf and ‘integration with the region,’ the public doesn’t seem to care much beyond Bali.

  4. avatar Patrick says:
    July 3rd, 2013 at 11:07 am

    It’s very amusing to read about Indonesia’s neighbors complaining about all the smoke coming out of Indonesia and how it’s choking their air. It’s even more hilarious to hear the responses from the Indonesian Government officials as they never agree with each other concerning what is the appropriate action to take. What makes Indonesia so fascinating is that the country is in a perpetual state of chaos and crisis but yet somehow it works. Most foreigners are a bit unnerved by it all while most Indonesians shrug their shoulders and, with a smile, carry on.

  5. avatar DCGuy says:
    July 3rd, 2013 at 1:00 pm

    Dear Josh,

    Why don’t you ‘post’, one of your stories here? We can help you fix it.

    I’m not saying ditch journalism, I’m just saying read the Jakarta Post and Jakarta Globe instead because that’s all the foreign journalists do, then get their assistant do do the gruelling leg or phonework of actually talking to real Indonesians while they go to the bar.

  6. avatar Chris says:
    July 3rd, 2013 at 8:20 pm

    Hi DC Guy,

    Care to elaborate on who knows what they’re talking about?

    LESS PROFESSIONAL
    I quote a line from “The Year Of Living Dangerously”. It is the boss’s response to Guy Hamilton’s first, unimpressive story:

    You could have written that from over here!

    MORE PROFESSIONAL
    The good foreign correspondents travel outside Jakarta, meet some of the local people involved in a story, try to offer a fresh perspective, and for TV reporters don’t just re-hash local TV news’s footage.

    A couple of examples of what I mean:

    - A journalist from “The Age” managed to find and interview one of the meatworkers filmed mistreating Australian cattle.

    - When footage of a policeman in Bali accepting a bribe surfaced online, Duncan Graham (a.k.a. Mr Bule) wrote a piece courageously titled In Praise of Bali’s Corrupt Cops, recounting a story of how Balinese policemen were happy to help him solve a small problem quickly, for a fee.

  7. avatar Arie Brand says:
    July 5th, 2013 at 5:57 pm

    On the issue of foreign correspondents not going outside Jakarta:

    Last night a Papuan complained on the Australian ABC program Q&A (broadcast from Jakarta with a mixed Indonesian-Australian studio audience) that his province was closed to foreign reporters and that even the UN-rapporteur could not get access.

    One of the responses to this came from Meidyatama Suryodiningrat (“Dimas”), editor-in-chief of the Jakarta Post. He claimed that over the last five years 90% of requests by foreign correspondents to get access to the province had been approved – and non-approval of the others had mainly to do with administrative issues (search on http://www.abc.net.au the program Q&A for the 4th of July at 52.04 mins).

    Does anyone know something about this?

  8. avatar DCGuy says:
    July 5th, 2013 at 6:30 pm

    @ Mr. Brand, I suspect DimAss is talking out of his Ass. Why are the restrictions there in the first place? And besides, from the CV, it seems DimAss edits an Indonesian newspaper. What would he know about the travails facing foreign journalists?

  9. avatar Chris says:
    July 5th, 2013 at 8:04 pm

    Hi Arie Brand,

    Actually, an Australian journalist and TV crew tried to visit West Papua on tourist visas a few years ago:
    http://www.smh.com.au/news/national/righteous-robson-returns-home-to-lament-unresolved-wawa-brouhaha/2006/09/16/1158334735663.html

    It is summarised on Wikipedia like so:

    In September 2006, Robson and her crew were detained in Indonesia after arriving in the country with tourist visas to film a story on a boy they believed was in danger of being killed by cannibals. They were later deported.

    If you’re wondering, “They” refers to Robson and the crew being deported, not the cannibals. :D

  10. avatar Arie Brand says:
    July 6th, 2013 at 5:01 am

    DCGuy, the information that Suryodiningrat suffers from a dim ass (he seemed a very personable young man to me) doesn’t get me very far. Have you got anything more concrete to go on?

