Former diplomat criticises "well-intentioned" human rights advocates

In a paper to be delivered at a Jesuit-sponsored seminar in Melbourne this Wednesday, former Ambassador to Indonesia Richard Woolcott will argue that "well-intentioned advocates of human rights" do not always appreciate diplomatic constraints.

"We need always to keep in mind, on both sides of the Arafura Sea, that the relationship between Australia and Indonesia is a complex and fragile one between two very different societies," Mr Woolcott will tell the audience at a seminar titled, "Good Neighbour, Bad Neighbour. What's the difference?"

Comparing Australia-Indonesia bilateral relations to a rope that is made up of both positive and negative strands, he says in diplomacy there will always be tensions between principle and expediency and the "constraints imposed by existing realities."

Mr Woolcott, who is the former Australian Ambassador to Indonesia (1975-78) when Jakarta invaded East Timor, will deliver his lecture at a seminar organised by the Uniya Jesuit Social Justice Centre at the historic Xavier College in Kew, east of Melbourne.

"Those who believe that the West Papuans were duded in 1969 by the so-called Act of Free Choice and that they should exercise self-determination, are unlikely to see eye to eye with those who believe that any further fragmentation, after East Timor, of the territorial integrity of the State of Indonesia must be avoided in the national interest," he said.

Controversy erupted earlier this year over a decision by the Australian government to grant temporary protection visas to 42 asylum seekers from Papua.

The decision sent Australia-Indonesia bilateral relations plunging to a new low and prompted some human rights and church groups to call for greater autonomy or independence for Papua.

However, bilateral relations slowly improved following Australia's move to amend refugee laws which would prevent future Papua asylum seekers from applying for protection on-shore.

"Just as we do not allow our relations with China to be dominated by legitimate concerns about Tibet, Taiwan and the mistreatment of members of the Falun Gong sect ... we must not allow our relations with Indonesia to be held hostage to those who seek the unrealistic goal of an independent West Papua," Mr Woolcott will argue.

Mr Woolcott will speak alongside Damien Kingsbury, Associate Professor at Deakin University who was the adviser to the Free Aceh Movement in the 2005 Helsinki peace talks, and Fr Frank Brennan, Professor at the Australian Catholic University and former Director of Uniya and the Jesuit Refugee Service in East Timor.

Also in Melbourne, Janet Clarke Hall, a University of Melbourne residential college, has stepped forward to host an Edmund Rice Centre seminar series in January with Fr Diarmuid O'Murchu following the withdrawal of approval by Melbourne Archbishop Denis Hart.

Archbishop Hart withdrew his permission in June for Fr O'Murchu, a Sacred Heart Missionary priest and social psychologist, to present a series of workshops in Melbourne as a result of a Vatican investigation into his writings.

Most Australians don't understand Indonesia: Former diplomat (Uniya 31/7/06)
Diarmuid O'Murchu Courses (Edmund Rice Centre Amberley 26/7/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Good Neighbour, Bad Neighbour - Uniya Seminar Series | Uniya Jesuit Social Justice Centre
Edmund Rice Centre Amberley
Diarmuid O'Murchu website

Priest's Australian lectures cancelled over CDF investigation (CathNews 30/6/06)
Jesuit "pastoral cycle" expert visiting Australia (CathNews 10/5/06)
Jesuit Centre assesses 'failed state' threat to Australia (CathNews 8/4/05)
Jesuit says 100% of revenue to East Timor would be fair (CathNews 3/9/04)
Jesuit says dishonest politics making Australia a terror target (CathNews 16/3/04)

1 Aug 2006