From The Jakarta PostThe threat of sanction, a shot to the foot
Patrick Guntensperger, Jakarta
Out of a misplaced sense of patriotic fervor or misdirected national pride, the Indonesian Importers Association (Ginsi) has taken aim at its own foot.
Amid an emotional and ill-thought out sense that the Australian Government's granting of temporary protection visas to 42 Papuan refugee claimants amounts to interference in Indonesian sovereignty, the association has called for a boycott of all imported Australian products.
The association's chairman, Amiruddin Saud has also called upon Indonesian dock workers to refuse to offload cargo from Australian ships in Indonesian ports. Meanwhile, students from the Indonesia Islamic University are reported to have staged a protest in front of Yogyakarta's parliament demanding an Australian apology, before searching several hotels for Australian guests.
The Australian authorities granted the temporary visas based upon criteria set internally and in line with the United Nations charter; criteria intended to protect refugee claimants from the possibility of retribution, institutionalized or not, upon people claiming asylum on foreign shores.
Each case is considered individually and the decision to grant such protection visas is not taken lightly, although it is fair to conjecture that the decisions are inclined to err on the side of humanitarian caution. The decision is not made by diplomats of the Foreign Service and is not a statement of national policy regarding Australian attitudes toward separatist aspirations of people in Papua or anywhere else.
The decision is made based upon the assessment of the possibility of danger to the applicants existing, should they be forcibly returned to the place from which they risked everything to escape. In light of the human rights abuses rampant in Papua, to deny that the refugees face no risk of retribution by rogue elements, if not legal authorities, is disingenuous, to put it as charitably as possible.
Moreover, the decision was made amid repeated explicit statements, by Australian officials from the Prime Minister John Howard down, that Australia does not support Papuan independence. Australia's position is explicitly and repeatedly one of support of Indonesian sovereignty and national integrity. Nevertheless, a great number of individuals of influence in Indonesia continue to rail against "interference" in internal Indonesian national policy.
Among the ironies of the situation is that the withdrawal of an ambassador, the threats of sanctions, the hunting down and intimidating of tourists, and other bellicose and dangerous gestures clearly constitutes interference in internal Australian policy matters.
The actions and threats of further escalation of diplomatic and unofficial sanctions, as well as the ratcheting up of the anti-Australian rhetoric are all attempts to force the Australian people and government to change their internal policies regarding the humanitarian protection of people who have risked everything to seek protection on foreign soil.
For Australia to comply with demands that they retract their temporary protection of the claimants without further examination of the claims would be a reversal of their internal government policy as well as UN guidelines regarding such claims.
Perhaps if the 42 Papuans were now forcibly returned to Indonesia, they would not face any risk of retribution and they and their families would be in no jeopardy whatever.
The very vitriol with which their refugee claims are met by some Indonesians strongly suggests otherwise, but suppose for a moment that all of their claims were to be shown to be false and that they would be returned to safe and secure lives in Papua. If that were demonstrably the case, the investigation of their claims would support such a scenario and, at the expiration of their temporary protection visas, they would be returned; no harm, no foul.
The lingering suspicions of even isolated, non systemic abuses in Papua would be exposed as false, improving Indonesias stature in the world forum. Indo-Australian relations, recently enjoying something of a resurgence, would be further reinforced, and the cause for Papuan independence would be dealt a crippling blow.
In the meantime, Indonesian elements are demonstrating a petulance and intolerance that further diminishes whatever respect the country has been earning on the international scene, and Indo-Australian relations are at their lowest ebb in recent years.
A wiser response would have been for Indonesian authorities to offer full co-operation with Australian immigration authorities to investigate the refugees' claims and make a transparent and bona fide effort to determine whether the reported atrocities reported by the claimants have any basis in fact.
To interfere with Australian refugee policy, to threaten boycotts, to intimidate tourists, to cut off diplomatic ties, are all counterproductive moves...moves that harm Indonesia in countless ways. From the tangibles like their impact on tourism and foreign investment to the intangibles like Indonesia's standing as a mature nation in the international community, no one benefits from the tantrums being thrown in the name of national pride.The writer is a political and business risk analyst with Van Zorge, Heffernan & Associates, and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The opinions expressed in the foregoing are entirely his own.