A West Papuan activist has fled to Australia in fear for her safety after giving testimony to an Australian tribunal into the 1998 Biak massacre by Indonesian forces.
West Papuan independence activist Tineke Rumkabu has fled to Australia, claiming that Indonesian forces attempted to abduct her earlier this month. Rumkabu is a survivor of the Biak massacre, when scores of West Papuans were murdered and tortured by Indonesian police and military officers in 1998.
Rumkabu says the abduction attempt was made after she participated in a remembrance service on the 16th anniversary of the massacre in Jayapura. The next day, she told Crikey, she was approached in the nearby town of Wamena by three cars, which she alleges held members of Indonesia’s military. She says she was approached by two men, one of whom tried to pull her hands behind her back and punched her in the stomach. She says she picked up a large stone and threw it at her attackers. Although she missed, they retreated.
Rumkabu has fled her home and is now staying in Cairns with family, because she no longer feels safe in West Papua. She told Crikey through a translator, “They’ve been planning that for a long time. They didn’t want someone to continue to spread out the issue every day for other people to be aware.” She says she doesn’t know if she will go back. “There’s no future for me in West Papua.”
In recent years Rumkabu has spoken out many times about the massacre, which has never been acknowledged by the Indonesian government. West Papuans in the town of Biak were slaughtered after raising the banned Morning Star flag — a symbol of their desire for independence from Indonesia. Indonesian forces reacted by attacking the group, with bodies of the dead dumped at sea.
A Citizens’ Tribunal for the massacre was held at the University of Sydney last year on its 15th anniversary, where, among other witnesses, Rumkabu told how women were raped and tortured by Indonesian forces. “Then I saw a man [a soldier] showing me a little knife, the one that you use to shave, and he said ‘We are going to use this to cut off your vagina, from above and below and from the left to the right.’ A lit candle was penetrated inside me, they cut off my clitoris and they raped me,” she said at the time.
The tribunal found the massacre was a co-ordinated attack on peacefully demonstrating protesters, and that the Indonesian government has attempted to “downplay the seriousness of the actions perpetrated by Indonesian government forces”. The Hon John Dowd AO QC, one of the presiding jurists, told Crikey Rumkabu’s evidence “had enormous impact on the tribunal and on the audience”. Professor Nick Cowdery, former New South Wales director of public prosecutions, was counsel assisting the tribunal and said “she was one of the most important witnesses that we called. She was central to the purposes of the enquiry.”
Dowd said: “[Rumkabu] struck me as the most vulnerable of witnesses, and many people at the hearing were worried about her going back.” Cowdery says although her testimony last year wasn’t the first time she had spoken out publicly, it did make Rumkabu a more obvious target for Indonesian forces. “It unfortunately alerted the authorities that she wasn’t going to lie down … That has proven to be the case, as a consequence we see what appears to be an attempted abduction or otherwise a serious assault.”
This is not the first time that Rumkabu has been contacted by Indonesian forces. In the past few years she has been invited as part of a group to visit police stations in West Papua, purportedly so she can ask questions of the police and pray with the group, but she has not attended for fear of being “disappeared”. In the decades in which West Papuans have been seeking independence from Indonesia, disappearances and arrests have been a common occurrence.