Research to be released Thursday into one of the most violent episodes in the history of West Papua claims that helicopters provided to Indonesia by the Australian government were used in military operations in the 1970s that amounted to genocide.
According to a report by the Hong Kong-based Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), two Iroquois helicopters supplied by Australia were amongst aircraft used by the regional military command in West Papua in operations in the Central Highlands in 1977 and 1978 which killed thousands of civilians.
The AHRC report, The Neglected Geno-cide: Human rights abuses against Papuans in the Central Highlands, 1977–1978, details mass killings by aerial strafing and bombings—using both napalm and cluster bombs—in and around the Baliem Valley, where support for the OPM separatist movement was strong and tensions had escalated in the lead-up to national elections in 1977.
In one incident described in the research, villagers were bombed with napalm from American-supplied OV-10 Bronco attack aircraft as they waited for planes they had been told would deliver aid from Australia.
The report, which has been three years in development, collected witness interviews from survivors of the military operations in 15 affected communities and used the accounts, together with information from historical records, to compile a list of the names of 4146 identified victims of killings.
In addition to aerial bombardment and indiscriminate shootings, the report describes a range of “unspeakable atrocities” inflicted on indigenous Papuans by Indonesian soldiers in the Central Highlands operations.
Villagers were sliced with razors, forced to eat soldiers’ faeces, thrown into wells, drowned, buried, burnt and boiled alive, according to the report.
The researchers collected accounts of women being raped, having their breasts cut off and their internal organs pulled out, having penises cut from the bodies of dead men forced into their mouths and heated iron rods forced into their mouths and rectums until they died.
According to various accounts babies and young children had been shot, beheaded and burnt to death.
The Indonesian government has never recognised that mass killings and atrocities took place in the Central Highlands military operations and has denied ever using napalm or cluster bombs in Papua.
Director of policy and programs at the Asian Human Rights Centre, Basil Fernando, said thousands of people in West Papua remember the events described in the report and information about them was easy to obtain.
“What is most shocking is that for all these years there has hardly been any investigation into this large number of killings, and the basic political issues remain unresolved,” Mr Fernando said.
The report’s authors state their research is “consistent with estimates” of a death toll from the 1977–78 operations numbering at between 5000 and “tens of thousands”.
They argue that “the pattern of mass violence” involved constitutes the crime of genocide.
The Asian Human Rights Commission is calling for an apology, legal redress and a process of dialogue from the Indonesian government as a “necessary step” towards providing justice and achieving reconciliation.
A spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said the department did not have “any information to hand” about allegations that Australian aircraft were used in the operations.