    Chris, doing journalism on a tourist visa could lead to some interesting prison experience in one of those Papuan jails -though that doesn’t seem to have happened in this case. Oswald Iten of the Neue Zürcher Zeitung wrote the classic tale on this. I put an extract of it on IM but here is the complete article (in translation): http://wpik.org/Src/jail-rescue.html

    I didn’t get the impression that the two journalists on that Q&A panel had any desire to go to Papua and see things for themselves. The deputy-editor of Tempo said that they had been told that every time a journalist was let in the “separatists” staged some extraordinary event or other. She said it as if she were inclined to believe this. It didn’t seem to occur to her that if journalists were let in on a regular basis “extraordinary” events couldn’t be called so any more

  11. avatar DCGuy says:
    July 6th, 2013 at 11:20 am

    Mr. Arie,

    Just don’t know. From what I heard, requests just got buried, not refused, not granted, just not processed. A couple of the younger gung ho European journalists wanted to go to Papua.

    Tempo Deputy Editor from the Australian TV show, according to a quick Google search, is a former Vice President of Freeport. I’m just guessing that an ex journalist and PR exec she handled the reporters.

    http://groups.yahoo.com/group/irianjaya/message/1186

    “Yuli Ismartono, Freeport vice president, warned that the contract
    was signed by Freeport and the government with recommendation from
    the House of Representatives.”

  12. avatar Arie Brand says:
    July 6th, 2013 at 2:55 pm

    DCGuy “just not processed” – yes that figures. I once applied, well in advance, for a visa to spend a sabbatical on some innocuous archival research in Indonesia. My sabbatical came up and still no visa. So I did something else instead. My visa duly arrived – after my sabbatical was over and I had returned to Australia.

    So Suryodiningrat might still be right – requests are approved of. The bit he forgot to mention is that the approval is so delayed that applicants have already gone elsewhere.

    Yuli Ismartono – thank you for pointing out this amazing bit of her “curriculum vitae”. Perhaps she handled the “corporate communications” of Freeport (the bit she was Vice President of) from Jakarta – otherwise I can’t explain her seeming inability to judge the veracity of the talk about “extraordinary events” being staged by the “separatists” during the visits of journalists.

  13. avatar DCGuy says:
    July 6th, 2013 at 3:40 pm

    Mr. Arie,

    As mentioned, just don’t know. Only passing on what I heard, and experienced myself with difficult requests. It’s very Javanese, they don’t say no, they just don’t say yes. As for Ms. Ismartono, in Google we Trust – Just Googled her quickly. Can’t imagine Freeport hired her for her geology or engineering skills.

  14. avatar Arie Brand says:
    July 6th, 2013 at 4:11 pm

    DC Guy you can google a potted biography under her name. She was deputy-editor of Tempo before it was banned in 1994. During part of the time it had ceased publication she was Vice-President of Corporate Communications of Freeport (1997-2000). When Tempo resumed publication, in 2000, she went back there.

    Wikipedia states positively that foreign journalists are banned from Papua. Its main source for this is an article from Al Jazeera. That article again quotes as one of its main sources Jennifer Robinson, an international human rights lawyer who has taken up the Papuan cause.

    She is an amazing woman, an ex-University medallist and Rhodes scholar, combining qualifications in law and Asian studies. Here she is introducing the Papuan activist Benny Renda to a Sydney audience:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WbkHkjg5Kac

    In the course of her talk she does indeed mention that foreign journalists are denied access to Papua.

  15. avatar DCGuy says:
    July 6th, 2013 at 4:19 pm

    I guess the woman had to earn a living, I just can’t take her seriously on Papua issues. I wonder how much they paid her in that time.

  16. avatar DCGuy says:
    July 6th, 2013 at 4:39 pm

    Mr. Arie,

    Yeah, not buying it. This woman’s bullshit stinks from across the Atlantic. Why are you so enamoured of a headline-grabbing careerist?

    Human rights in Papua is sexy, especially in Australia, with such a massive unemployed ex East Timor lobby. But if Papua was to become independent, it’d turn into PNG. Go check out the women’s rights record in PNG. Still so keen?

    This woman is pitching and pitching and using an aspiring Papuan politician to do it. I wouldn’t et too excited about someone with a nice law degree. DC is full of them.

  17. avatar Arie Brand says:
    July 6th, 2013 at 6:07 pm

    “Headline grabbing careerist” huh.? Well, with a variation on an aphorism of Lichtenberg: Youtube is like a mirror – when a monkey looks at it he can’t expect an apostle to look back.

