A consultation in Geneva has proposed political dialogue as the only way towards peace and stability in Tanah Papua, a province of Indonesia.
The region has remained the focus of tensions between the Indonesian authorities and the Papuan indigenous people for years – resulting in grave human rights violations.
Hosted by the World Council of Churches (WCC), the consultation titled “Human Rights and Peace for Papua” was organised by the International Coalition for Papua (ICP), a group of faith-based and civil society organisations.
The event brought together a number of faith-based and civil society organisations, church leaders from Tanah Papua, peace activists and United Nations officials, from 23 to 24 September in Geneva, Switzerland.
Participants in the consultation discussed various aspects of the crisis in Tanah Papua, stressing the need for institutional reforms to protect civil, political, socio-economic and cultural rights of the people. They noted the need to promote freedom of expression to avoid Papua becoming isolated from international support.
The Rev Socratez Sofyan Yoman from the Communion of Baptist Churches in Papua and a keynote speaker at the consultation, expressed deep distress over state violence in Tanah Papua.
“Papuans want peace and have always respected other human beings throughout the ages.”
“A lengthy struggle will be needed to change the government policies which have been implemented for the last five decades,” said Yoman referring to on-going violence in the province.
He added that finding a political solution also needs “patience and total commitment to achieve lasting justice, reform and final victory”.
Tanah Papua has a prominent Christian presence, with more than 45 diverse denominations.
Leonard Imbiri, General Secretary of the Papua Customary Council, shared concern over the silencing of human right activists in Tanah Papua. Explaining the situation in the province, he called exploitation of natural resources, military interests in the region and demographic changes as only some of the sources of the problem.
“Extra-judicial killings, torture, arbitrary arrests, poor health and education infrastructure, child mortality and high HIV/AIDS rates, land grabbing and deforestation are a few examples of human rights violation, indicating inability of the national government to deliver,” Imbiri added.
WCC’s programme executive for human rights and global advocacy, Christina Papazoglou, referred to the long-standing support of the WCC to the struggle of the indigenous people of Tanah Papua and for an end to the on-going violence and impunity. She highlighted the need for a Jakarta-Papua dialogue as a means to address the root causes of the present problems, leading to peace with justice in the region.
“It is sad and worrisome to see that after all these years, nothing has really changed,” added Papazoglou.
Mentioning the WCC Executive Committee statement issued in February 2012, Papazoglou said that the Indonesian authorities were requested to take necessary steps to release political prisoners, to lift the ban on peaceful assembly of Papuans and to demilitarise Tanah Papua.
“The WCC Executive Committee urged the Indonesian government to initiate necessary steps to enter into dialogue with indigenous Papuan people and to take adequate measures to protect their rights,” she said.
The international consultation was followed by a side-event on “Human Rights and Indigenous Peoples in Asia: Cases in West Papua” organised jointly by the Asia Human Rights Commission, the WCC’s Commission of Churches on International Affairs, Franciscans International, Geneva for Human Rights, the International Coalition for Papua, Tapol and the World Organisation against Torture.
The consultation took place on 25 September 2013 at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva.