Thursday, January 12, 2006

Indonesia we love you

It appears that John Howard is about to sign away any last chance that Schapelle Corby, Australia's true blue and much loved convicted drug smuggler, might have had at a final reprieve - however slim that chance might have been.

As reported in today's Age (and here and here too), the Prime Minister John Howard is set to sign a security treaty with Indonesia after lengthy discussion between Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer and his Indonesian counterpart, Hassan Wirajuda.

Corby herself - equal parts stuck up "model" and western suburbs bogan - doesn't concern me too much at all. But where the US's insistence on "liberating" Iraq by any means necessary is taking the idea of forced equality and democracy to disturbing extremes, this bowing down to Indonesia - who have yet to prove any real commitment to human rights beyond a few cursory gestures to their western counterparts - is the other extreme, and frankly just as worrying.

My rather liberal, to say the least, views on drug laws aside, it is now universally agreed among tolerant, progressive nations that a fifteen year sentence for posession of four kilograms of marijuana is punishment far in excess of the crime.

This is but one example however, brought to our attention only because of Ms Corby's photogenic nature and frenzied family (not to mention their slightly insane lawyer; it was all a little bit soap opera-ish, really).

Further examples abound though: human rights abuses by security forces and the Indonesia/Australia/East Timor oil debacle to cite just a couple. East Timor's subjugation at the hands of the Indonesian army (with, unsurprisingly, the backing of the US and muted support from Australia) has long been an issue, but succesfully avoided the Australian media for some twenty-five years. Now things are - at least slightly - on the mend, and even as the actualities of day-by-day events call for objectivity in an arena filled with moral posturing, it's difficult to forget the atrocities that Indonesia have committed in years past.

Certainly, smoothing relations with Indonesia, one of our closest and largest neighbours, is a fine and necessary goal, but when it comes - as this seems to - at the extent of human rights, the issue is much more complex. The fact that the rights at risk here are not those of Australians necessarily is not the point at all: taking a stance and standing up for the rights of people the world over is something that would do Australia, and the Howard Government, an enormous amount of credit. Moreover, it would be a moral stance that few other states have been willing to make, but much overdue and extremely worthy of praise.

Alas, we seem to be heading in the opposite direction.

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