    I can imagine far more lucrative and easy ways for a prominent lawyer to make a living. And I don’t need any cheaply cynical reasoning about motivation – the human capacity for indignation is enough. Why – the whole sorry Indonesian record over there can even make my old blood boil.

    One final question: would your reaction have been the same if this activist had been a guy? I ask because the misogynist streak in one of your former posts was unmistakable.

  18. avatar DCGuy says:
    July 6th, 2013 at 6:28 pm

    No. Nothing to do with gender. I’d say the same thing about Noam Chomsky on East Timor. Thing about the law is that it’s shit boring (or so my law school buddies tell me.) Shit, shit, shit boring, contracts, contracts, contracts.

    You rack up $120,000 in debts then have to pay it off, need to finance a lifestyle that goes with the firm, need a fancy wife to fit in at all the mandatory dinner parties, get sucked into the DC lifestyle.

    It’s so much more fun – and TedX worthy – to be (allegedly) fighting for justice.
    But…

    Indonesia’s not going to let Papua go.

    Let’s just say that again.

    Indonesia’s not going to let Papua go.

    Human rights lawyers know that, but they don’t care because they just want to tick a box on the career ladder. They want West Papua on their CV, just as they wanted South Africa once upon a time. Thing is South Africa had a chance.

    Anyone seriously worried about human rights in Indonesia would be focusing on the urban and rural poor who, according to the new definition of human rights under the UNDP, have their rights abused by deprivation.

    Oh… wait… that’s more complicated than making speeches at TedX. Oh, wait, maybe Soeharto did do something for human rights after all by giving people jobs. Reality is the cigarette companies have done much more for human rights by employing poor cigarette-rollers than Amnesty International any day.

    I do have a problem with feminism – and you’ve illustrated it. I take a pot shot at a blatant narcissist and get accused of misogyny.

  19. avatar DCGuy says:
    July 6th, 2013 at 6:39 pm

    Oh, and by the way, the first response was a reference to Ms. Ismartono (can’t take her seriously on Papua), second one was to the creepy human rights lawyer who’s skiving off of a one-day-to-be-corrupt-like-Ramos-Horta politician.

  20. avatar Arie Brand says:
    July 6th, 2013 at 7:09 pm

    Well your set of beliefs fit in nicely with the allurements of Blok M. That’s all right with me but happily the Indonesian situation inspires some journalists (and human rights activists) to come up with other concerns. Somebody like Allan Nairn comes to mind. In your eyes no doubt another narcissist.

    History is unpredictable – all the more so for a precarious enterprise like Indonesia. At one stage some people were sure that Moscow was not going to let Georgia go, to let the Ukraine go etc.

    Bedtime here.

  21. avatar DCGuy says:
    July 6th, 2013 at 7:20 pm

    Mr. Arie,

    My opinions of Mr. Nairn and Ms. Robinson aside, I don’t think their efforts are helping the people of West Papua. In fact, I think Ms. Robinson got spun.

    I suspect that the good people of West Papua want nothing more than the rest of the good people of Indonesia: a decent life, a decent living, to be able to pay the bills and have a better life for their children. I suspect the change of flag has nothing to do with that goal.

    Thing is the realities of achieving the real aspirations aren’t glamorous. They’re about power plants, building roads, investment, local business regulations. It’s hardly the kind of thing that’s gonna get people fired up on TedX. (I’m imagining even you are drifting off). But it’s the nuts and bolts of building a better life.

    I’m on the record as a dirtbag, a fallen human being, a whoremonger, a pig, and and anti-feminist (at least the DC kind), but I know bullshit when I see it.

    I bet that ordinary West Papuans just want their little bite of McWorld, however fucked up that vision might be. Once they get their McDonalds, internet connections, and smartphones, Ms. Robinson can move onto the next cause.

  22. avatar DCGuy says:
    July 7th, 2013 at 10:19 am

    * Back the original topic though: presumably a physical ban on foreign journalists in Papua doesn’t mean no reporting can be done. Can’t they make phone calls or hire an Indonesian citizen to do the reporting? They could take a smart phone or tablet and Skype with sources. They could work with Papuan journalists.

