Allegations of Papuan atrocities likely to be 'stonewalled'

Papuan protesters raise their fists and chant slogans during a protest in Jakarta, 2006 (AAP)

A report that claims Australian helicopters were used by Indonesia in a 1970s operation that killed more than 4,000 Papuans looks set to be dismissed by Jakarta, reports Kate Lamb.

Allegations of genocide, rape and napalm bombs dropped on the restive province of West Papua in the late 1970s are likely to be ‘stonewalled’ by the Indonesian government, analysts say.

According to an extensive report released by the Asian Human Rights Commission this week, thousands of West Papuans were killed in aerial raids, including by cluster bombs and napalm, in a bid to quell sectarian tensions following the national elections in 1977.

The report also states that two helicopters supplied by Australia were used during the military operations.


Following the release of the report – The Neglected Genocide: Human rights abuses against Papuans in the Central Highlands, 1977-1978Indonesian analysts say they are doubtful the claims will ever be investigated.

“No one in the government is going to say, ‘Hey maybe that is true and we need to investigate,’ says Yohanes Sulaiman, a lecturer at the Indonesian National Defense University in Jakarta.

“I mean, no way, that’s not going to happen,” he adds.

Andreas Harsono, a researcher at the Indonesian branch of Human Rights Watch reluctantly agrees. “I expect the Indonesian government will stonewall it or try to ignore it,” he says, “Or they will make promises, but again never follow through.”

Indonesia declared sovereignty over the resource-rich province of West Papua after a contentious United Nations referendum in 1969. Separatist movements have ensued since and the Indonesian government has sought to closely guard its easternmost territory.

The government, postures Harsono, has failed to take rights abuses in Papua seriously, and allegations of genocide, and napalm bombing, are nothing new.

Based on historical records, field research and the testimonies of survivors in 15 affected communities, the AHRC identified 4,146 victims of the killings but said the total number of victims who died from torture, disease and hunger as a result of the violence could total 10,000.

Developed over three years, the report says that bombings and ‘indiscriminate shootings’ also occurred alongside ‘unspeakable atrocities’ such as villagers being slashed with razors, forced to have sex in public as well as being buried, boiled and burnt alive.

Despite allegations of widespread human rights abuses, the Indonesian government has never recognized that mass killings and atrocities were committed by the Indonesian military in the late 1970s. 

In modern day Indonesia, West Papuan independence remains a politically sensitive issue. Separatists are jailed for flying the independence flag and foreign journalists are restricted access to the province, where military and intelligence officers have a strong presence.

Defense analyst Sulaiman says that while many activists are campaigning for greater transparency in Papua, he doubts the government will ‘open that can of worms’ any time soon.

Besides, he argues, it would not be politically advantageous for any political party to push for an investigation into transgressions in Papua in the lead up to the presidential election next year.

The Hong Kong based AHRC is urging for legal redress and for the Indonesian government to establish a reconciliation process.

Indonesia’s foreign ministry and presidential office declined to comment on the AHRC report when contacted by SBS on Thursday.

Stay up to date with SBS NEWS

  • App
  • Subscribe
  • Follow
  • Listen
  • Watch