The following is not necessarily entirely representative of all members of 'Journey of Peace'. For this to be the case it would have had to be written as a group process.
The energy of defiance filled within me as nine of us peacefully trespassed into the Canungra Land Warfare Centre (C.L.W.C) to the haunting sounds of 'Ko Lele Mai' (a traditional East Timorese song) filling the air. The nonviolent action drew attention to the Australian military's complicity in the repeated human rights abuses perpetrated against the people of Indonesia, East Timor, West Papua and Bougainville through the training and arming of Indonesian and Papuan New Guinean soldiers. Some of the seventy plus people present had walked the seventy-four kilometres to Canungra over four days. After a day in Canungra town and a lively night of dancing and music we meet the rest of the protesters. Together we walked the last two kilometres to the base where the demonstration continued.
We were arrested by police shortly after entering the base, as we attempted to establish an office for conscientious objection inside the School of Military Intelligence (part of the C.L.W.C). The action was designed to build public resistance to the training and arming of Indonesian and Papuan New Guinean soldiers. We also acted, in the face of consistent Government betrayal of the East Timorese, to personally uphold Australia's World War Two promise not to forget the East Timorese.
The day of the demonstration, August 17, marked the fifty-second anniversary of Indonesian independence. The same right of independence enjoyed by Indonesia has not been extended to the people of East Timor and West Papua nor is the right of democracy enjoyed by the people of Indonesia.
We made three demands.
1. That the Australian Defence Forces stop training and arming Indonesian and Papuan New Guinean defence forces.
2. That the Australian Defence Forces release the names and unit and battalion numbers of all Indonesian and Papuan New Guinean defence forces trained in Australia.
3. That the Australian Government and Defence Force honours the World War Two promise not to forget the people of East Timor.
East Timor was invaded by Indonesian in 1975. The invasion and continual occupation has resulted in the death of over 200,000 East Timorese (roughly one-third of the population). East Timorese die from starvation, denial of medical aid, torture and actual killing1. Successive Australian governments have betrayed the East Timorese and kicked them while they're down, despite promising never to forget them. This promise was made to the people of East Timor in 1943 by Australian commandos on behalf of all Australians and government of the day. Some 40,000 East Timorese died defending Australia and the commandos against the Japanese.
In West Papua (renamed Irian Jaya by the Indonesians) for over thirty years the Indigenous peoples have been subjected to increasing repression from the military and systematic exploitation of their tribal lands, rivers and forests. Amnesty International reports even the simple act of peacefully raising the 'Morning Star', the West Papuan flag, can result in life imprisonment2 with a high possibility of torture or even death whilst in detention3. Throughout the rest of Indonesia pro-democracy activists, farmers, unionists and religious activists also face a harsh campaign of detention, torture and harassment by the military-backed Indonesian government4. In Bougainville the war continues to rage as Bougainvilleans struggle to strengthen their communities, meet basic needs and resist the violence, especially from the Australian trained and armed Papuan New Guinean Defence Force (PNGDF)5.
Australian Military training of the Indonesian Military and PNGDF6
In Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, Australia is directly implicated in the violence against our neighbours through our military and economic support of Indonesian and Papuan New Guinean elites. The real role of the Australian, Indonesian and Papuan New Guinean military is to protect elite's mining interests in the Timor Sea, West Papua and Bougainville and corporate interests in Indonesia.
Australia has trained over half the PNGDF and also supplied arms and helicopters. Australia also trains the Indonesian military including notorious Kopassus and Rajawali, Morok, SGI and other units and battalions consistently documented by Amnesty International as having committed horrific human rights abuses against their own people but in particular against the people of East Timor whose resistance continues to grow in strength.
Along with the Land Command Battle School at Tully (in Far North Queensland) and the Special Air Service (SAS) regiment in Swanbourne, Western Australia, the C.L.W.C. trains the largest number of Indonesian troops in Australia. Australia is also increasingly committed to training Indonesian troops inside Indonesia. As the United States of America pulled back from their defence commitment to Indonesia after the public outrage over the Dili massacre in 1991 Australia stepped in to help fill the gap. This military cooperation was formalised by the secret Indonesian/Australian security treaty made public in 1995. Much of the detail of the nature of training and those Indonesian and Papuan New Guinean soldiers participating in training is protected by official secrecy.
The suffering of the people of Indonesia, East Timor, West Papua and Bougainville caused by Australia's training and arming of Indonesian and Papuan New Guinean troops is immeasurable in its breadth and depth of pain. For those Australians who are trying to come to terms with our complicity in the suffering of our neighbours, the sadness, guilt, rage and pain we feel is also deep.
An Experiment in Nonviolence
From the beginning our action was an intentional experiment in the principles and dynamics of nonviolence. The group's name, Journey of Peace, reflected our desire to integrate the longing for peace in our region with a peaceful process. As Gandhi observed, "If we take care of the means, we are bound to reach the end sooner or later"7.
