Pacific Scoop

West Papuans tortured, killed and dumped at sea

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Witnesses to the ‘Biak massacre’ in 1998 tell of alleged atrocities by Indonesian security forcesWest Papuans tortured, killed and dumped at sea, citizens’ tribunal hears
Witnesses to the ‘Biak massacre’ in 1998 tell of alleged atrocities by Indonesian security forces

Friday 13 December 2013 17.38 EST
Marni Cordell

Scores of unarmed civilians were tortured and killed and their bodies dumped at sea in a massacre by Indonesian security forces in West Papua 15 years ago, a “citizens’ tribunal” held in Sydney has found.

On 6 July 1998, West Papuans demonstrating for independence on the island of Biak were murdered in a co-ordinated attack by the Indonesian military and police and a large number were detained, according to the findings of the Biak Massacre Citizens’ Tribunal.

Many of those in custody were subsequently raped and mutilated in horrific circumstances and the security personnel responsible for the attack have never been held accountable, the tribunal heard.

The citizens’ tribunal was held this year at the University of Sydney on the 15th anniversary of the incident. The event was conducted in the manner of a coroner’s inquest before presiding jurists John Dowd and Keith Suter, with former NSW director of public prosecutions Nick Cowdery as counsel assisting.

The co-ordinator of the event, Jim Elmslie, said much of the testimony heard by the tribunal was “incredibly shocking”.

“The viciousness with which [the attack] was carried out has left me shocked. And it’s clear that it’s not just one sick person doing this, it’s a system,” he said.

The alleged incident occurred several days after the raising of the banned morning star flag by West Papuan political prisoner Filep Karma, which was attended by dozens of demonstrators. The attack was well planned by Indonesian security forces and local and regional officials were also involved, the tribunal heard.

One anonymous witness told the hearing: “The army and police were everywhere. Bullets were raining down. The sky was on fire. We could hear them shooting people.”

Another testified via video: “My family and others were directed down to the harbour … We followed the other families with our hands up over our heads. You could feel the bullets starting to fly over our heads … I could see so many children who had been killed. They were shot on the wharf. They died right there.”

Navy ships were used to dump the bodies at sea, the tribunal heard. Ferry Marisan, the director of the human rights organisation Elsham Papua, told the hearing that fishermen later found the bodies offshore.

“The bodies were mutilated. Some of them lost their legs or their genitals were not there,” he said.

Other witnesses told of being tortured and sexually abused in custody in the days and weeks following the attack.

One victim described being stripped naked in a room with other women and girls.

“Then I saw a man [a soldier] showing me a little knife, the one that you use to shave, and he said ‘we are going to use this to cut off your vagina, from above and below and from the left to the right’. A lit candle was penetrated inside me, they cut off my clitoris and they raped me.

“I saw a little girl and they raped her and she died,” she told the tribunal.

Out of the 12 women in detention “eight women were killed and four of us stayed alive”, she said.

Elmslie told Guardian Australia the purpose of the tribunal was to create an official record of the atrocity.

“The Biak massacre is widely known in anecdotal terms in West Papua as being a really severe event but it’s not acknowledged officially at all – certainly not by the Indonesian government,” he said.

“It’s rare that a situation in West Papua is definitively investigated – you often have lots of rumours or just stories that can be denied. We thought if we could establish, to a large degree of accuracy, the details of one event, it would be powerful and useful.

“By exposing that one event you expose the broader pattern of Indonesian occupation,” he said.

The tribunal found that the Indonesian government had attempted to play down the seriousness of the actions of the Indonesian security forces in Biak and had not punished those responsible.

It recommended that the Indonesian government be presented with the evidence and findings of the tribunal, that an investigation into the massacre be carried out by an independent prosecutor and that “criminal proceedings be instituted against such persons as may be found to have committed crimes and crimes against humanity”.

The Australian government, which is “responsible for training military and naval officers of Indonesia”, should also be provided with the evidence before the tribunal and should “pressure the government of Indonesia to commence appropriate investigations and criminal proceedings”, the report notes.

Dowd told Guardian Australia that this was the first time to his knowledge that such an event had been held in Australia and that while a citizens’ tribunal had no legal power “it’s a very useful vehicle to make sure these issues are not hidden under a carpet”.

“The publicity of things like this makes it less likely that this sort of thing will happen again. We can’t undo the atrocity that occurred, but it sends a message to [the Indonesian] government … that they may not do it again.”

The tribunal was hosted by the Centre for Peace Conflict Studies at the University of Sydney.

Guardian Australia has seen a copy of the tribunal’s findings, which will be released on Monday.


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