AUCKLAND (Pacific Media Watch): Aboriginal elder Kevin Buzzacott, who is on board the West Papua Freedom Flotilla, says media attention is “very important” in order to “expose what’s happening” in West Papua.
“Media is pretty good at the moment. We have to expose [the situation in West Papua], and now point a gun with the cameras,” the 66-year-old said in an interview with Pacific Media Watch.
The West Papua Freedom Flotilla consists of three boats and 18 people.
The flotilla has gathered a range of pro-independence campaigners on the journey going from Lake Eyre in northern Southern Australia, via New South Wales and the Queensland coast, across the Torres Strait to Daru in Papua New Guinea and finally Merauke in West Papua, where the flotilla is scheduled to arrive early next month.
The objective was “to free our brothers and sisters up there with all the bad stuff that’s happening”, Buzzacott said.
The Australian Foreign Minister, Bob Carr, said Australian authorities had informed the Freedom Flotilla that local laws and penalties would apply in Papua New Guinea and Indonesia.
"We've given them this warning. Therefore, should they end up in prison as a result of breaching the law of Indonesia or Papua New Guinea, we've got no obligation to give them consular support," Carr said, according to news.com.au.
The comment from the Australian Foreign Minister was not appreciated by Buzzacott, who was one of the chief organisers of the flotilla and captains one of the boats.
“It’s a shocking, shocking statement by the Foreign Minister [Bob] Carr, and also one of the opposition, Julie Bishop. Pretty sad.
“I think these people should resign. I think they should be forced to resign. They can’t be in that high position and make statements like that,” Buzzacott said.
The Aboriginal campaigner outlined the consequences of not being helped by Australian authorities.
“We’ll be jailed and drawn out of the water by the Indonesians if we go too far, too close or something, and rot in the jails over there.”
Indonesian authorities have labelled the Freedom Flotilla “a cheap publicity stunt”.
An Indonesian minister told The Guardian that if the flotilla entered Indonesian waters “the armed forces will take measures”, and said that “the use of weaponry may not be necessary”
“There’s over 50,000 troops waiting for us. You know, three little yacht boats, and they’re gonna blow us out of the water. It’s like a war thing. We’re not about war. We’re about peace,” Buzzacott said.
NGOs such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have pointed to several human rights concerns in the Indonesia-controlled territory of West Papua.
Lack of fair trials, torture and excessive use of force, monitoring of peaceful activists and no foreign journalists being allowed in the country were some of the concerns the two NGOs have documented in recent reports.
Listen to the full interview – transcript below:
Daniel Drageset (DD), contributing editor of Pacific Media Watch: Kevin Buzzacott, what is the objective of the West Papua Freedom Flotilla?
Kevin Buzzacott (KB), organiser of the West Papua Freedom Flotilla: We want to highlight what’s happening up in West Papua. We want to free our brothers and sisters up there with all the bad stuff that’s happening, and also we want to finish off a ceremony. We got big links to West Papua, ancient links, so we’re carrying special water, sacred water, and we got a sacred ceremony that we’d like to share with our Papuan brothers and sisters. And we have a hard time getting through to the power, the Australian government and the Indonesian government. All we want to do is go and do our ceremony and back out.
DD: What is the background of the people on the flotilla?
KB: The background of the people on the flotilla, genuine people who really wants peace. We got young people, old people; we got Papuans on board; we got Aboriginal elders; we got diplomats from all around the world. We carry a special camera and media team. Some of our mobbers out on the sea has got us on the land. The land crew will travel as far as the road goes, and the boat will travel from there on to Torres Strait Islands, and a lot of people are flying into Torres Strait Islands when we’ve worked things out a bit more.
DD: What is your personal background Kevin?
KB: I’m an Aboriginal elder, and I’ve got obligations and responsibilities to look after my culture’s side of it, and, as I said, we link with West Papua way back. West Papua was linked with us, and also the other islands north of Australia. We got cultural obligations and responsibilities to care for them, and one of the big things is [that] West Papuans have a right to life, just like anybody else, and our job is to care for our brothers and sisters.
And we [have] got a lot of problems as well, but we reckon time fights for us to go and free the West Papuans first. And I always say that if we can free the West Papuans, we free ourselves. I’m talking about the whole of Australia, the community of Australia. We actually do a job that is the government’s job. The government should be doing this, but instead they’re supporting Indonesia. They don’t even acknowledge us.
We’re also going on our passports, our Aboriginal passports, and we issue all our mob with passports. And they’re saying they don’t acknowledge and recognise that. We’ll be jailed and drawn out of the water by the Indonesians if we go too far, too close or something, and rot in the jails over there. What I’m saying is the world wants to support people like Indonesia with the human rights, you know they [have] got a pretty bad record, if they’re gonna sit back and let…there’s over 50,000 Indonesian troops waiting for us. You know, three little yacht boats, and they’re gonna blow us out of the water. It’s like a war thing. We’re not about war. We’re about peace.
