By Nico Syukur Dister OFM
As in Papuan society, so also in churches, there are members who opine that the western part of New Guinea has the right to be an independent state. There are also members who consider this region the provinces of the Republic of Indonesia. But how is the attitude of the several church leaders?
Seen from a theological point of view it is the duty of the ecclesiastical hierarchy to unify the faithful. That’s why bishops and pastors think they are not allowed to take side with one of the two attitudes mentioned above, and against the other. However, the real-politics in West Papua makes it impossible for churches to remain neutral and hide their position.
Recently, leaders of three Papuan churches (GIDI, BAPTIST and KINGMI), whose members and leaderships are predominantly native Papuans gathered as “Ecumenical Work Forum of Papuan Churches”, released a pastoral letter condemning the ongoing violence and discrimination against Papuans. These church leaders said to their faithful that because of so many cases of violence, detentions, tortures and killings of civil Papuans, “there is no future for the Papuan nation within the Indonesian system.” As far as I know, the Catholic Church seldom or even never made such a clear statement. Why is that the case?
In the Catholic circle, people often say, “Of course the Church will not frankly support the call for Papua’s independence, but we unanimously raise the injustice that occurs.” This statement needs to be scrutinized. First, the question of Papuan independence seems to be a political subject. But the distinction between politicians’ concern and the church’ concern has lost its relevance from the moment we ask whether or not every nation has a right to own a country. Many Papuans think about themselves as a nation and not as a tribe within the Indonesian nation. Their decolonization process was interrupted by manipulative international politics and Indonesian military infiltrations in 1960s. This complicated historical process, combined with military oppression, human rights violations, marginalization, and resources exploitation caused their integration into the Unitary State of Indonesia more like a colonial occupation than decolonization. With respect to that reality, isn’t it an injustice that Papua is not yet independent, hence should not it be part of the church’ concern “to raise jointly the injustice that occurs in Papua”?
Non-violent struggle for Self-determination
Culturally, Papuans belongs to Melanesian culture and not Malay as other tribes in Indonesia. It also has different historical trajectory. While Indonesia proclaimed its independence in 1945, Papua remained under the Dutch rule until 1963. The Papuans, who wanted their independence as much as other colonized nations in that era, were promised by the Dutch authorities to have its independent nation state by 1970. At the same time, Indonesia, who claimed Papua as part of its territory, gained support from its allies, leading to the New York Agreement 1961 which stipulated the transfer of administration of Papua from the Netherlands to Indonesia. It also stipulated that Indonesia would organize a UN supervised referendum no later than 1970 through which the Papuans could decide to join Indonesia or have their independent state.
The referendum did take place in 1969. However, the referendum is in fact a legal defect for two reasons. First, the way it was carried out was contrary to the agreement of one man, one vote. The referendum was in fact an agreement made by 1,025 men and women selected by the Indonesian military administration. Instead of voting, they raised their hands or read from prepared scripts in a display for United Nations observers. Second, the UN General Assembly made the result legally binding, without taking cognizance of the abuses reported by the UN delegates themselves (Drooglever 2005, Saltford 2003).
My argument is: as long as the indigenous Papuans don’t get what is due to them in justice, any development and material relief from Indonesia cannot extinguish the fire of independence struggle. It keeps burning in the heart of each of them. More and more Papuans, including the Christian ones, get involved in non-violent struggle. They realize that arms struggle only means harm and suffering. Hence they fight in Mahatma Gandhi’s manner: no violence, ahimsa, a resistance strategy that delivered India from the evil of colonialism.
The Catholic attitude
The church does not only consist of bishops and other clergy. According to the Jayapura Diocese after its pastoral synod in the seventies, “We are the Church”. Nevertheless, we may hope that the pastors are good shepherds who lead the way and march in front of the flock. To the church as a whole –both leaders and members—the prophetic mission has been entrusted to blame, criticize and correct abuses, for the purpose of bringing back the faithful and the society into the right direction.
In Papua when representatives of other churches heavily and loudly protest as part of their prophetic mission, people ask: “Where is the voice of the Catholic church”? Oftentimes its voice cannot be heard, because Catholic leaders prefer to speak with the responsible “dignitaries” of army, police and government in private meetings. Many Catholic bishops and pastors consider such a talk more effective than protesting publicly. They are also convinced of their duty to build bridges between two opposing parties. But whether such a private talk is more effective than a loud protest that resounds in the media is questionable. The worsening of the human rights situation in the recent years does not prove that this “Catholic approach” is more effective.