When enough people withdraw their consent and cooperation from Australian Government aided repression of people in East Timor, West Papua, Indonesia and Bougainville the policy will become unworkable. This withdrawal of consent and cooperation will occur not only through protest but more importantly through a large groundswell of people committing acts of noncooperation and nonviolent intervention designed to undermine the sources of Government and corporate power to bring about change. By doing so we assert our selves as 'policy makers' for a nonviolent future.
The campaign reflected may of the components of nonviolent action; research, preparation and planning, education and awareness raising, negotiation, liaising, fund raising and peacekeeping. Given the seemingly intractable nature of the conflict in our region, especially in East Timor and Bougainville, we are aware that a nonviolent resolution of the conflict necessitates a commitment to a long struggle. As we walk this path of solidarity I sense that it is vital that we find ways to work on our feelings of urgency and despair.
As part of our commitment to nonviolence and feminism we sought to balance the political and personal by operating without a hierarchy, listening to each others' feelings, sharing various roles (such as facilitation and minute taking) and encouraging and supporting each other in the development of new skills. This process included nonviolence and group dynamics workshops, peacekeeping training and working on the political value and personal costs of being arrested and all the fears, concerns and feelings around this. The reason for attention to a peaceful process is that we wanted to not only undermine the structural violence (represented by the training) but we also wanted to build a peaceful community (and by extension contribute to a more peaceful world), which means not only becoming more peaceful, but also more fearless and disciplined.
Police and Military Liaison
The entire planning of the campaign is done openly, including liaising with the police and the military. The power and effectiveness of this continues to be felt. The reasons for police liaison are many and well documented8. I will only reflect on a few of the reasons we did police and military liaison and some of the resulting learnings.
In relation to the police not only did we feel we helped deal with our stereotypes of police (and no doubt helped the police deal with their stereotypes of activists) we built a relationship with them that created space for some good discussion around the issues of training. Some police even expressed support for the cause, thus undermining (over time) one source of power available to the State (and therefore military).
Tactical police liaison also reduced chances of a breakdown in police discipline and lead to a very relaxed interaction between police and activists on the day. In turn our commitment to nonviolence was demonstrated by disciplined activists, chances to work through fear around arrest and possible violence, a set of nonviolent agreements and peace keepers on the day. Our commitment to nonviolence helped keep the focus on the issue - the injustice of Australia's military support of Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, and focus our outrage in politically effective ways. As a result the action had a powerful, friendly and cooperative atmosphere. I remember joking with the officer in charge on the day that we would counter the police contingent of officers from the Public Safety Response Team (PSRT) with our highly trained members of the Forward Scout BBQ Team (FSBT)! The action built trust and will help the planning and execution of future campaigns.
The liaison collective also meet with military officers from the C.L.W.C. There are two things about our experience of military liaison that I particularly want to share. Firstly, I believe, that vast majority of those in the Australian military (and certainly the officers we spoke to) genuinely want peace in places like East Timor and sincerely feel that the training of Indonesian soldiers is an effective and realistic way to achieve this. Secondly, the three officers we met (a commandant and two majors) listened attentively to our concerns and had a deep and obvious humanity about them. All three had served terms with United Nations peacekeeping missions.
Upon reflection this has revealed to me on the level of felt knowledge what I know in my head... That our struggle is not against people (whether they be soldiers or prime ministers) but it is to transform oppressive structures. Even "good" can be captivated and perverted by these structures. On a deeper level I also realise that in relation to Australia's military support of the oppression of the people of East Timor, Indonesia, West Papua and Bougainville, nonviolent struggle is absolutely essential for two main reasons.
Firstly, given the historical and moral debt Australia has to East Timor and the deep feelings of wanting to honour the promise "not to forget the East Timorese" made by the 2nd/2nd and 2nd/4th company's in 1943 there is great support within the military for freedom in East Timor (not to mention a great deal of guilt, denial and shame!). With this is a tremendous opportunity to persuade and nonviolently coerce large numbers of soldiers to withdraw their cooperation with Australia's current defence policy with Indonesia, therefore making such a policy completely unworkable.
Secondly, I realise (perhaps grudgingly!) that even soldiers hold some truth about the causes and solutions to the conflict in Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. To act violently in thought or deed is to deny this reality and consequently dehumanise our opponent.
Of course, it will be no surprise to any of you that I was absolutely terrified about meeting the military and felt drained, saddened, angry and confused for hours and days afterwards. The meeting brought back all my irrational and rational fears and childhood memories of authority and punishment. I also got in touch with many of my deep feelings about the consequences of the training for the people of East Timor, West Papua, Indonesia and Bougainville. Fortunately I was able to share these feelings before and after with people from the group.
