By the Rev. John Barr
When I first visited West Papua some six years ago the word “merdeka” or “independence” was on the lips of many people.
It’s easy to understand why many hold onto such aspirations. West Papua is distinctly “Melanesian” with a strong Christian tradition while most of Indonesia is part of South East Asia and maintains a strong tradition of Islam.
The differences are real while West Papua’s history is riddled with questionable negotiations carried out between colonial powers. These deals never considered the rights and the wellbeing of indigenous Papuans.
I visited West Papua again in August this year. This time local people were saying something rather different and quite alarming. On their lips was the word “genocide” and their concerns focussed, not so much on “independence” and “freedom” as they did on “survival” and efforts to prevent the loss of their culture. People still want their freedom however they now fear the decline and the ultimate death of their community.
The issue in West Papua today is framed in the terrifying words, “How are we going to survive?”
This cry was witnessed in many communities. “How are we going to survive?” These words come as thousands of new comers arrive in West Papua every week bringing a different culture and a different religion. These words come as 10,000 or more Indonesian troops breed fear into the lives of local people. Indonesian troops are often responsible for acts of intimidation and violence against ordinary people who simply want to be left alone.
These words come as the government constantly overlooks the medical and health needs of local people while foreigners exploit the vast natural resources of the region and grow rich on the profits.
The latest threat to survival in West Papua is a terrifying concern. It concerns HIV/AIDS and no-one knows how many people are affected. There are now nearly 1,500 reported cases and a local medical worker told me that for every reported case there is likely to be up 100 unreported cases of HIV/AIDS in West Papua. If her observations are correct, then up to ten percent of West Papua’s indigenous population may already be infected and the number is rising.
Lack of the most basic medical and educational services, the ongoing impact of outsiders and the proliferation of prostitution in the region is promoting the spread of HIV/AIDS. A critical scenario is being created here.
The Uniting Church’s partner, the Evangelical Christian Church in the Land of Papua, speaks loud and clear on behalf of the needs and the rights of local people. Presently, through a local clinic under the coordination of Mrs Mary Saud, the church is conducting HIV/AIDS education and prevention in the Biak region of West Papua. There are also plans to lead workshops and build a centre in Biak to care for those suffering from HIV/AIDS.
Many local communities are terrified of HIV/AIDS and those who get sick are often thrown out of the community while local hospitals often refuse to treat HIV/AIDS sufferers.
Papuan Church leaders are determined to address West Papua’s many broader issues. A “Zone of Peace” has been created in the region to resist the violence and the brutality of the military.
Human Rights groups like the church-sponsored ELSHAM are conducting workshops on peace education and conflict resolution. ELSHAM is also deeply involved in monitoring human rights abuses and a new program is being developed to work with indigenous women who are being harassed and abused by the military.
The needs are real in West Papua and the indigenous population is under real threat. Many reforms are taking place in Indonesia and many Indonesians are positive about the future. However, there is little optimism in West Papua. Here the future is critical as indigenous people simply try to survive.
The Evangelical Christian Church in the Land of Papua and ELSHAM are seeking the Uniting Church’s support and its solidarity.
The Uniting Church in Australia, through Uniting International Mission, is currently involved in:
1.. Support for church sponsored HIV/AIDs education and prevention throughout West Papua. 2.. Support for a church sponsored centre in Biak to care for those suffering from HIV/AIDS. 3.. Support for ELSHAM (Institute for Human Rights Advocacy and Education)
especially programs on peace education and support for abused indigenous women. 4.. Expressions of solidarity through (a) group visits to West Papua, (b)
visits to Australia by West Papuan leaders, and (c) placement of Uniting Church personnel to teach in West Papua. 5.. Advocacy on behalf of our partner church and ELSHAM with the Australian Government, the Indonesian Government and international agencies and networks.
Despite an abundance of natural resources (natural gas, oil, timber, copper and gold) West Papua is Indonesia’s second poorest province. Papuans are largely excluded from the benefits of these natural resources and they experience few opportunities to receive an education or gain access to basic health services.
Around one million people have migrated to West Papua from the crowded islands of Java and Sulawesi in the past 30 years. This means West Papua’s one and half million indigenous people face massive challenges as newcomers occupy traditional land and dominate local business.
