Indonesia: Human Rights and Pro-Independence Actions in Irian Jaya

V. Bodies in Biak

Other Sections

Table of Contents
I. Introduction
II. Background to the Demonstration
III. Sorong and Jayapura
IV. The Biak Demonstration
V. Bodies in Biak
VI. Wamena, Jayawijaya VII. Riots in Manokwari
VIII. Bodies in Biak
IX. Appendix: Arrests Since July 1998

In the meantime, thirty-three bodies of men, women, and children washed up on the shore of East and North Biak beginning on July 27. The Indonesian army claimed they were victims of the tsunami that struck Aitepe, Papua New Guinea on July 16. There were unconfirmed reports from local people that some of the bodies had their hands tied behind their backs, and one was wearing a Golkar T-shirt, giving rise to the belief that at least some of the bodies might be those of shooting victims. Activists have questioned why bodies from the tsunami only showed up in Biak and nowhere else, whereas there are many other places along the Irian Jaya coast closer to Papua New Guinea than Biak. On the other hand, reports in the local newspaper, the Cenderawasih Pos, quoting military sources, stated that some of the bodies were tattooed with marks only found among Papuan New Guinea natives, and other artifacts including schoolbooks and a map that washed up with the bodies suggest strongly that they are tsunami victims. A medic who helped bury the bodies reported that one had washed ashore with the remains of a house. All were buried quickly, however, without proper autopsies, so the cause of death remains uncertain.

Six bodies, including an adult male, three adult females, an adolescent girl, and a girl estimated to be about four years old, were found in East Biak on July 27 and immediately buried by security forces. The bodies were in poor condition, but police said that some were marked with a tattoo that resembled the letter "w." Nine more bodies washed up the next day. Of the six found in Amini village, five were children (three boys and two girls), and one was an adult woman wearing a shell necklace. A body of a girl estimated to be about twelve years old was found in Nyampun, Orwer village, and two other headless bodies were found on Paidado island, near the villages of Pasi and Saribra. Among the debris found linking them to Papua New Guinea, according to police, were a map, a plastic bag with the motto "25 Years PNG" and some Papua New Guinean coins and banknotes. On July 29, the body of an adult male was found in Yobdi, North Biak, and that of a young girl was found near Wadibu, East Biak.(13)

Local groups, backed by church leaders, are urging that the bodies be exhumed so that a full investigation can proceed. Human Rights Watch supports that demand but also believes it is critical that a fuller investigation take place into the shootings themselves. In particular, investigators should assess whether the Indonesian army, in firing on the demonstrators, faced a threat serious enough to warrant the use of lethal force.(14) U.N. Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials state in Article 14, "In the dispersal of violent assemblies, law enforcement officials may use firearms only when less dangerous means are not practicable and only to the minimum extent necessary."

Indonesia: Human Rights and Pro-Independence Actions in Irian Jaya - Table of Contents

13. See "Six Corpses Found on East Biak Beach," Cenderawasih Pos (Jayapura), July 28, 1998; "Nine More Bodies Found in East Biak," Cenderawasih Pos, July 29, 1998; "Residents of East Biak Find Two More Bodies," Cenderawasih Pos, July 30, 1998; and "Tsunami Victims From PNG Now 33," Cenderawasih Pos, August 8, 1998.

14. Article 9 of the U.N. Basic Principles on Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials states, "Law enforcement officials shall not use firearms against persons except in self-defence or defence of others against the imminent threat of death or serious injury, to prevent the perpetration of a particularly serious crime involving grave threat to life, to arrest a person presenting such a danger and resisting their authority, or to prevent his or her escape, and only when less extreme means are insufficient to achieve these objectives. In any event, intentional lethal use of firearms may only be made when strictly unavoidable in order to protect life."