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West Papuans systematically marginalised, say Christian churches

by mnews

A global grouping of Christian churches has found that discrimination and human rights violations in Indonesia’s Papua region are as severe as they were two decades ago.

A team from the World Council of Churches wrapped up a week-long trip to Indonesia on Friday, which included visits to several cities in Papua province.

In Wamena and Jayapura, the Council says it met people who had fled the recently intensified military and police operations in Nduga regency of Papua’s Highlands.

While there are no official figures for the displaced, Indonesian state media have reported hundreds of students have been forced to flee.

A Tanzanian bishop with the Council, Abednego Keshomshahara, says “it was painful to see so many child victims” of the violence in Nduga.

The crackdown in Nduga is part of a state-sanctioned hunt for members of the West Papua Liberation Army, which claimed responsibility for killing at least 16 Indonesian road workers and a soldier in December. The Liberation Army has claimed they were all members of the military.

During the visit to Papua last week, the Council met with local leaders, victims and Indonesian military police and military officials.

It said its delegates heard frequently of landgrabbing and environmental degradation.

“Papuan people seem to be systemically marginalized and excluded in all areas of life,” said Dr Emily Welty, a vice moderator with the Council.

Indonesian police have been assisting military in a campaign against independence fighters in West Papua's Puncak Jaya regency.

Indonesian police have been assisting military in a campaign against West Papuan independence fighters in Papua’s Highlands.Photo: Supplied

The WCC Director for International Affairs, Peter Prove, said that the visit was a positive step given that access to the Papua region had been severely restricted in the past.

“We greatly appreciate the fact that Indonesian authorities enabled our delegation’s visit to take place, and we hope that this will be the beginning of more openness and increased access for others to the territory and its people.”

Same problems as 1999

Despite the relative progress of being able to visit Papua, the WCC says members of the delegation were alarmed to hear from almost all the Papuans they met of “the severity of the problems they continue to face”.

The Deputy General Secretary of the United Evangelical Mission, Dr Jochen Motte, was part of the last WCC delegation to visit Papua in 1999, although two WCC members had made individual visits during the interim.

But after being part of the latest visit, Dr Motte said it was sad to realise that the issues mentioned in the report at that time were almost the same today.

According to him, almost all Papuans the delegation members encountered – including local government officials – considered the Special Autonomy status that Indonesia’s government granted Papua as a failure.

The Special Autonomy Law was enacted in 2001 as a basis for Papuans to play a role in determining their own political, social, cultural and economic development within the Republic of Indonesia.

“Special Autonomy Status could not meet the expectations of the Papuan people and bring an end to discrimination and human rights violations,” Dr Motte said.

Representatives of Indonesia's GIDI church meet in Papua

Representatives of Indonesia’s GIDI church meet in Papua Photo: RNZI/Johnny Blades

During the visit to Papua the delegation received a joint appeal from the leaders of four churches in Papua – the GKI-TP, the KINGMI Church in Tanah Papua, the Evangelical Church in Tanah Papua (GIDI), and the Fellowship of Baptist Churches of Papua.

They called for international ecumenical support for a comprehensive political dialogue for the resolution of the situation in Papua.

“It is clear that dialogue without preconditions is the only path forward in such a situation as we encountered in Papua,” said Rev. James Bhagwan, general secretary of the Pacific Conference of Churches.

Source: Radio NZ

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