West Papuans share more in common with their Melanesian neighbours just across the border in Papua New Guinea than they do with the Javanese migrants who also bring their religion of Islam to a largely Christian part of Indonesia. Many indigenous Papuans believe they are slowly being dominated by outsiders. They fear the future, believing their culture and their identity will be lost.
For many years the Indonesian army has occupied West Papua. This causes many tensions and there are ongoing abuses. Many indigenous Papuans have suffered under the military and this has created strong aspirations for some kind of independence or autonomy in the region.
Mrs Mary Saud, wife of the Moderator of the Evangelical Christian Church in the Land of Papua (GKI) co-ordinates a movement known as “Ibu-Iba Sara”. Sara was the first female convert to Christianity in West Papua and vibrant group of women who have gathered around the name “Sara” are people who want to make a difference in West Papua by reaching out into the community in service and compassion.
An activity of “Ibu-Ibu Sara” in a clinic run by Mary Saud. Mary is a qualified sister and mid-wife. The clinic is set on a small piece of land in Abepura (a suburb of Jayapura) on the campus of the theological college and next to Cenderawasih University.
Providing medical care for those who miss out
Sara Klinik offers free medical assistance to students and others in need. Medical care in West Papua is not readily available. Indeed, it is out of the reach for many people who simply cannot afford the fees. Even in a large urban location like Abepura, many people get sick and die from illnesses that can be readily treated eg, malaria and tuberculosis.
Medical care is virtually absent in the more remote regions of West Papua. Here malaria kills little children on a regular basis while untreated infections and other problems cause great pain for many people. Its hard to believe, however many parts of West Papua receive no medical assistance and when a nurse or a doctor is present, there is often no drugs available!
Mary Saud regularly conducts mobile clinics in the villages, particularly Biak region where she is well known and well respected. Parcels of drugs and other medical supplies are sent to Mary from the Uniting Church in Australia. Mary quickly gets on the job whenever a shipment of drugs arrives form Australia.
HIV/AIDS is on the rise
Mary has come across numerous case of HIV/AIDS in the villages. It is now believed that West Papua has the highest infection rate in Indonesia and the fourth highest rate in the world. Mary suggests that for every reported case of HIV/AIDS in West Papua, there are probably up to 100 other people who are either infected or in danger of being infected. Presently there are nearly 1,500 reported HIV/AIDS cases in West Papua. Using Mary’s formula, this means there could be as many as 150,000 people infected with HIV/AIDS in West Papua today!
Village people are very anxious and are greatly threatened by HIV/AIDS. People who are infected are often thrown out of the community. Hospitals refuse to treat HIV/AIDS cases and Mary says many HIV/AIDS sufferers simply wish “they were dead”.
Responding to the HIV/AIDS threat
There is an urgent need for research so that a clearer picture can be obtained concerning the HIV/AIDS situation in West Papua today. Secondly, there is need to train people so that they can then educate others about HIV/AIDS and its prevention.
Biak has been selected for a pilot project. Here Mary plans to reach isolated communities with her mobile clinics and to provide education about HIV/AIDS and its prevention. Other plans include the establishment of a HIV/AIDS education center in Biak and a center (hospice) where those suffering from HIV/AIDS can be cared for and can die with dignity.
Support for Sara Klinik
(a) Mobile Clinics in remote villages – drugs supplied by the Uniting Church in Australia through OPAL ($A.300) plus travel costs ($A.500) and food/accommodation ($A.200). Total cost – $A.1,000 per clinic.
Target Amount to be raised by the Uniting Church in Australia: $A1,000 per clinic, four times per year – $A4,000.
(b) HIV/AIDS Education Centre in Biak town – materials ($A.3,000), staff (x2 for 12 months – $A5,000), office rental (12 months – $A2,000). Total $A10,000.
Target Amount to be raised by the Uniting Church in Australia: $A10,000.
(c) Centre (hospice) for the care of those dying from HIV/AIDS – construction ($A10,000) – land is already available, staff (x3 for 12 months $A8,000), equipment ($A10,000), materials ($A.4,000). Total $A32,000.
Target amount to be raised by the Uniting Church in Australia: $A32,000
Institute for Human Rights Study and Advocacy (ELSHAM)
A terrible human rights situation
Indonesia’s occupation of West Papua has been brutal. Some observers claim up to 100,000 people have died as a result of this occupation over the past 40 years. Most of the world has ignored this shocking situation and many Papuans believe the likely outcome of this situation will lead to the loss of their identity and the loss of their culture. Some even speak in terms of “genocide” because they believe their very survival is at stake.
