World Video | Defence | Foreign Affairs | Natural Events | Trade | NZ in World News | NZ National News Video | NZ Regional News | Search


West Papuans tortured, killed and dumped at sea

West 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.


© Scoop Media

World Headlines


Julie Webb-Pullman: Palestinian National Unity Government

A national unity government. Elections. A new-look PLO. Community reconciliation. Big hopes, even bigger expectations as representatives of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) and Hamas came to an agreement in Gaza today to form a national unity government and hold elections. More>>


Whaling: Japan’s Institute for Cetacean Research In Defiance Of World Court Ruling

The ICR Today Filed Court Briefs Stating They Intend to Return to Antarctica to Hunt Whales in 2015-2016; Will Seek to Enjoin Other Sea Shepherd Entities from Obstructing Their Operations More>>

Ukraine: UN Urges 'Maximum Restraint' Amid Situation In East Ukraine

Deeply concerned by the deteriorating situation in eastern Ukraine, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has called for maximum restraint and appealed to all sides to work towards calming the situation, which has the 'growing potential' to ... More>>

United Nations: Children Can Now Lodge Complaints With The UN

GENEVA (14 April 2014) – United Nations child rights experts have hailed a new treaty that allows children to complain directly to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child about alleged violations of their rights. More>>

India: Election But A Ritual In Nation Lacking Rule Of Law

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) congratulates the people of India for their participation to elect the 16th Lok Sabha. The process has attracted, as usual, considerable media attention across the world. Media claims the process to be 'the largest democratic ... More>>

Solomon Islands: Thousands Remain Affected After Flash Floods

An estimated 52,000 people remain affected in the worst-hit areas of Honiara and greater Guadalcanal following last week’s devastating floods which killed at least 23 people. More>>


World: Some 437,000 People Murdered Worldwide In 2012 - UN

Almost half a million people across the world lost their lives in 2012 as a result of intentional homicide, with the highest murder rates logged in the Americas and Africa, and the lowest in Europe, Asia and Oceania, the United Nations Office on ... More>>

Central African Republic:: Security Council Establishes UN Peacekeeping Mission

Deeply concerned about the deteriorating security situation and ongoing human rights abuses in the Central African Republic (CAR), the Security Council today approved the establishment of a nearly 12,000-strong United Nations peacekeeping operation ... More>>


Parliament: NZ Sending Aid Flight To Solomons

Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully has announced further support for the response to severe flooding in Solomon Islands. More>>


Get More From Scoop

Search Scoop  
Powered by Vodafone
NZ independent news