Foreign Minister Should Speak Out in Indonesia, China, Philippines
December 4, 2013
“It would be an affront to the victims for Bishop to stay silent in the face of serious human rights abuses in Indonesia, China, and the Philippines. The new government thinks silence on human rights buys goodwill with Asia’s leaders, but a democracy like Australia should care more about its standing with the region’s people.”
Elaine Pearson, Australia director

(Sydney) – Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop should ensure that human rights are a part of her discussions with leaders in Indonesia, China, and the Philippines Human Rights Watch said today. She will visit those countries from December 5 to 8, 2013. The new Australian government should reverse its policy of downplaying human rights in its contact with other governments, particularly in Asia.

“It would be an affront to the victims for Bishop to stay silent in the face of serious human rights abuses in Indonesia, China, and the Philippines,” said Elaine Pearson, Australia director. “The new government thinks silence on human rights buys goodwill with Asia’s leaders, but a democracy like Australia should care more about its standing with the region’s people.”  

Given the recent tension over spying allegations, Bishop should take a united stand with Indonesia against indiscriminate practices such as mass surveillance, interception, and data collection, both at home and abroad, and support the recent United Nations General Assembly resolution on digital privacy.

Bishop should also urge Indonesia’s leaders to end the military’s unlawful surveillance of peaceful activists, politicians, and clergy in the easternmost province of Papua. This is part of a repressive policy that includes requiring foreign journalists and human rights groups to obtain official permission to travel to Papua. Bishop should publicly call for lifting these restrictions.

Bishop should raise the lack of protection mechanisms in Indonesia for asylum seekers and migrants, including unaccompanied children. Asylum seekers and migrant children are subject to arbitrary and indefinite detention in squalid conditions at Indonesian immigration facilities, where they face torture and other ill-treatment from guards. Even when asylum seekers are released – which can take over a year – they cannot legally work or move freely in the country and their children cannot go to school.

“If Australia really wants to address the influx of asylum seekers coming by boat, then it should help Indonesia develop its capacity to assess asylum claims and provide safe and humane conditions for refugees,” Pearson said.

In China, Bishop should publicly call on the administration of President Xi Jinping to enact major reforms to protect human rights. She should raise human rights issues alongside commercial and security concerns, especially in discussions with Foreign Minister Wang Yi at the Foreign and Strategic Dialogue. Acknowledgement of the scale and scope of human rights abuses by the Chinese government has been noticeably absent from Australia’s public diplomacy with China.

Bishop should specifically press for the release of political prisoners, including the Nobel Peace Laureate Liu Xiaobo, who is serving an 11-year-sentence for “incitement to subvert state power,” and an end to the unlawful house arrest of his wife, Liu Xia.

Although the two countries have an annual human rights dialogue, it is largely ineffective, lacking in transparency and benchmarks, while allowing human rights issues to be sidelined from high-level meetings. Bishop’s position should reflect the view that Australia’s long-term business interests in China depend on genuine rule of law and respect for fundamental human rights.

On Tibet, Australia’s Coalition government has said it will continue to push for “Chinese respect for Tibetan human rights.” Bishop should raise religious repression and ethnic discrimination that have fueled self-immolations to protest Chinese policies toward Tibet. Bishop should stress that counter-terrorism efforts should not justify ethnic repression and discrimination in Xinjiang or other areas of China.

“Having once-a-year chats with Chinese officials behind closed doors at a low level and with the wrong people does little or nothing to address large-scale human rights abuses in China,” Pearson said. “Bishop has spoken about being inspired by the Burmese Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. Jailed activists in China, including the Nobel winner Liu Xiaobo, also deserve her attention.”

Bishop’s visit to victims of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines should not ignore human rights concerns in the country. Australia’s close military ties with the Philippines put Bishop in a strong position in her meetings with Foreign Secretary Albert Rosario and other cabinet ministers to call for an end to security force impunity for extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances and torture.

She should also raise concerns about the impact on freedom of the media of the reported 10 killings of journalists in the past year, and the killings of a total of 24 media workers since President Benigno Aquino III took office in 2010.  

Bishop should raise with the Philippine government efforts to promote the rule of law and its stalled proposal to create a “superbody” to investigate and prosecute extrajudicial killings, one of the Aquino administration’s promised reforms to the criminal justice system.

“Bishop should be asking questions about the Philippines’ paralyzed criminal justice system that fails to prosecute the people responsible for killings and disappearances,” Pearson said.