Churches and local organisations respond
Churches and local indigenous organisations have worked closely to raise issues and reveal the horrific reality of what is going on in West Papua. In 1994 the Irian Working Group for Justice and Peace was started and this group worked on human rights monitoring and investigation.
Four years later in 1998, ELSHAM was formally established. Working closely with the Evangelical Christian Church in the Land of Papua (GKI), a partner church with the Uniting Church in Australia, ELSHAM has emerged as a leading agency in West Papua in the field of human rights monitoring and investigation.
The board of ELSHAM involves representatives from the GKI (the moderator, Rev Hermann Saud) and other churches. Rev John Barr (Uniting Church in Australia) has been appointed as an international representative.
Besides human rights monitoring and investigation, ELSHAM also in the organisation of conflict resolution workshops and the coordination of discussion groups and seminars on issues concerning justice, peace and democracy. A critical role is now played by ELSHAM in the provision of up-to-date reports on human rights conditions for international agencies including the UN Commission on Human Rights. The well known advocate, John Rumbiak, is ELSHAM’s international chairperson and he speaks with great wisdom and authority on these matters.
Operations in West Papua
ELSHAM operates a central coordination office in Jayapura together with six regional offices throughout West Papua. During the past few years ELSHAM has investigated and reported on a number of human rights abuses.
These include the Indonesian army’s brutal crackdown on peaceful demonstrators in Biak in July1998, extrajudicial killings and torture in Nabire in May 2000, police operations and human rights violations in Wasior in August 2001, the assassination of Papuan community leader, Theys Eluay in November 2001) and various killings and other crimes in the Freeport Copper and Gold mining operations.
Recently ELSHAM was at the forefront of establishing a Zone of Peace in West Papua. This initiative seeks to establish a peaceful resolution to the conflict though non-violent action and dialogue.
A worrying future
Despite efforts to negotiate peace, the outlook for West Papua is not good. This situation is greatly influenced by the following scenarios:
November 2001 Indonesian Special Forces (Kopassus) abducted and killed the West Papuan leader, Theys Eluay.
In December 2003, Timbul Silaen was appointed by Jakarta to head the police force in West Papua. Silaen was indicted by UN prosecutors for his role in war crimes and crimes against humanity while he headed the Indonesian police force in East Timor in 1999.
In late 2003 Enrico Guterres, a former East Timor militia leader established a base for militia operations in West Papua. Guterres has been convicted by an Indonesian court for war crimes in East Timor and is facing at least 10 years imprisonment.
The Indonesian military are setting up militia groups in the Central Highlands of West Papua while the militant Muslim militia called Laskar Jihad has established a presence in Sorong and Fak Fak.
Continuing militarisation in the region with the possibility of up to 50,000 Indonesian troops being located in West Papua in the near future. This will produce a ratio of one Indonesian soldier to every 30 indigenous Papuans!
Rapid increase in the number of HIV/AIDS cases in West Papua.
Specific Programs seeking Uniting Church support
(1) Support women who have been abused by the Indonesian military
Papuan women are extremely vulnerable to the exploits of occupying military personnel, particularly in remote regions. The incidence of abuse (including rape) against indigenous women is alarming and ELSHAM has established a three year program involving the support, counseling and care of those who have been abused victims in areas of military operations. The Timika and Mapduma areas have already been identified and there are plans to assess and document cases in other areas where the military operate.
ELSHAM will also provide education and support for abused women to take their cases to court while workshops on violence against women and conflict prevention will be held across West Papua. The incidence of HIV/AIDS in West Papua and its impact on women who are abused will also be researched and assessed.
The project will involve one paid co-ordinator and two volunteer field workers.
Target amount to be raised by the Uniting Church in Australia: $A5,000 per year for three years.
(2) Support for the General Work of ELSHAM
Human rights monitoring , investigation and reporting across West Papua
Litigation and non-litigation assistance for the victims of human rights violations in West Papua.
Popular education and advocacy campaigns regarding the human rights situation in West Papua.
Human rights training of trainers. This includes advocacy and conflict prevention and peace building.
Basic human rights training for investigators and monitors (church workers, students, NGO workers etc.).
Target amount to be raised by the Uniting Church in Australia: $A5,000 per year for three years.
For more information on how you can support the people of West Papua, contact the Rev. John Barr, Executive Secretary, Uniting International Mission