I think in order to play an important part in the Church’s prophetic mission, the Catholics and their leaders must speak publicly and very loudly against every human rights violation in West Papua, while at the same time, on one side, respecting the political conviction of each parish member and citizen, either pro-Unitary State or pro-independence, and on the other, explaining why an aspiration for independence is something genuine, especially when pursued without violence: ahimsa.
Father Nico Syukur Dister, OFM is Professor at the “Fajar Timur” School of Philosophy and Theology in Jayapura,
Indonesia’s pressure tactics over West Papua issue resemble the actions of China over Tibet
By Nithin Coca
EARLIER this month, the Indonesian military raided and destroyed the offices of the West Papuan National Committee, a separatist group in the country’s easternmost region, which has long agitated for independence. The raid came amid allegations that the military had used chemical weapons in airstrikes on separatists in West Papua in late December. The Indonesian government has responded harshly after at least 17 construction workers were killed by West Papuan militants in early December, the deadliest such attack in West Papua in years.
This surge in unrest in the region is the outcome of a harder line that the Indonesian government has taken on West Papua in recent years. During the United Nations General Assembly last September, the prime minister of the tiny Pacific island nation of Vanuatu, Charlot Salwai, criticized that approach. Referring directly to West Papua, he said the Indonesian government needed to “put an end to all forms of violence and find common ground with the populations to establish a process that will allow them to freely express their choice.”
The reaction from Indonesia, which is usually quiet at the U.N., was fierce. President Joko Widodo hasn’t even bothered to attend the General Assembly in his five years in office, but his government immediately lambasted Salwai. Jakarta’s permanent representative to the United Nations, Dian Triansyah Djani, declared that “Indonesia will not let any country undermine its territorial integrity.” Referring to separatist and independence groups in West Papua, he said Indonesia also “fail[ed] to understand the motive behind Vanuatu’s intention in supporting a group of people who have [struck] terror and mayhem [on] so many occasions, creating fatalities and sadness to innocent families of their own communities.”
West Papua was not part of Indonesia when the country gained independence from the Netherlands in 1949. The region, which has a distinct ethnic and linguistic identity from mostly Polynesian Indonesia, was formally annexed in 1969 after what Indonesians call the “Act of Free Choice,” when a group of hand-selected Papuans voted unanimously in favor of Indonesian control in a vote marred by allegations of blackmail and coercion.
Since then, West Papua has been the site of regular violence, either from one of the many separatist groups on the island, or, more often, the Indonesian military. The island is rich in minerals, the revenue from which make up a significant portion of Indonesia’s budget. Freeport-McMoRan’s huge Grasberg mine alone provided more than $750 million in revenue in 2017.
Many West Papuans, either living in Indonesia or abroad, have been advocating for self-determination for years. But what was primarily a local conflict has now become more regional, as both sides have attempted to internationalize the issue. West Papuans are ethnically Melanesian, like the citizens of Vanuatu and other Pacific Island nations, such as the Solomon Islands and Fiji. West Papuan activists have been working to build connections with these countries, with the goal of having them speak up for Papuan independence, like Salwai did at the General Assembly.
“West Papua is a regional issue, because we are part of Melanesia, connected culturally and linguistically,” Benny Wenda, an exiled leader of the Free West Papua organization currently based in the United Kingdom, told WPR. “The majority in the Pacific islands, they don’t see West Papua as distant. It’s close to them.”
The main entity for cooperation in the region is the 18-nation Pacific Islands Forum, founded in 1971, and the Melanesian Spearhead Group within it, which counts the four Melanesian nations as members. West Papuan advocates have used the forum to push for global recognition, including formal membership for West Papua as an occupied country.
Indonesia, however, has been pushing back by sowing discord among the forum’s members. It provided military support to Fiji after the island’s 2006 coup, which had led to the imposition of Western sanctions, and offered significant aid to Papua New Guinea. With both countries’ support, in 2011, Indonesia was granted observer status in the Melanesian Spearhead Group. Since then, attempts by the United Liberation Movement for West Papua, an umbrella organization of independence groups, to get a similar status have proved futile. Now, both Fiji and Papua New Guinea say they support Indonesia’s full membership in the group, which would push the West Papua issue to the sidelines.
Since Indonesia got its observer status, “the MSG has become an empty house,” says James Elmslie, a political scientist with the West Papua Project at the University of Sydney. “The MSG is now split on the issue.”
Indonesia’s pressure tactics resemble the actions of a much bigger power in Asia dealing with territories it considers its own: China. Having long sought to isolate supporters of Tibet, China regularly pushes countries to refuse access to the Dalai Lama, as both Russia and South Africa have done in recent years. Beijing also uses a carrot-and-stick strategy to shrink the number of countries that recognize Taiwan, which it sees as a breakaway province. In the past year, El Salvador and the Dominican Republic have dropped their diplomatic recognition of Taiwan in favor of China. Like other countries that have done this, they can expect to be rewarded with aid, investments and more. Conversely, countries that refuse to switch, like Palau, have been squeezed by China and seen their tourism industries suffer.
