They make great trucks. That’s what my father says every time I ask him: “What are you doing? Who do they sell them to? “‘Only for the good guys’ is his standard response, and the topic changes quickly. But what he calls ‘trucks’ most people call ‘tanks’. And I always wonder, ‘What kind of’ good guy ‘drives a tank? “
My father works for Thales, one of the richest arms corporations in the world. Before heading security for Thales, he worked for Asio, Australia’s Security Intelligence Organization.
In January, a rainy summer day, I learned that Thales sells armed vehicles to the Indonesian special forces, Kopassus. The same Kopassus who have been accused of terrorizing, torturing and murdering the people of West Papua.
My partner is a refugee from West Papua. Half of our children’s family lives in West Papua, terrified by Indonesian soldiers, ready to flee when Kopassus’s troops reach their villages. Suddenly, I realized with pain that my father is paid by a company that sells weapons that can be used against the family of his own grandchildren.
I had always suspected that my father’s employer and my partner’s journey might be connected in some way, but I had never imagined how horribly tangled their stories were.
Lober, my partner and father of three of my children, landed in Cape York, Australia on January 17, 2006 in a canoe with 42 other refugees from West Papua. All were detained on Christmas Island before being granted asylum. Indonesia was offended by Australia’s acceptance of them and targeted their families. Lober’s mother was arrested in retaliation. Friends and relatives of these Papuans in exile have been arrested, tortured and killed. Like most war zone refugees, the 43 in West Papua carry a burden of trauma that includes survivor guilt: why am I safe when others are dying?
Indonesia invaded then Dutch West Papua in 1962. In 1969, with the backing of the UN, Indonesian dictator Suharto claimed West Papua as a province of Indonesia. Successive Australian administrations, eager to appease Indonesia, have been silent on human rights abuses in Timor-Leste, Aceh, Maluku, Jakarta and West Papua. Rare exceptions to the policy of appeasement, such as the dispatch of peacekeepers to Timor-Leste in 1999 and the acceptance of the 43 refugees from West Papua in 2006, have led to diplomatic clashes and the cessation of military cooperation.
To solve these nagging human rights problems, Australia and Indonesia signed the Lombok Treaty in 2006. This pact preserves military and diplomatic cooperation with the promise that there will be no interference or comment on the “internal” or “sovereignty” affairs of the an other state. The Lombok treaty is effectively a gag order.
The Australian Special Air Service is involved in military training with Kopassus in Perth and the Australian Federal Police train the D88 anti-terror squad at an Australian-funded institute called JCLEC (the Jakarta Center for Law Enforcement Cooperation).
Kopassus and D88 are the most feared of all Indonesian security forces and have been involved in torture and extrajudicial executions throughout the archipelago. According to Amnesty International, more than 30 Papuans have been killed by Indonesian forces in the last two years. Amnesty also alleges that between 2010 and 2018, the Indonesian police and military were responsible for at least 95 unlawful killings in Papua, including targeted killings of activists. a claim from the Indonesian army spokesman in Papua province, Colonel Muhammad Aidi, rejected as “false and without foundation”.
Australia’s military support and defense exports to Indonesia directly contribute to the suffering of West Papua communities and cause great distress to the West Papuans who now call Australia home. All Australians and Western Papuans I know are marked by the “low intensity conflict” that has raged over access to Papua’s natural resources since 1962.
Some of the older men who canoed with Lober spend their days walking and walking and walking. Sometimes Lober walks all night. Where are they going? What are they looking for? When I ask, the answer is always the same: just walking, walk way.
Thales is highly rated in both global exports and scope, with operations in 56 countries and Defense revenue of $ 9.25 billion in 2019. Thales Australia’s most expensive export item is the Bushmaster armored vehicle, which includes weapons and ammunition. In 2013 Thales sold three Bushmaster vehicles to Kopassus in a 2.7 million Australian dollar deal negotiated by the then Australian Army Sales Office. In October 2016, Australian and Indonesian defense industry officials signed an agreement to produce the Sanca, an armored vehicle based on the Bushmaster.
While in West Papua in 2013, I met dozens of activists, students, and political prisoners. Their call for peace, justice and liberation from Indonesian rule was unanimous. The women’s stories really made an impact: “Why do I have children just to watch them die at the hands of Indonesia?” I heard this question all over Papua from mothers who had suffered the worst pain of all: burying their children.
Now, three of my own children have West Papuan heritage, and their grandfather works for the company that sells weapons to the army that causes so much pain to mothers.
If it is true that change begins at home, I hope my father is ready. My four children often spend time with their Australian grandparents. My father is a popular visitor. It’s fun and fabulous and there’s no way I don’t like it, even though I don’t like what the company I work for sells.
One day his grandchildren will understand how involved the company he works for is in the violence in their father’s land. Will he be ready, I wonder, for the day they understand and the questions they ask?
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism