A pastoral solidarity team from the Christian Conference of Asia (CCA) are reporting “grave human rights violations and repression against the indigenous West Papuans in their own home land” after a visit to the Indonesian-controlled West Papua. The visit, carried out last week, was part of CCA;s pastoral accompaniment to churches and people who live in vulnerable situations in Asia.
West Papua was part of Dutch East India until the colonial power relinquished most of its land to a newly independent Indonesia in 1945. The Dutch held onto West Papua – the two Western peninsulas of the island of New Guinea, until Indonesia invaded in 1961. A disputed referendum of 1,000 tribal chiefs – hand-selected by the military and forced to vote unanimously in Indonesia’s favour – was held in 1969; but residents have continued to call for independence from Indonesia.
The CCA say that a three-member pastoral solidarity team spent four days in West Papua with an “intensive” programme of visits and meetings. “Indigenous West Papuans shared with the CCA delegation about the on-going repression and systematic human rights violations in West Papua, including the passing of laws that suppress freedom of speech and freedom of association,” the CCA said.”
They spoke of the growing concern at the impunity for human rights abuses enjoyed by the police and the military; and described the Special Autonomy Law, which – amongst other measures was supposed to enshrine respect for local socio-cultural expressions, including the restoration of the Papua name over the Indonesia-preferred Irian Jaya; and the freedom to fly the Papuan flag and sing the community’s national anthem, as “a dismal failure”, saying that it did not meet the basic needs of the indigenous people of West Papua.
“The Indonesian government systematically restricts the right to freedom of the press as well as the initiatives of West Papuans who come forward to monitor human rights violations,” the CCA team said. “Many indigenous West Papuans are being arrested and detained for non-violent expressions of their political opinion. The indigenous West Papuans constantly face discrimination as well as violent attacks.
“Peaceful demonstrations are often dispersed by force. In many instances, non-violent participants have been arrested, detained and tortured, while others have been killed. Many prisoners and human rights activists have died while in detention. Reports of torture and ill treatment of political detainees have been increasing. Civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights are being violated”.
The Bishop of Jaffna – the Church of South India diocese in Sri Lanka – Dr Daniel Thiagarajah, is a member of CCA’s programme committee. He said that CCA’s visit to West Papua was “an opportunity to express solidarity with the struggling West Papuan indigenous people” and to listen “to their grievances on behalf of CCA’s member constituencies and the Asian ecumenical movement.”
The Revd Cindy Huang Shin-Yi, from the Presbyterian Church of Taiwan, a member of CCA’s executive committee, said that the “long-delayed pastoral solidarity visit” was “an expression of Asian churches and the CCA’s commitment to the CCA’s member church Gereja Kristen Injili di Tanah Papua [the Evangelical Christian Church in Tanah Papua] and the people of West Papua.”
The delegation met with members of the Papuan Parliament, the Office of the Governor of Papua, faculty members and students of the Izaak Samuel Kijne Theological College, and local church and community leaders.
Local leaders urged the CCA delegation to persuade the international community to “come forward to implore the Indonesian government to stop human rights abuses in West Papua and to respect and protect the human dignity of West Papuans; to support the appeal of West Papuans to the government of Indonesia to open the door in order to seek a just and dignified political solution and respect the right and dignity of the indigenous people of West Papua to determine their own future through an all-inclusive Papua-Indonesia national dialogue.”