Unlike China, though, Indonesia is a democracy, one that is often hailed as a model for both Asia and the Islamic world. There was a small window of opportunity, right after the fall of the three-decades long Suharto dictatorship in 1998, when newly democratic Indonesia was engaging with pro-independence activists in West Papua. At the time, East Timor was permitted to hold an independence referendum, and there were calls for something similar in West Papua.
But when reformist President Abdurrahman Wahid—facing corruption allegations, economic woes and political unrest—was forced to step down in 2001, that window slammed shut. The Indonesian military reasserted control, killing Papuan independence leader Theys Eluay, and things went back to the status quo of repression. Indonesia continued to exploit the region for resources and suppress the voices of Papuans. Democracy may have transformed Indonesia, but it brought little change to West Papua.
Now the situation is only getting worse. The core problem is that unlike a decade ago, the Indonesian government is refusing to engage peacefully, instead allowing, either implicitly or explicitly, the Indonesian military to take the lead.
Getting an independent view of what’s taking place in West Papua remains as difficult as ever. For decades, the Indonesian government has essentially closed off the region to journalists, international observers and NGOs. The few who do enter face risk of arrest, like Jakub Fabian Skrzypzki, a Polish citizen who is now on trial for alleged ties to Papuan separatists and faces potential life imprisonment in Indonesia if convicted.
It looks like another move out of China’s playbook. Why would democratic Indonesia go that route? Because so far, it’s working.
Nithin Coca is a freelance journalist who focuses on social, economic, and political issues in developing countries, and has specific expertise in Southeast Asia.
Baby Kana, three forgotten people in the story of Puti Hatil and Korowai (Part 3)
Written by Rev. Trevor Christian Johnson
Jakarta, Jubi – The 3rd and final forgotten person I want to write about during the drama of Puti Hatil’s sickness and healing is Baby Kana, also from Afimabul.
The day that Dakinus led Daniel and his baby son to Danowage, Baby Kana was also carried with them in their group. She was also brought to Danowage along with Puti Hatil. But she did not heal.
Last week (end of December) Puti was flown back to his village by helicopter, his cheek sewn closed and the wound clean and dry and healthy. He was returned to the Korowai region because he was healed and was sick no more.
He is a success story.
But Baby Kana also suffers no more. She also no longer has any illness. Instead of being flown back to her village by helicopter, however, she was returned to the dust of the earth.
She has now been dead for over 6 weeks.
Most people do not know that this other small child was also brought to Danowage from Afimabul during the same trip along with Puti Hatil. They were both carried to Danowage together.
While Puti was being cared for in the VIP Room at Dian Harapan Hospital with many visitors and enjoying much media attention and money was being gathered on his behalf, the baby Kana lay rotting in the ground, buried in a very simple wooden coffin made from rough boards.
She was yet another statistic demonstrating the poor condition of healthcare in this region.
We wanted to help her so bad. We did our best. But she died during the night. When we received her in Danowage she had already been sick for a whole month, and she was just too sick and weak to recover when she arrived.
Maybe the journey was too much for her. We did not have a chance to really treat her or an opportunity to fly her out to the hospital like Puti.
But Baby Kana is just as much a part of this story as Puti. The child Puti Hatil was saved. Baby Kana was not.
But help came because of Puti.
God is using the case of Puti to bless the entire Korowai region. And through Puti’s sufferings, the whole Korowai region seems to be experiencing a blessing of health care.
He became a symbol to rally around and to gather help and support. Because of Puti’s pain, many Korowai children will not need to experience illness or death.
After many long years of waiting for help, we are now being flooded. I can only praise the churches and students and the government officials who are very quick to help.
Upon hearing of the health crisis in the Korowai region, the Governor of Papua Lukas Enembe quickly responded and visited Danowage and promised more help and embraced many of the local people, showing his heart for the interior peoples of Papua.
Many good people are now involved and working together from both church and government to help the Korowai.
But sometimes I fear. Sometimes I fear that it will not be the case of Puti Hatil that is representative of the help that is coming to the Korowai region (a very sick baby who was helped and healed and returned successfully to the city).
Sometimes I am afraid that people will soon forget the trials of the Korowai. Instead of Puti Hatil being a symbol of hope, I am afraid that the case of Baby Kana will become a more fitting symbol – a child who died without help and will be forgotten unless I can keep her memory alive through written articles such as this.
