Pacific Scoop

West Papua massacre: Sydney University ‘tribunal’ demands Biak slaughter probe

Journeyman Pictures report in 2007 on the Biak massacre in 1998.

Pacific Scoop:
Report – By Matt Peacock of ABC News

Indonesia is facing calls to investigate the killing, raping, and torture of more than 150 civilians on the West Papuan island of Biak 15 years ago.

A Sydney University citizen’s tribunal presided over by former NSW Attorney-General John Dowd, now the president of the International Commission of Jurists, today found that “large numbers” of West Papuans had been tortured and mutilated.

The tribunal urged Indonesia to bring those responsible for the “crimes against humanity” to justice.

It is estimated more than 150 people were killed and their bodies dumped at sea after a West Papuan protest which raised the banned West Papuan Morning Star in Biak in June, 1998.

Indonesia has never admitted the massacre, claiming only one person was killed, and blaming the bodies washed ashore on a subsequent tsunami.

The action was strongly supported by the then-head of Indonesia’s military, General Wiranto.

‘I saw many killed’
Yudha Korwa, who was 17 at the time of the massacre, was at the protest with a friend.

He has since been granted political asylum after escaping to Australia on a wooden boat six years ago.

“I saw so many people getting killed by the military. I saw little boy killed, old people, pregnant women and the little girl,” he said.

“One of the army hit me with a gun and my face filled with blood and I was really sacred so I pretend to die. [I heard] people yelling ‘Help me, help me’.”

His skull cracked and stabbed, Korwa was one of the few to escape. He limped away and hid for two days in a road culvert.

UNSW anthropologist Dr Eben Kirksey was a young American undergraduate then passing through Biak.

“As everyone was singing the troops started shooting into the crowds and in those initial moments people were mowed down, started falling – others started running,” he said.

“The people who survived were herded onto the harbour and as they were put on ships they could see the dead and dying from initial assault were being loaded onto trucks.”

Woman raped
Earlier this year at the University of Sydney, a citizen’s tribunal took evidence of what happened at Biak 15 years ago.

Testifying for the first time, Tineke Rumakabu said she saw her friend beheaded. She herself was tortured horribly.

Former NSW crown prosecutor Nicholas Cowdery was Counsel Assisting at the tribunal.

“She was burnt, she was mutilated – genitally mutilated – raped, treated in the most brutal and degrading fashion by Indonesian police,” he said of Rumakabu.

Cowdery said a special prosecutor should conduct investigations in Indonesia.

“There is the opportunity for Indonesians to provide compensation to people.”

Tribunal calls for action and says Australia should demand answers

Military crackdown
A few months later Indonesia launched a military crackdown in East Timor – one that ultimately failed, despite similar proven atrocities against unarmed civilians.

But while world attention focused on East Timor, the Biak attack was never investigated.

The tribunal has now called on Indonesia to do just that.

“The specific mutilations of the females was a specific terror policy. It’s hard to believe human beings can behave like these soldiers,” Dowd said.

“We want those that are responsible to be brought to justice.

‘Pay a penalty’
“We want an investigation, we want criminal prosecutions, and we want people to pay a penalty for what they did to these wonderful people.

“There are investigations that can be conducted by an independent judicial body in Indonesia.

Indonesia has refused to comment on the citizen’s tribunal, which has also called on Australia take action.

“The Australian Government has a duty to the people who died and their families to expose what happened to stop it happening again,” Dowd said.

ABC News report, video and other links