VISITING Pacific island bishops have heard of on-going violence and repression faced by Papuan people during a rare visit to Indonesian’s most easterly province.
A delegation of 20 bishops from the Bishops Conference of Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands were also told of Papuan desires for independence from Indonesia, during a visit to the Papuan provincial capital, Jayapura.
Local rights activists were given only short notice about the visit as the bishops arrived in a vehicle convoy across the PNG and Indonesian border under military escort.
In a letter presented to the bishops, Catholic Women of West Papua wrote of the significance of the visit:
“Few foreigners and even fewer esteemed guests like yourselves are able to get permission to come, or are willing to risk visiting our country,” the statement said.
“We want you to know that we are not free.
“We are confined in a situation that is full of violence.
“Because of the Indonesian police and military we do not feel safe in our own land.
“We desire to determine our own future, freely and fairly.
“We want you to know that the United Liberation Movement for West Papua represents us. They have our full support.”
The ULMWP, formed in late 2014, brought together factions of the West Papua independence movement.
It has observer status at the Melanesian Spearhead Group, an influential regional forum, which includes representatives from PNG, Fiji, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and New Caledonia’s indigenous Kanak movement.
The letter to the bishops, which included the president of the Bishops conference, Archbishop John Ribat of Port Moresby, implored support to resolve numerous cases of human rights abuse.
It blamed Indonesian authorities for alleged abuses, and accused the Church, at a local level, of silence on the issue.
“Our people experience violence and death because of the brutal actions of the Indonesian military and police,” the letter said.
“Every day more and more migrants arrive. We are becoming a minority in our land and even in our own church while the Indonesian people master all aspects of life.
“In fact, they (the State) are often the perpetrators or protect the perpetrators, so we feel we have nowhere to turn.
“Sadly the Catholic Church in West Papua is largely silent about this and does not give voice to our cry for justice.”
The letter calls on the Conference of Bishops to encourage the Pacific Island Forum to immediately send a human rights fact-finding mission to West Papua.
The letter also said Catholic Papuan women were ready to greet Pope Francis; expressing a hope that the pontiff would visit West Papua as part of a planned visit to Indonesia scheduled for July 2017. The bishops’ visit to Jayapura, follows the release of a Church report released last month containing allegations of recent military and police intimidation, beatings and torture, kidnapping and murder in West Papua.
The report author, Josephite Sister Susan Connelly, a respected human rights advocate, visited West Papua, accompanied by Brisbane archdiocese’s Catholic Justice and Peace Commission executive officer Peter Arndt.
They interviewed more than 250 Papuan community leaders.
Sr Connelly compared the situation there to “stepping back twenty years when I first went to East Timor”.
“The same oppressive security presence everywhere, the same suspicion, bewilderment, frustration and sadness,” she said.