    * Regarding human rights in Papua, I think the best question for foreigners should be: what’s best for the Papuans and how can we help them?

    Does Benny the ‘Nelson Mandela of Papua’, Ms. Robinson mentions represent a majority of opinion in Papua? We just don’t know. He’s not elected. I can’t remember any kind of plebiscite about being a part of Indonesia since that ‘Act of Free Will,’ thing in the 1960s, which historians say was rigged. There could be a large number of Papuans that want to stay in Indonesia (the Javanese and Bugis immigrants, for example). Benny might be just one part of the spectrum.

    Do those spear-chucking dudes wandering ’round the mountains hunting pigs and wearing penis gourds even care about the world outside their tribe?

    That said, it’s unfair to lock him up and and torture him stop him expressing his opinions. The state allows groups like the Hizbut Tahrir openly call for nationwide Sharia and a regional Islamic Caliphate. Aceh got its own political party.

    And the Papuans can’t be fans of their people getting tortured by Indonesian soldiers, for example. (see Papua torture video). http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JnCSh4cOvmA.

    So perhaps we foreigners should let the Papuans and Jakarta sort it out between themselves.

    Reluctantly, though, that means we need a network of international human rights law. As Benny can’t do his thing in Papua, he had to go elsewhere and get help.

    Now, as we can’t have the State taking sides either we need a framework where governments – like the U.K., can wash their hands and tell SBY, hey we have to obey international laws and global treaties we’ve signed. Enter annoying human rights zealots lawyers.

    I’m not a fan of zealots. Then again, the likes of Ms. Robinson are busy drafting cases and writing helping people that change the world while I was spending my last paycheck on Bintangs at Blok M and struggling not to get fired.

    Yeah, I know, boo hoo, poor dirtbag. :)

  23. avatar Arie Brand says:
    July 7th, 2013 at 11:21 am

    I

    I suspect that the good people of West Papua want nothing more than the rest of the good people of Indonesia: a decent life, a decent living, to be able to pay the bills and have a better life for their children. I suspect the change of flag has nothing to do with that goal.

    No. Too much has happened for that. People have long collective memories. The Irish do not provide the only example here. Sure, activists will always be a minority but it could be a minority that at crucial moments can mobilise larger groups.

    My opinions of Mr. Nairn and Ms. Robinson aside, I don’t think their efforts are helping the people of West Papua.

    I beg to disagree. They play the big drum on behalf of these people. The Indonesian powers that be have quite a different assessment of the effectiveness of this noise. They are willing to go to considerable lengths, even murder, to silence it (I am pretty sure, for instance, that the Australian film maker Mark Worth was poisoned a few days before his “Land of the Morning Star” was shown on ABC television – before that he had made a documentary with the title “Act of No Choice” – I have written about this elsewhere on the net).

    Could things have developed differently?

    Droogleever, who wrote the fundamental study on what preceded the Indonesian take over, stated as his opinion that things would have gone wrong even if the Dutch had left the area at the same time as they did other parts of the archipelago. There was already a fundamental dislike of Indonesians (called “Amberi”) who had been known, mainly, from their periodical “hongi” raids, as slave dealers and from the lower and harsher ranks of the colonial civil service.

    I am not so sure. For one thing there were, before 1962, only a handful of Indonesians there – mainly Ambonese teachers and civil servants. If Indonesia had, right from the start, gone through a “hearts and minds” operation it would have had a chance I think.. But the peop[e who came out there behaved as conquerors and not as liberators, even during the UNTEA transition pereiod. I was a witness to that. And after that, of course, they revealed themselves as a bunch of murderous thugs.

    I’m on the record as a dirtbag, a fallen human being, a whoremonger, a pig, and and anti-feminist (at least the DC kind), but I know bullshit when I see it.

    Well, yes, I imagine that would be within reach of a pig’s faculties. It probably could also distinguish between the edible and inedible kind – but nothing beyond that. We are back at Lichtenberg’s aphorism.

  24. avatar DCGuy says:
    July 7th, 2013 at 11:56 am

    Mr. Arie,

    I guess I’d like to see interviews with ordinary ethnic Papuans and proper opinion surveys. I don’t believe Ms. Robinson or Mr. Benny. Don’t disbelieve them, just don’t believe them.