Our Political Objective and Strategic Goal
The political objective of the action was to set up an office for conscientious objection inside the School of Military Intelligence. Strategically, however our goals were threefold and were not dependent on the success of setting-up the office for conscientious objection.
Firstly, we want to encourage soldiers not to train and arm the Papuan New Guinean and Indonesian military. The training and arming of the Papuan New Guinean and Indonesian military will only stop when individual soldiers refuse to train and arm these troops, regardless of whether that becomes official government policy or not. Consequently, we want to increase the levels of conflict between the role Australian soldiers are ordered to play and their basic humanity which says Australian military cooperation with Indonesia and Papuan New Guinea is wrong!
Given that successive Labour and Liberal governments have ordered that the Australian military helps repress our neighbours through training and arming, conscientious objection to these orders is a moral duty that needs to be passionately advocated. Several courageous members of the PNGDF (including Brigadier Singarook - a former instructor at the C.L.W.C) have already taken this stance in relation to Bougainville. The office for conscientious objection was a small step in the journey to support and encourage Australian soldiers to find the courage and conscience to do the same.
Our second strategic goal is to draw people into a principled and strategic campaign to end Australia's role in the oppression of our neighbours that is not only inspiring and truthful but is also empowering and fun.
Finally and related to the second goal, we seek to inspire disciplined activists to consider arrest and possibly jail as legitimate and honourable ways of sharing the burden of struggle with our neighbours. By willingly accepting the consequences of nonviolent action we hope to move those currently engaged in supporting the oppression of our neighbours to disengage them from their roles. Our method is the liberating way of voluntary suffering for the liberation of all.
Through careful planning and preparation we communicated (despite the need to be clearer and more explicit in the future) these strategic goals even though we failed to achieve our political objective.
The action had several parts. Awareness raising and spiritual preparation for direct action, persuasion, celebration, protest, encouraging noncooperation, nonviolent action and finally a BBQ in the park!
Awareness raising and spiritual preparation
We walked seventy-four kilometres over four days for several reasons but primarily to meditate on peace and act in solidarity with the victims of war-dead and suffering as a result of (direct and indirect) Australian military support. As we walked we shared our painful realisations of our complicity in the wars of our region and prayed that we may find the love and courage necessary to make the practical turnings towards compassion and connectedness leading to action to stop our military cooperation with Indonesia and Papua New Guinea.
Each night after the walkers and support crew had eaten and relaxed somewhat we lit a candle and reflected on the day. We prayed, listened to one another and drew strength from reading and reflecting on stories from the deep and rich history of nonviolence. The spirit of nonviolence we invoked created a peaceful community that stood in stark contrast to the destruction of community caused by the terror and violence in places like East Timor, Indonesia, West Papua and Bougainville.
The support from locals whose houses we stayed in, people who cooked, drove and transported gear was incredible! The support extended not only the feeling of community and solidarity but also drew more people into the campaign.
Persuasion - of a sort!
Saturday August 16 was a chance to listen to the feelings and concerns of those in Canungra town. The listening post was an attempt to listen to and build non threatening relationships with those supportive, undecided, uninterested and hostile. It was an experiment in the gentle art of persuasion and conversion through listening.
Live music and dancing at the Canungra town hall on Saturday night was a wonderful opportunity to celebrate the inevitable liberation of East Timor, West Papua and Bougainville and democracy for Indonesia! For a town that doesn't get a huge amount of entertainment it provided a great chance for people to have fun and for activists and locals to interact. A great night was had by all! The son of an army officer based at the C.L.W.C came along and was supportive. Two locals also got up and jammed the blues with the bands!
The following day we gathered at the war memorial park in the centre of town. After a peace keepers' briefing, welcome and song we prepared for a silent two kilometre protest march to the main gates of the base. We carried a variety of banners and placards clearly communicating our message. The protest continued outside the base with speeches and the laying of thirty crosses in memory of those killed in the conflict in East Timor, West Papua, Indonesia and Bougainville. People then wrote their demands on the back of the cards printed with a copy of the leaflet dropped in East Timor in 1943 thanking the people and promising never to forget them. (These same commandos regrouped at the C.L.W.C after their tour of duty in East Timor). The cards were then tied onto the perimeter fence of the C.L.W.C.
We then explained the need for noncooperation by Australian soldiers symbolised by the office for conscientious objection.
People signed a pledge to support soldiers and their families who (will) resist. The office for conscientious objection is the beginning of a long road towards encouraging Australian soldiers to resist the orders to train and arm military forces with proven human rights records. Noncooperation with orders to train and arm the Indonesian and Papuan New Guinean military by the Australian Defence Force will go a long way to resolve the conflict in our region.
Certainly throughout history, soldiers of conscience have played vital roles towards stopping war through acts of noncooperation. Although little known, there are many cases soldiers have been at the forefront of courageous and inspiring nonviolent action. The dream of noncooperation with the training of Indonesian and Papuan New Guinean troops by the Australian Defence Forces may not be as far fetched as it sounds!
