Papuan and human rights defender Carmel Budiardjo dies at 96

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Human rights defender Carmel Budiardjo
Human rights defender Carmel Budiardjo ... many lives "touched - and sometimes transformed - by her passionate and determined campaigning for human rights, justice and democracy in Indonesia, East Timor, Aceh and West Papua". Image: TAPOL

Asia Pacific Report newsdesk

British and Indonesian human rights defender Carmel Budiardjo, founder of TAPOL watchdog and the movement’s driving force for many decades, has died peacefully aged 96.

TAPOL said in an announcement that she had died on Saturday and would be greatly missed by an extensive network of people whose lives had been “touched — and sometimes transformed — by her passionate and determined campaigning for human rights, justice and democracy in Indonesia, East Timor, Aceh and West Papua”.

For many, she had been a great mentor as well as a beloved friend, TAPOL said.

TAPOL stands for “tahanan politik” or “political prisoners” in Indonesian.

Budiardjo, a British citizen then living in Indonesia, was imprisoned without trial by Indonesian authorities following former President Suharto’s rise to power in 1965.

An Amnesty International prisoner of conscience, Budiardjo was released after three years’ imprisonment and she returned to the UK.

In 1973, she founded TAPOL to campaign for the release of the tens of thousands of political prisoners following the 1965 atrocities by the Suharto regime and in support of the relatives of the hundreds of thousands who were killed.

Raised awareness of atrocities
Budiardjo was determined to raise international awareness about those atrocities and injustices in which many Western countries, including the UK, were “complicit in their attempts to halt what they saw as the rise of communism”.

Over the next three decades, TAPOL’s work broadened to encompass wider issues of human rights, peace and democracy in Indonesia, including in Aceh, East Timor and the contested Melanesian territory of West Papua.

“Wherever possible, and despite the extreme repression of the New Order regime, we built close relationships and collaboration with the very brave human rights defenders and pro-democracy campaigners there,” said TAPOL.

In 1995, Budiardjo received the Right Livelihood Award, after being nominated by the International Federation for East Timor.

With awareness growing also of the environmental damage being wrought by the regime on nature and local communities, in 1988 Budiardjo helped set up a sister organisation, Down to Earth, to fight for ecological justice.

Later, in 2007, Budiardjo and TAPOL were also founder members of the London Mining Network, established to support communities harmed by London-based mining companies.

“As Indonesia became more democratic during the 2000s, we increasingly turned our attention to the region of West Papua. There, human rights violations have continued, largely out-of-sight and un-discussed within Indonesia as well as internationally,” said TAPOL.

John Rumbiak Award
For TAPOL’s international work on West Papua, Budiardjo also received the John Rumbiak Human Rights Defender Award and was honoured as an “Eldest Daughter of Papua” by leaders of West Papuan civil society in 2011.

TAPOL is still today very much as Budiardjo set it up — a small organisation/network of committed staff, volunteers and collaborators, all aiming for a big impact.

“We remain committed to her ideals of promoting justice and equality across Indonesia, and are deeply grateful for all that she contributed and taught us,” the TAPOL statement said.

“Our thoughts and sincere condolences for this huge, sad loss go to Carmel’s family in particular, but also to all those across the globe who knew and loved her.”

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