Gepubliceerd op: do, mei 8th, 2014

West Papuan ‘massacre’: investigating lawyers ask what Australia knew

Nick Cowdery says it is difficult to believe news of a well-planned attack was not picked up by defence intelligence beforehand


Two high-profile lawyers involved in a “citizens’ tribunal” that found Indonesian security forces tortured and killed unarmed civilians in West Papua 15 years ago have questioned what the Australian government knew about the incident.

Scores of people on the West Papuan island of Biak were killed, mutilated and tortured by Indonesian security personnel on 6 July, 1998, the Biak Massacre Citizens Tribunal found this week.

Free West Papua Campaign Protest outside Indonesian Embassy in London

A protest outside the Indonesian embassy in London this month as part of a global day of action for West Papua. Photograph: Ik Aldama/Demotix/Corbis

The former NSW director of public prosecutions Nick Cowdery, who acted as counsel assisting to the Sydney tribunal, said it was difficult to believe that news of a well-planned attack had not reached Australia via defence intelligence in the days beforehand.

The tribunal found the Indonesian military had co-ordinated with the police, navy, and local and regional officials to plan a violent rampage against demonstrators for West Papuan independence.

“This was not something that suddenly happened on one day, it was something that built over a period of days,” Cowdery said at the launch of the tribunal’s findings on Monday night.

“It’s impossible to think that the [planning of the attack] was not more widely known at that time.”

The Australian president of the International Commission of Jurists, John Dowd, who was presiding jurist at the tribunal, said it was clear from a previous investigation into the deaths of five journalists at Balibo in East Timor in 1975 that Australian intelligence had long monitored communications of the Indonesian military.

In his role at the ICJ, Dowd was part of the investigation that led to an Australian coronial inquest into the deaths of the Balibo five.

“We know from our investigation into the Balibo deaths that the Australian Signals Directorate were listening in,” he said.

Dowd said evidence heard at the tribunal from victims of mutilation was some of the most horrific testimony he had encountered in his career.

Cowdery said: “People were murdered in cold blood, scores of them, if not hundreds.

“[The victims] have been living with it for 15 years. Their families have been torn apart, their society has been torn apart.”

The tribunal is demanding that Indonesia undertakes an independent investigation and prosecute those responsible.

Dowd said the findings would be formally presented to the Indonesian ambassador to Australia and to the Abbott government.

A spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade declined to say whether the Australian government had known the Indonesian military was planning an attack.

“When the Australian government became aware of the reports of violence in Biak on 6 July, 1998, we raised our concerns directly with the Indonesian government. This included high-level representations by then foreign minister Downer during his visit to Jakarta on 8-10 July 1998, with then Indonesian foreign minister [Mr Alatas] and then commander of the Indonesian armed forces [General Wiranto],” the spokesperson said.

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West Papuan ‘massacre’: investigating lawyers ask what Australia knew