Photo Credit: David Worabay / Wikimedia
Bishops from the Anglican Church of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia (ANZP) have expressed their “deep disappointment” at what they say is the continued suppression of the first people of West Papua. The political status of West Papua is disputed. In the 1940s, with the collapse of the Netherlands East Indies, Indonesia claimed sovereignty over all of the former colony but the Dutch retained control over West Papua. In the 1960s, Indonesia invaded the island and a later UN-brokered peace deal resulted in 1,000 “elders” voting to become part of Indonesia in a disputed election.
Last year, the an ecumenical pastoral solidarity group from the Christian Council of Asia visited West Papua and described “grave human rights violations” in the region.
At the end of last week, 11 ANZP bishops and bishops-elect, including the two Primates, Donald Tamihere and Philip Richardson, and the Primate-elect, Fereimi Cama, issued a statement calling for the Indonesian authorities to “halt all state-sanctioned abuse and violation of human rights”. In their statement, they express their "deep disappointment" at the continued suppression of the first people of West Papua, and call on governments within their jurisdiction - New Zealand, Fiji, Tonga Samoa, American Samoa and the Cook Islands – to take a four-fold course of action.
These include putting West Papua on the agenda in international forums, and tracking the sale of West Papuan-sourced goods “which accelerate the marginalisation of West Papuan people from their own land” so that these can be banned as imports.
The bishops say: “we stand with our sisters and brothers in West Papua in their struggle to determine their own political destiny, and we pray that the Indonesian government will halt all state-sanctioned abuse and violation of human rights there.”
They call on their governments “to clearly express support for the people of West Papua in the redress of their historical injustices” and to “continue to draw attention to the sustained ethnic violence and ongoing denial by the Indonesian government of the first people’s right of self-determination, and the abuse of their natural resources by foreign corporations.”
In their letter, they refer to the Oceania regional Primates Meeting – or Fono – that took place in Fiji in March. The meeting bought together the primates from ANZP, Australia, Melanesia and Papua New Guinea, together with the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby. “The leaders heard harrowing stories of human rights violations in West Papua”, the statement said. “At last year's gathering, the Oceania Anglican leaders were moved by the passion of the Archbishop of Papua New Guinea, Clyde Igara, who proclaimed: ‘I am West Papua. I am Papuan’ – thereby acknowledging the unity and solidarity of all Papuans for the people of West Papua in their quest for independence.”
The bishops condemn the transfer of ownership to Indonesia, saying that “the West Papuan people were given no voice in the process” and that the UN-brokered agreement’s requirement for a ballot of West Papuans treated with “lip service” by the Indonesian government in an “electoral process [that] was corrupt.”
They say: “As a Church we are called to advocate for the integrity of all human life as created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). So, we add our voices to those of our Baptist and Catholic brothers and sisters, and to the voices of other faith and secular organisations who condemn the abuses of humanity and the environment which continue to occur in West Papua. . .
“We also endorse the resolution by the Pacific Conference of Churches, as the regional ecumenical body, to nominate two Pacific church leaders to visit governments and heads of state in Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Nauru, Samoa, and Fiji in the next two years to bring the concerns of the Pacific churches on West Papua to their attention.”