    Problem is there doesn’t seem to be a proper mechanism to articulate public sentiment. I do believe there’s widespread resentment, if only because I had drinks one (in a very bad place), with some Papuan boxers who complained they’d been screwed out of scholarships with KONI, the national sports institute. They’d come to Jakarta hoping to be athletes but ended up as debt collectors and underground prize fighters. The bar was next to Cafe Batavia and a real dive. You’d definitely want these guys on your side in a scrap.

    *On collective memory, you’d think so. The TNI don’t seemed to have learned from their mistakes in Timor and Aceh. In fact, they’re doing it all over again and feeding an insurgency. So it’s too late for a hearts and minds campaign? History shows the way to stop an insurgency is to provide a better option.

    As for silencing and murdering activists, I think it’s just stupid. They’re creating martyrs. Jeez, can’t anyone read a history book in that country (Indonesia).

    Any links for:

    * “I am pretty sure, for instance, that the Australian film maker Mark Worth was poisoned a few days before his “Land of the Morning Star” was shown on ABC television – before that he had made a documentary with the title “Act of No Choice” – I have written about this elsewhere on the net)”

    * Drooglever?

  25. avatar Arie Brand says:
    July 7th, 2013 at 1:04 pm

    On Drooglever’s boek:

    An extremely difficult position
    Wed, 08/12/2010 – 10:21 — Nicholas Tarling

    When Rachmaninov’s late Romantic third symphony was premiered in London in 1936, the Daily Telegraph critic Richard Capell maintained that, while the composer still gave parties on the grand old scale, no gorgeous guests turned up. Though remote from the subject of Pieter Drooglever’s book, the remark came to mind when I received it. Here was a book on a scale that has become rare, made possible only by adding fi nancial subsidy to authorial devotion. But – as Capell failed to recognize in respect of the symphony, now part of the repertoire – some gorgeous guests do turn up.

    Pieter Drooglever, 2009. Translated by Theresa Stanton, Maria van Yperon and Margolijn de Jager. An Act of Free Choice: Decolonization and the Right to Self-Determination in West Papua. Oxford: Oneworld Publications, 2009. xviii + 854 pages. ISBN 978 185168715 2.

    Read on:

    http://www.newasiabooks.org/publication/act-free-choice-decolonisation-and-right-self-determination-west-papua#comment-14816

  26. avatar DCGuy says:
    July 7th, 2013 at 1:51 pm

    Mr. Arie,

    Here’s a question: why don’t these human rights lawyers go after the Western leaders (Bush, Blair, Howard), who signed off on the invasion of Iraq?

    More importantly — why not go after Obama for drone strikes?

    Despite the righteousness of the cause of Mr. Benny and the Free West Papua movement, Indonesia is a soft target, still struggling for legitimacy in the international arena. With East Timor still swirling in our collective memory, of course it’s not a hard sell to the media that Indonesia is “corrupt”, “brutal”, and oppressive (even if the soldiers actually are).

    Do you still think she’d be getting pro bono ‘hero’ awards from the British government if she started building a criminal case against Tony Blair for war crimes? What would happen to that Harvard human rights visiting fellowship down the track if she named Obama as a war criminal?

    So much easier to go after Indonesia. My point is that I think Ms. Robinson is a “gorgeous guest,” to this issue. Mass poverty in Papua, Java, and the rest of Asia is a much more systematic abuse of human rights and a much bigger failing of the global system than torture by soldiers ever could be.

    But…ooops. They don’t cover poverty at law school.

  27. avatar Arie Brand says:
    July 7th, 2013 at 4:48 pm

    Those who do nothing always have plenty of suggestions for those who are trying to do something – they should have done this, that or the other instead. In this case the suggestions are even more inappropriate than usual.

    Jennifer Robinson is not a prosecutor. She is not going after any particular individual. So for her the choice is not between Blair and Prabowo, say. She is just a legal adviser who observed Benny Rendra’s court case in Indonesia and made note of the irregularities. Later, when he came to apply for asylum in Britain, her report on the case helped him to get a visa. She assisted him again when, through strange maneuvers of Interpol (US inspired it seems), his freedom of movement was sabotaged. She is, I understand, also trying to establish that the Indonesian occupation of Papua is illegitimate according to international law.

