They need our help Will we let West Papuans lose everything?

Padre James Bhagwan, Fiji Times Online, Wednesday, May 11, 2016

LAST week I ended my column drawing a correlation between the writing of JW Burton, Totaram Sandhya and CF Andrews on the indenture system and the recent report of the Catholic Justice and Peace Commission of the Archdiocese of Brisbane on the injustice and human rights abuse in West Papua.

Titled, “We Will Lose Everything: A Report On A Human Rights Fact Finding Mission To West Papua”, this document seeks to present the voice of the people of West Papua as accurately as possible. The delegation’s program, while in West Papua, was determined by Papuans who worked closely with them throughout the two-week visit.

Beginning with the dealings by international powers which enabled the Indonesian Government to occupy West Papua in the 1960s without the free consent of the people, the report highlights the violence and marginalisation endured by the Papuan people. Below are extracts from the report which can be read in full at:

The commission’s delegation to West Papua in February 2016 found no improvement in the human rights situation. Reports of human rights violations by members of Indonesian security forces had not declined and the economic and social status of Papuans has not improved. The Indonesian legal and political system is unwilling and unable to address human rights violations in West Papua.

A meeting with Papuan families living in a compound in Kuala Censana exemplifies why the fear among Papuans of security forces intimidation, harassment and violence has not declined at all in recent times.

The families met by the delegation are Dani people who support the West Papua National Committee (KNPB). They related an incident which occurred on February 5, 2016, a public holiday to mark the coming of Christian missionaries to West Papua. The local KNPB branch had organised a meeting on an oval to celebrate the holiday, but also to present awards for a recent sporting competition and to inform people about the organisation’s campaign for a referendum on independence in West Papua.

In a report on arrests of political prisoners in West Papua between 2012 and 2014, Papuans behind Bars reported that 1341 Papuans were arrested in the two-year period and 98 per cent of those arrested were not armed. (See and for a comprehensive coverage of human rights violations in West Papua in 2015, see the International Coalition for Papua’s 2015 Human Rights Report at ).

The delegation heard people do not go out at night for fear they will be taken by members of the security forces and will be beaten or killed. Their fears are not imaginary. They reported two men had been found dead in the town in the past year ā€” one was found dead in the street with his scooter helmet still strapped to his head and another was a young man who is the son of a prominent pastor who is a strong advocate of the rights of the Papuan people.

They also reported that out-of-uniform soldiers would sometimes ride motorcycles into the stalls of Papuan women in the local markets to destroy their capacity to make a living.

In April 2016, the co-ordinator of the prominent Indonesian human rights organisation, the Commission for the Disappeared and Victims of Violence (KONTRAS), Haris Azhar, asserted that human rights violations in West Papua had continued to worsen since the election of President Widodo in September 2014. He referred to data on his organisation’s records indicating there had been over 1200 incidents of harassment, beatings, torture and killings of Papuans by Indonesian security forces in the past year.

Everywhere the delegation went in West Papua, soldiers, police and intelligence operatives were clearly visible. At one of the towns our delegation visited, the priest who hosted their visit was asked to attend the police station to answer questions on the reasons for the delegation’s presence in the community.

In several places, Papuans reported that significant numbers of military personnel being brought into the area ostensibly for non-military purposes such as undertaking audits of places of cultural significance, but locals believe their presence is intended to reinforce the capacity to monitor and control the activities of those promoting independence.

Information from various parts of West Papua assert the security forces are often involved in businesses such as brothels and logging. If not involved as owners, they obtain income by providing security for these businesses. They also supplement their income by compelling local government authorities to employ soldiers as security or drivers.

According to KNPB leaders with whom the delegation spoke in 2016 and with whom members of the 2015 pilgrimage also spoke, 28 KNPB members have been summarily executed by Indonesian security forces between 2012 and 2016.

A report provided to the commission by a Catholic seminarian indicates that, on April 5, the Timika Branch of KNPB held a prayer meeting to pray for the granting to the ULMWP of full membership of the Melanesian Spearhead Group. The prayer meeting took place in the Golgota GKI Church. A group of soldiers, police and members of Detachment 88 arrived at the meeting and removed some KNPB material and destroyed a stage constructed for the gathering.

“When they arrived, the KNPB leader in Timika, Steven Itlay, said the prayer meeting would continue. However, the contingent of soldiers and police decided to break up the meeting. They beat members of the community and arrested Steven Itlay and eight other KNPB members. They were kicked and beaten with rifle butts during the arrests.”

The report highlighted that West Papuans are just as much concerned about their growing economic and social marginalisation as they are about the violence of the security forces. Without a doubt, the single most important factor for them in this regard is the rapid demographic changes which have resulted from the extremely high rate of migration into West Papua from Java, Sumatra, Flores, West Timor and other Indonesian islands.

As visitors, the dramatic demographic shift is readily observable.

Indonesian faces are as common as Melanesian faces, if not the majority, in many places the delegation visited in West Papua. In the main towns we visited ā€” Port Numbay (Jayapura), Timika, Sorong and Merauke ā€” they are already the majority.

Along with the influx of Indonesian migrants have come changes in language, food, dress, religion, music, art and much more. Papuans have seen themselves pushed to one side by often more aggressive Indonesian migrants who have taken over land, the economy and cultural spaces.

Dr James Elmslie’s demographic projections for Melanesian people in West Papua present a stark picture. Since 1971, he estimates the Melanesian proportion of the population in West Papua has declined from around 96 per cent to a present day minority of 48.73 per cent; and he projects the proportion will decline to 28.99 per cent in four short years in 2020.

It is no wonder that Papuans, seeing the rapid changes around them, believe their situation is desperate. It is also the reason why the ULMWP leadership claims that “We will lose everything!” unless there is a dramatic shift in the political situation in West Papua in the next few years.

In the light of the delegation’s findings, the Catholic Justice and Peace Commission of the Archdiocese of Brisbane made a number of recommendations, including that:

& Governments in the Pacific, including the Australian Government, should seek intervention at the United Nations Human Rights Council and the United Nations General Assembly to initiate a credible, independent investigation into human rights violations in West Papua;

& Governments in the Pacific should also pressure the Indonesian Government directly and seek the intervention of the United Nations to establish a dialogue between the Indonesian Government and the acknowledged leaders of the people of West Papua, the United Liberation Movement for West Papua in order to identify a credible pathway towards genuine self-determination for the people of West Papua;

& Churches and civil society organisations in the Pacific should continue to build a network of solidarity with their counterparts in West Papua in order to support advocacy and action on human rights violations and the pursuit of self-determination by the people of West Papua and their leaders, the United Liberation Movement for West Papua; and

& The Australian Government should urgently consider the mounting evidence of involvement in human rights violations in West Papua by members of the Indonesian military, police force, including Detachment 88, and intelligence service. Based on this investigation, it should review any support, training and funding of any units involved in human rights violations in West Papua with a view to suspending such support until policy changes to end violations are implemented by the Indonesian Government.

There is much more in the report than which I have shared. One reader of the report shared his hope and prayer that we in Fiji realise that while we may be suffering there are others in our midst who are suffering more. My thoughts and prayers are with our brothers and sisters in West Papua and I pray that sooner rather than later, I will see the day when an international or regional peacekeeping, peace building force is deployed to West Papua.

Simplicity, serenity, spontaneity.

* Reverend James Bhagwan is an ordained Methodist minister and a citizen journalist. The opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Methodist Church in Fiji or this newspaper.

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