Two hundred priests call for peace in Indonesia’s Papua region
A coalition of 194 Catholic priests in Indonesia’s war-torn Papua region have recently issued remarks calling on the international community, including the United Nations, to help bring about peace in Papua. The priests include diocesan priests as well as members of the Franciscan, Augustinian, Jesuit, and Missionaries of the Sacred Heart orders.
Papua is in the midst of an immense uprising waged by separatist rebels against security forces. In their statement, the priests called on other nations and the UN to urge the separatists and the security forces to establish a ceasefire immediately. They stated, “We also firmly support inviting the UN high commissioner for human rights to come, see and hear the actual human rights conditions in Papua.” They also called on the government and funding agencies to review certain policies, such as increases in troop deployments, as some of these policies, they argued, are counterproductive and indeed encourage further violence and state oppression.
The priests continued their remarks by commenting that some members of government accuse priests who even bring up human rights issues as being among the separatist rebels. This is wrong, they argued, and exacerbated by the fact that “there is no transparent legal process to address such [human] rights violations” as are happening in Papua.
Civilians have long been caught in the crossfire of the Papua conflict between the separatists and the security forces. In fact, over 60,000 Papuans have been displaced since the dawn of the violence. For example, last month in the Gunung Bintang district, hundreds of houses were destroyed by security forces who claimed they were pursuing the separatists; this displaced hundreds of people, who fled to other places including neighboring Papua New Guinea. Additionally, last month there was a clash between the separatists and security forces that resulted in the death of a two-year-old boy and the wounding of a six-year-old child.
Father John Bunay, spokesman for the priests said that “the Church in Papua is present among the suffering people . . . even though the bishops of these dioceses are silent over what is happening, we hope our voices echo in the hearts of the people.” He also said that they were appealing to the international community because the Indonesian government often turns a blind eye to the Papua situation, which is why appeals of broader scope were necessary. “To stop this kind of denial,” he said, “Let the UN come here to see our situation.”