    Yes it would be nice if something was done about mass poverty, wouldn’t it. But one particular individual can do very little about that. The things I have described above are feasible however. So for the time being we have to leave the problem of mass poverty in the hands of your wonderful cigarette manufacturers.

    Your attempt to picture Indonesia as a “soft target” still struggling for legitimacy in the international arena is risible. My impression is exactly the opposite. Indonesia has always been treated with kid gloves in that arena. It probably received more support from the UN during its struggle for independence than any nation in similar circumstances. It was mightily helped by the US in its attempt to get Papua. And its patently rigged “act of free choice” was swallowed wholesale by the UN that gave it its undeserved stamp of legitimacy.

    I also remember the caution it was treated with by the then UN Secretary General, U Thant, and the Undersecretary, Narasimhan, during the time of international “supervision” of Papua. Indonesia did just what it wanted and got away with it. So the preparation of the “act of free choice” which would have required a faIrly numerous UN presence on the ground was virtually aborted. During the actual UNTEA period, the Iranian Administrator, Dr.Abdoh’s main concern seemed to be not to offend Indonesia – and could that country not be easily offended. I remember, for instance, that at the flag raising ceremony in Fak Fak on January 1 1963 the Indonesian flag that was raised turned out to be somewhat smaller than the Dutch flag that was lowered. Who was responsible for that? – asked the Indonesian representative. Etc.

  28. avatar DCGuy says:
    July 7th, 2013 at 5:12 pm

    Mr. Arie,

    I do plenty for poverty — trade not aid — at places like Jl Felatehan Blok M or Hotel Travel in Kota. But:

    “She is, I understand, also trying to establish that the Indonesian occupation of Papua is illegitimate according to international law.”

    I’d say it was more important to do it on the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Then again, goodbye Carr Center fellowship, right?

    Thanks for your riposte, I’ll meditate on it. Don’t have much more to add, though. I’m way outgunned on the facts here. Thanks, though, for your sources, including the account of that Dutchman and the Blog.

    For anyone else interested in the debate, please consult Mr. Arie’s Blog: http://webdiary.com.au/cms/?q=blog/417

  29. avatar DCGuy says:
    July 7th, 2013 at 10:57 pm

    Hey, I’ve got an idea – let’s see if Ms. Robinson is up for commenting here. Call for input, should I be polite or incendiary in my approach?

  30. avatar Arie Brand says:
    July 8th, 2013 at 5:46 am

    DCGuy, you asked for a link about Mark Worth.

    Well here is what I wrote in 2004, soon after he died:

    http://www.voy.com/166636/50.html

    I should provide some additional information however:

    Mark was born and grew up in Papua New Guinea where his father was employed as a petty officer on an Australian naval base. He got interested in what happened on the other side of the border after he had seen Papuan refugees coming over following the sham “act of free choice” in 1969. He was still a boy then. When he became a documentary film maker later Indonesian Papua was often the focus of his attention. He married a girl from Biak and travelled up and down between Australia and Papua. I believe that he became a marked man after he made the documentarty entitled “Act of no choice”.

    In 2004, soon after he had finished his last documentary “Land of the Morning Star” that had been commissioned by ABC television, he departed by plane for Australia. Not long before that he had had a farewell party with a more or less public dinner. In the plane he became unwell and he was taken off at Sentani where he was put up in a hotel. There was providentially a doctor present there who came in handy to certify the official cause of his death that followed within the next few days. That official cause was acute pneumonia. He was buried within the next 48 hours. There was no autopsy.

    Apparently no attempt was made to transport him to a hospital in Jayapura though Sentani is not far from there.

    A few suspicious voices were raised. They doubted the official cause of his death (pneumonia) and spoke of poison. But he can very well have died of acute pneumonia that was brought on by a poison: ricin, the same stuff that was sent to some US Senators after 9/11. Ricin is made of material that is cheap and easily obtainable: castor beans. After the beans have been used to extract castor oil a watery mass stays behind that contains ricin. Consumption or inhalation of it can bring on acute pneumonia within 24 to 72 hours. This can be lethal. There is no antidote and ricin cannot be spotted though a blood test. See for the rest the PBS-interview in the post of which I gave the link above.

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