Bruce Duncan.

Free West Papua. Garry Knight. flickr cc.
Report of a conversation with Anglican priest Peter Woods and human rights advocate Louise Byrne.
Human rights abuses in West Papua are causing Melanesian and Polynesian countries throughout the Pacific to voice increasing alarm in international forums, and to call for genuine self-determination for West Papuans.
Speaking at the SPC forum on 2 August at Box Hill were Louise Byrne and Rev Peter Woods. He worked for ten years in Java and West Papua in theological education, and is urging Australians not to turn a blind eye to the dispossession of the Papuans and what has been happening.

Unlike East Timor where Catholics predominate, in West Papua there are many different churches independent of each other, including other Indonesian Christians as well as Papuans, with some supported financially by the Indonesian government. Some churches are prepared to speak out on behalf of their Papua people, but most have been ‘strangely silent’.

Outside Indonesia, in the West, church denominations have not wanted to upset Indonesian churches, he noted, though the Anglican diocese of Melbourne called in 2002 and 2009 for self-determination for West Papua, as well as for UN intervention.

However, the churches of the Pacific have been increasingly alarmed about West Papua, feeling most akin to their Melanesian cousins. In December 2011, the Pacific Council of Churches called for West Papuan independence, and in June 2012 the General Secretary of the World Council of Churches, Rev Olav Fyske Tveit visited West Papua, urging serious dialogue to end violence and address problems.

Increasingly, churches throughout the Pacific and other countries, including even in Africa, have been calling for Papuans to have self-determination. In 2016, the Papua New Guinea Council of Churches called for decolonisation of West Papua. Catholic Archbishop Sir John Ribat said the Catholic Church supported the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP) in representing the West Papua people in the Melanesian Spearhead Group of Pacific nations.

In November 2016, leaders of churches in the Papuan capital, Jayapura, told the US Deputy Ambassador to Indonesia, Brian McFeeters, that the Papuan churches wanted a dialogue between the Indonesian government and the ULMWP with the mediation of a neutral third party. The Secretary General of the World Council of Churches, Rev Dr Tweit urged in March 2017 “an end to the ongoing violence and impunity. We support the call for social and economic justice through serious dialogue and a concrete political process” to resolve problems.

On 1 March 2017, the Vanuatu Minister of Justice, Ronald K. Warsal addressed the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, protesting on behalf of seven Pacific nations against the “killings and arrests of Papuans, extrajudicial executions of activists, the arrest, beatings, and fatal shootings of peaceful demonstrators … and reports of persistent violence against Papuan women”. He called for the UN High Commission for Human Rights to produce a full report, including on “the right to self-determination”.

Witnessing the Geneva meeting, Benny Wenda of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua said that “For more than 50 years, West Papua has been kept secret … Now is the time for West Papua’s struggle to come to an end. We ask all brothers and sisters across the Pacific, in Africa, and around the world to support West Papua’s legal right to self-determination. We want to be free”.

Fr Woods concluded that the Papuans will continue to be marginalised, subject to intimidation and violence, and see their country stripped of resources until they achieve genuine self-determination in a peaceful process mediated by the United Nations, and supported by churches and Pacific neighbours.

Brisbane Catholic Justice & Peace report

A detailed report on the situation in West Papua was prepared by Peter Arndt and Sr Susan Connolly for the Catholic Justice & Peace Commission in Brisbane in May 2016, We will lose everything: a report on a human rights fact-finding mission to West Papua. 

The Commission recommended 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;
  • 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 services. 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.

The Report said ‘the Indonesian Government took control of West Papua through violence and by denying Papuans a free and democratic say in their fate’. Other countries, ‘including Australia and the USA, either turned a blind eye to Indonesia’s ruthless determination to take control of West Papua at any cost or actively assisted them’.

For information, contact the Australian West Papuan Association. See also for local Melbourne  involvements, and  for news on international political groupings in support of West Papua.

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