DD: So, how do you view the West Papuan independence struggle right now?
KB: What’s happening up there is very shocking. I mean, you see the other dictators around the world, you know they’ve been captured: Saddam Hussein, Gaddafi, and a few of the others, Pinochet way back. They’ve been criminally charged. I’m just stunned that this Indonesian government, and the people who support the Indonesian government are still running around after what’s being done. There’s been half a million West Papuans being murdered and disappeared, and [it’s] still happening as we speak. And I don’t know what the world’s doing about it, and that’s why people like myself, and these others, we can see the difference. I’m just stunned that the Australian government and the society can’t see it.
DD: How important is it to get media coverage and attention about West Papua?
KB: Oh, it’s very important. We’ve gotta expose what’s happening out there. It’s the same as the mob did in [East] Timor and other countries. They need to expose these people. We want to send peacemakers in there. 50,000 peacemakers, not 50,000 armed soldiers with guns. You don’t make peace with guns. I’ve been caring and sharing, and that’s what we’re about. It’s very important to get information out. We got news sent from on board as well. So far, we would like to thank all the people. Towns we’ve been ashore have been fully supportive.
We’re in Cook Town now, and we’re planning a big entry in Cook Town now in a day or two. We reckon everyone here will get down and see what the real story is, and what our aims are. And they’ll be calling on Australia and the world to come and support. And like I said, if we free West Papua, you free yourself, because we all need to be free. The way we’re going at the moment is terrible as horrible. All the wars and that must stop.
DD: What do you think is the best way to create awareness of West Papua?
KB: Media is pretty good at the moment. We have to expose, and now point a gun with the cameras. West Papua the last few years has been like the silent war, and they’ve stopped all the media from going in there. Like in [East] Timor, I think they…the same government destroyed six media people. I think they had the question time not long ago, and one of the Indonesian presidents said, you know, we want the international media to go in there, but that’s not really the case. So we could expose it that way. The world is watching.
DD: How aware are people in Australia and New Zealand in your perspective of what’s happening in West Papua?
KB: There’s a lot of people supporting us. There’s a lot of people sitting on the fence. There’s a lot of people kicking themselves for not being on this journey, because there’s a lot of sharing and learning and all that going on. And your spirit’s kicked in, people can see the pain and what’s happening out there, they’re all keen to you know break through. We’ve also invited the Australian government, and the Indonesian government. It’s not too late for them to come and sit around a roundtable and talk with us. We haven’t left the mainland yet, so you know, we wanna make peace. Yeah, the best way to work out any situation is to sit down and talk about it, not threaten each other or race assimilation, all that sort of stuff. Now, we wanna get away from that.
DD: But do you think there are many that are not aware of what’s happening in West Papua?
KB: I think there’s a lot of people who are not aware of it, and I think there’s a lot of people sitting back because they say it’s too political. They’re missing the point again when it comes to the peace part of it. Yeah, I think there will come the time, I think a lot of people will be in there, and a lot of people are writing letters to the ministers lobbying the politicians and their families and all that. But brother, it takes a bit to get there, but anybody out there that’s listening, if they want to donate things or money or anything, or even a bigger boat, fine, we’ll appreciate that. It’s not our war, not our mission, it’s their mission as well. If we break through here, then we’ll break through all around the world. We gotta get out of this way we’re living at the moment, because it’s pretty hard for us.
DD: Okay, so the West Papua Freedom Flotilla has recently been warned by the Indonesian government that they might use force against you, and also the Australian government has said it will not provide consular help for you. What is your reaction to that Kevin?
KB: Ah, look. It’s pretty disappointing. This is the other thing, a lot of people are scared, but at the same time we don’t trust Indonesia because we know what they’re capable of doing. It’s disappointing that the Australian government is supporting Indonesia about that, about war planes and locking up in jails, and turn up and help us if we get caught over there in the prison. I mean, it’s a shocking, shocking statement by the Foreign Minister [Bob] Carr, and also one of the opposition Julie Bishop. Pretty sad.
I think these people should resign. I think they should be forced to resign. They can’t be in that high position and make statements like that. And also, where are the human rights? Where’s the United Nations in all of this? I mean, we haven’t heard from them yet. I got information on our website freedomflotilla.org, so people wanna log on and put some comments on there. That’s good. Like I said, we welcome all the support from anybody out there. It’s their fight as well, or not their fight, but it’s their struggle. So, come aboard: We welcome you!
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 New Zealand Licence.