Activists call for Biak massacre to be raised with Indonesia at Pacific Islands Forum

July 11, 2022
West Papua protest
West Papuan women protesting the creation of new provinces in Manokwari on International Women's Day this year. Photo: VeronicaKoman/Twitter

Indonesian security forces massacred scores of people in Biak, West Papua, 24 years ago on July 6, 1998. The victims included women and children who had gathered for a peaceful rally. They were killed at the base of a water tower flying the West Papuan Morning Star flag.

The flag was raised above the water tower near Biak’s harbour on July 2. Activists and local people gathered beneath it, singing songs and holding traditional dances. As the rally continued, many more people in the area joined in and numbers swelled to 500.

Security forces attacked the demonstrators a few days later, massacring scores of people. Others were rounded up and later taken out to sea where they were thrown off naval ships and drowned. No Indonesian security force member has been charged or brought to justice for the human rights abuses committed against the peaceful demonstrators.

According to the Papuan Institute for Human Rights Studies and Advocacy (Elsham Papua) eight people died, three went missing, four were severely injured, 33 mildly injured, and 150 people arrested and persecuted during the Biak massacre. Elsham Papua also reported that 32 bodies were found in the Biak waters around that time.

Elsham Papua also reported that the Australian government knew of the massacre, but failed to condemn the Indonesian military. Shortly after the massacre, Australian military attaché and intelligence officer, Dan Weadon, visited Biak from Jakarta, where he was stationed at the Australian embassy.

Weadon was handed photographic evidence by West Papuans on Biak, according to the report. The photos were distributed to his superiors within the department of defence, but never saw the light of day. New evidence obtained under Freedom of Information suggests they have since been destroyed by the defence department, despite consistent calls for a proper investigation into the atrocity.

Australian West Papua Association’s (AWPA) Joe Collins said: "It’s tragic that the Australian government helped cover up a massacre in West Papua and even now are still reluctant to raise the issue of human rights abuses in West Papua with Jakarta. The message for West Papuans is that they will not receive much support from Canberra in their struggle for justice under Indonesian rule, at this stage. This is not to take away from the many individual parliamentarians and Senators who do raise concern about the human rights situation in the territory.”

The 51st Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) is being held in Fiji from July 11‒14. West Papua is on the PIF agenda and AWPA hopes the abuses in West Papua will be raised with Indonesia — a forum dialogue partner.

Collins said: “The situation in West Papua continues to deteriorate with ongoing armed clashes between the Indonesian security forces and the West Papua National Liberation Army. The security forces have cracked down on peaceful demonstrations against the decision to create three new provinces in the territory, arresting and beating many of the demonstrators. The decision to create more provinces is a divide and rule tactic by Jakarta. More provinces mean more security forces and will only lead to more human rights abuses.

“There are also large numbers of internal refugees created by the military operations in Nduga and the Maybrat Regency over the past years.”

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