We have two future options for the Korowai. Who will better represent the fate of the Korowai, Puti Hatil and his rescue? Or Baby Kana and her death?
This is the real tragedy of Papua; while 90% of the media is focused on politics in the cities, the interior peoples of Papua go to bed hungry and many die due to neglect. There are MANY Puti Hatils in my region. Even more sadly, there are many MORE Baby Kanas.
Between the years 2009 and 2015, shootings within the Freeport Mine project area killed 20 people and injured 59. In that same period of time illness and disease has killed much more in just this Korowai region of Papua where I serve.
I pray and plead that this is the last year that their cries will go unheard. (End)
Editor: Zely Ariane
The ties that bind Papua and Indonesia
By Karim Raslan
Source: South China Morning Post
Jayapura, Jubi – Young Papuans in an eastern Indonesian boom town are excited about the future, thanks to a resurgent economy. But will the good times last?
Sorong is booming. With 9.3 per cent GDP growth in 2016 (almost double Indonesia’s average) and located on the westernmost point of Papua, the 300,000-strong city is fast becoming a regional transport and logistics hub, boosted by its proximity to the fabled Raja Ampat islands and the ever-elusive bird of paradise.
However, Sorong isn’t a pretty sight. In fact, the city feels as if it’s still emerging from the scrubland – its urban sprawl stretching many kilometres into the interior, far from the waterfront that’s now bustling with activity.
I was very curious how the younger generation – the city’s millennials – viewed their future.
Were they optimistic? Did they see the new airport, port and Trans Papua Highway as the harbingers of a prosperous future? How were relations between indigenous Papuans and newer communities – the Bugis, Javanese and Minahassans?
I met three 18-year-old students: Maria Hestina, Maria Korwa and Mega Imbiri. All three were studying at the city’s largest tertiary institution, the Sorong Muhammadiyah University.
Maria Hestina is the daughter of transmigrants, her family was originally from Flores in East Nusa Tenggara. Her parents – now divorced – weren’t well-to-do. Her father was a labourer while her mother sold petrol and fruits at the market.
Maria Korwa’s family has been in Papua for generations. She was the product of an interreligious marriage: her father was Muslim while her mother was Christian. In an arrangement that is common in some part of Indonesia, her brothers were Muslim but her sisters and she were Christian.
Mega Imbiri was the daughter of a fisherman and a housewife, both of whom are Papuan natives.
“My father has to go out to sea every day and sometimes comes back with very few fish. He has to brave the rain, the waves and saltwater. … As a child I would hold his hands; they were always coarse.
Papua has long been considered a restive, troubled part of Indonesia.
However, Sorong, on the very “tip” of the island, has largely escaped the turmoil of the interior.
Instead, the city has benefited enormously from the current administration’s focus on strengthening transport links with the rest of the republic – creating a boom that more than matches Timika, the central Papuan town, home to Grasberg, the world’s largest gold mine and second largest copper mine run by the controversial American miner Freeport-McMoRan.
The three young women present a positive “spin” to the Eastern Indonesian region. Their religious diversity is remarkable – Maria Hestina is Catholic, Maria Korwa is Pentecostal Christian and Mega Imbiri is Protestant. Maria Hestina is a first-generation transmigrant while Maria Korwa and Mega Imbiri are natives.
Maria Korwa is unequivocal about the province’s problems.
“There’s a lot of crime in Sorong. Every day, there are muggings, fuelled by alcoholism and drug addiction – including glue-sniffing among youths.”
Maria Hestina adds: “Around 2005-2006, the water supply was very unreliable and we often suffered from blackouts. It has improved since then, but there’s still a long way to go.”
“The price of petrol has also gone up – it’s now 5,000 rupiah per litre. I know because my mother sells petrol; people are finding it difficult to cope.”
Mega Imbiri has her own take.
“Development is difficult in Papua. The terrain is hilly and heavily forested. It will take years before projects see results. What makes me very happy is the attention Jokowi (Indonesian President Joko Widodo) has been giving Papua. He’s visited the island more times than any other president before him.”
The administration’s initiatives have already begun to bear fruit. Maria Hestina noted that under former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Jokowi, primary and secondary education was made free. On December 20, the government announced plans to bring electricity to the whole of Papua and build new roads.
While the two provinces (Papua and West Papua) continue to represent a major challenge to Indonesian unity and stability – the eagle-eyed focus on economic growth has brought tangible gains to their people.
It’s this transformation that may well hold the key to binding the island of Papua to Indonesia.
Admittedly, this is a very positive take – that the current administration’s focus on economic grievances is having an impact. But is it enough?(*)
Editor: Zely Ariane
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