The World Council of Churches (WCC) continues to amplify the voice of the indigenous Papuans in Indonesia, who are oppressed by racism and discrimination.
Concerned about the escalating crisis of violence, racism and discrimination against indigenous Papuans in Indonesia, a side event co-sponsored by the WCC was convened during a fall session of the UN Human Rights Council to discuss patterns that are oppressing and displacing Papuans.
Chair of the event Adrien-Claude Zoller, president of Geneva for Human Rights, observed that “Papuans have been called monkeys, pigs and sometimes dogs… but they are protesting that they are not animals.” Reaction to the use of such epithets has resulted in widespread unrest and demonstrations by Papuans, and a violent response by Indonesian security forces.
In his opening remarks, Peter Prove, director of the WCC’s Commission of the Churches on International Affairs, stated that “in February 2019, a large international ecumenical delegation visited Indonesia and, as part of that visit, travelled to four different locations in the territory of Papua. This was following up a long history of concern on the part of the WCC for the long term crisis in Papua.” Prove stressed that “the most important thing is that there should be accountability, transparency, more exposure and a real response to this issue.”
Nicolas Zoller, also with Geneva for Human Rights, added that “the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has urged the Indonesian government to recognize the rights of the protestors.”
Nicolas Zoller further explained that several documents related to human rights violations against Papuans had been communicated to the Indonesian government, and that progress and implementation towards a positive change is still awaited.
A Papuan witness was present to attest to the ever-increasing violence and its consequences, and said that “the Papuan people hope that the Indonesian government will offer more help, but we request help without the military as this tends to make the situation worse.”
A video was shown of Papuan church leaders expressing their concern about the racial abuse and discrimination which they observed to be targeted against Papuan students, saying “we believe international intervention and solidarity with the Papuan people is now needed urgently as we call and cry out for justice and peace.”
Budi Tjahjono, Asia-Pacific programme coordinator for Franciscans International, commented that “this shows a failure of the state to provide a safe place for the students and allowing them their right to education.”
A recent statement by the Pacific Conference of Churches strongly condemned the latest examples of racism and oppression against Papuans and identified them as expressions of institutional racism, calling on Indonesia to ensure that Papuans may enjoy their equal rights as human beings, while also calling upon churches from around the world for prayers for justice and peace.
Adrien-Claude Zoller underlined that “no matter how much dialogue we have, what we need is action to combat racism and discrimination and continued efforts to ensure that every human is not robbed of their rights.”
Prove declared that “this is a blind spot for the international community, which is made blind to that situation by the relative lack of access and information and exposure of what is happening in Papua. I take this opportunity to ask the Indonesian government to renew its invitation to the High Commissioner for Human Rights to visit Papua and to facilitate at the earliest possible opportunity that visit.”
As much as new forms of racism and such related intolerances constantly emerge, WCC stands in solidarity with churches facing such threats to justice and peace while also challenging churches to combat and address racism in their own contexts.