29.07.08 15:28 Age: 4 yrs

West Papuans "traumatized", WCC team tells Indonesian government


Migration to West Papua is threatening to marginalize its indigenous inhabitants.
Photo: Peter Williams/WCC
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West Papuans have yet to recover from the trauma of human rights violations. At the same time continuing in-migration is threatening to marginalize them in their resource-rich province, an ecumenical team from the World Council of Churches (WCC) told top-level Indonesian government officials.


Papuans appear to be traumatized because of migration to their island, Rev. Prof. James Haire told Indonesian social welfare minister Aburizal Bakrie 24 July.


A theology professor from the Uniting Church in Australia, Haire was one of a six-member ecumenical team of "Living Letters" who visited West Papua and other parts of Indonesia from 18-24 July.


Living Letters teams representing the member churches of the WCC travel to locations around the world in advance of the International Ecumenical Peace Convocation in 2011. They listen, learn, share approaches and challenges in overcoming violence and in peace-making, and pray together for peace in the community and in the world.


"As Indonesia democratizes and undergoes reform, and thus experiences the free movement of population from other provinces into Papua, an irony is that these factors unintentionally tend to marginalize the indigenous Papuans," said Haire, speaking on behalf of the Living Letters team.


At the root of the problem is a transmigration programme sponsored by the 1965-1998 Suharto government. It had encouraged other Indonesians to migrate to West Papua in order to make the Papuans, who had long been fighting for independence, a minority in their own territory.


The post-Suharto government stopped the transmigration programme, but it could not stop waves of other Indonesians seeking to do business in West Papua, again tilting the economic scale to the disadvantage of less educated, largely illiterate Papuans.


With the continuing spontaneous in-migration of mostly Muslim traders, the population now is about 2.4 million, with about 1.4 to 1.5 million West Papuans, most of whom belong to churches such as the Christian Church of West Papua or the Indonesian Christian Church (GKI), a WCC member.


Autonomy has recently been granted to Papuans. However, trained bureaucrats and public servants still often come from outside the island, again unintentionally tending to disadvantage the position of the Papuans, noted Haire.


"All these emerging marginalization trends plus the serious concerns for education, healthcare, and economic livelihoods need to be addressed," he added.


Give and take


In response, social welfare minister Bakrie told the Living Letters team that the Indonesian central government had not failed West Papua.


"The central government actually gives five times more budget to West Papua than to the Javanese and other provinces because the Papuans are too backward," he said. "Other provinces are actually subsidizing Papua."


One problem, according to Bakrie, is that the new West Papua autonomous provincial government has to spend 80 percent of the funds given to them for facilities such as office buildings and equipment.


"Another problem arises when people more adept in trading and com merce come to West Papua and end up more economically well off," he said. He stressed that under democracy the government cannot stop people from other provinces doing business in the mineral and timber-rich province, which comprises one fifth of Indonesia's total area.


Despite what the social minister said was a substantial amount of funds the central government is pouring to West Papua, it appears that the central government is still getting more from the province than what it is giving back, says Dr Mathews George Chunakara, the WCC programme executive for Asia, who accompanied members of the Living Letters team to West Papua.


He cites the poor health care, low literacy rate, and poverty of the Papuans despite the gold, copper and timber that have been extracted and continue to be extracted in the province.


"This situation is a great cause for anxiety and anguish for the Christian Church of Papua because its members have yet to recover from the trauma of massive human rights violations" suffered under Suharto, he said.


Human rights violations in West Papua were also denounced by the WCC before the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva in March 2008. "Papuans still are subject to torture, ill-treatment, arbitrary arrests and unfair trials by the Indonesian authorities," the UN body was told. The WCC oral intervention blamed the "ongoing militarization" of the island for this "pattern of intimidation" against Papua's indigenous people.


Earlier on 23 July, the Living Letters team also met with the deputy foreign affairs minister Andri Hadi, more regretful of past government policies in Papua.


"We made a mistake in Papua. We acknowledge that justice has not been well-served there," he told the team, citing the transmigration policy that had been in place some 15 years under Suharto's regime.


But he assured that the central government is trying hard to empower local people so they can become leaders in their own communities and need not "import" outsiders to lead Papuans.


More information on the Living Letters visit to Indonesia


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WCC member churches in Indonesia