After all those who were about to cross into the base to establish the office for conscientious objection explained why they felt it was necessary to break the law everyone started singing 'Ko Lele Mai' and we prepared to 'cross the line'. By trespassing onto the base and attempting to physically occupy the School of Military Intelligence we directly intervened in the training and arming of Indonesian and Papuan New Guinean troops. The police officers present came forward as we made our way onto the base and gently lead us away. A vast contrast to the way activists are treated in places like East Timor!
As more people become aware of Australia's military role in the repression of the people of East Timor, West Papua, Indonesia and Bougainville, we hope more and more people engage in more direct and powerful nonviolent intervention to help transform the violence against our neighbours into peace.
The day wound up back at the park in town with food, drink and conversation as those arrested joined the celebration after being processed at the police station, just around the corner.
The media present indicated that the action was creative, moving and definitely newsworthy. Many of the journalists were impressed by our openness and discipline and some expressed a willingness to go over the line with us! We received good coverage in the print media, by seven papers with several in-depth stories and follow ups by two local papers. Local and national radio did interviews including one with Radio National from the back of a paddy wagon! T.V coverage was a little disappointing. However, two stations covered the action, one giving good coverage and a third film crew flew up from interstate to film the action for a coming documentary on defence cooperation. Local, national and even international media has expressed interest in future actions we do. We were also incredibly fortunate to have the Saturday and Sunday events filmed by a great group of QUT film students who became an integral part of the group itself.
Feedback since the action has confirmed that the action had tremendous power. All those we have spoken to felt deeply moved and expressed a desire to come along again. Our openness, frankness and obvious relationships with the police and military earned the respect of many. Given the planning and notice I think more activists can be expected next time. The action was creative and empowering and there is no doubt those of us involved in organising the action have learned a great deal about the power and potential of nonviolence. We learnt a lot about how to communicate through the media.
There is tension as to whether the action was merely symbolic or whether we did actually intervene in the training. A source of some of this tension is related to a lack of clarity about how nonviolence works, aggravated by the gap between theory and practice many of us feel. This issue is heightened by the cultural distance between ourselves and soldiers.
Although it is difficult to measure the success and effectiveness of the action some things are certain. The action inspired and empowered those involved, drew more people into the struggle, built relationships with the police and military (over time undermining their willingness to support the training) and raised awareness in the local area about the effect of military training at the C.L.W.C. on the people of East Timor, West Papua, Indonesia and Bougainville. There is no doubt that through the police, townsfolk and newspapers the action is a talking point with soldiers and civilians working at the base.
What has become clear is the need for more research so that we can engage in actions that directly intervene in the training and arming of Indonesian and Papuan New Guinean troops. Whether our actions are symbolic or direct they need to come from a deep heart connection with the people of East Timor, West Papua, Indonesia and Bougainville and be guided by a deep recognition of the humanity of our opponent. Certainly for nonviolence to work nonviolent actions need to part of a strategic and protracted struggle with the twin aims of disengaging key actors supporting the oppression of our neighbours and drawing more people into an active campaign.
For the time being we look forward to making real nonviolent nuisances of ourselves! Journey of Peace is supporting the coming nonviolent action at the C.L.W.C. on December 6th and 7th organised by a network of Brisbane solidarity groups. Given the seemingly intractable nature of the conflict in our region, especially in East Timor and Bougainville, we are aware a peaceful and just resolution of conflict necessitates a commitment to the long haul. Our success, however, need only be limited by our imagination, love, truthfulness, willingness to accept the consequences of nonviolent action and protracted strategic struggle.
1. Continuing Human Rights Abuses in East Timor, 1996, East Timor Human Rights Centre, Collingwood, Australia.
2. Power and Impunity: Human Rights under the New Order, 1994, Amnesty International.
3. Just this year Amnesty International reported that the nonviolent activist, Dr Thomas Wainggai, jailed for life in 1989 died in detention in Java. When his body was returned to West Papua several demonstrators morning his death were arrested.
4. Power and Impunity: Human Rights Abuses under the New Order, 1994, Amnesty International.
5. Human Rights violations have been widely documented by Amnesty International, Independent observers and the Christian Church.
6. See Stop Arming Indonesia a recent booklet put out by Australian Campaign Against the Arms Trade and Campaign against Militarism (Perth), Reports from the East Timor Human Rights Centre - Collingwood and Senate Hansard 4th December 1996.
7. Mohandas Gandhi, Satyagraha (Ahmedabad: Navajivan Publishing House, 1951) pg 42.
8. In particular see Articles by Robert Burrowes in Nonviolence Today # 37 March/April 1994 pg 10-12 and # 40 September/October 1994 pg 17-18.