An ecumenical delegation from the World Council of Churches (WCC) visited Indonesia from 15 to 22 February, including the provinces of Papua and Papua Barat - where increasing violence and discrimination against indigenous Papuan people was recently highlighted in a joint statement by five UN human rights mandate-holders.
Five members of the Council of the United Evangelical Mission (UEM) participated, including moderator Willem Simarmata of Indonesia's largest Evangelical church, the Huria Kristen Batak Protestan, the vice moderators Abednego Keshomshahara (Northwest Diocese of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania) and Ulrich Möller (Evangelical Church of Westphalia), the council members Reuel Marigza (United Church of Christ in the Philippines) and Marion Unger (Evangelical Church in the Rhineland) as well as Jochen Motte for the board of UEM.
The purpose of the ecumenical delegation’s visit was to express solidarity and encourage member churches and related organizations in their efforts for justice and peace in Indonesia. Organized as part of the WCC’s ‘Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace’, the visit focused on issues concerning religious freedom and inter-religious harmony in Indonesia, and the human rights situation in Papua. The delegation was hosted by the Communion of Churches in Indonesia (PGI) and the Evangelical Christian Church in Tanah Papua (GKI-TP).
Delegation members visited churches and their Muslim community partners in Surabaya, where suicide bomb attacks took place in May 2018, and welcomed the extraordinary inter-communal and inter-religious solidarity they observed in that context. However, in a meeting with Minister for Religious Affairs Lukman Hakim Saifuddin delegation members also expressed concern over still high numbers of prosecutions under Indonesia’s blasphemy law, and the ways in which the 2006 Religious Harmony Law is used to marginalize religious minorities
Bishop Abednego Keshomshahara, Vice Moderator of the Africa region of UEM, travelled with a group of the WCC pilgrim team visit to the Wamena region in Papua. The thematic focus was on rural development and the continuing violation of human rights. "I have met people who have cried and lamented," he says. The arbitrary arrests and killing have been going on for too long. The main victims are the indigenous Papuans. "They have little access to adequate education and health care. They live in constant fear and feel marginalized by the many migrants from all parts of Indonesia". Their descriptions contrast with the official language of the authorities, the security forces and the military.
Many see themselves as victims of the clashes between the fighters for Papua's independence and the government. They also feel confused and internally torn. Some want to maintain their traditional way of life, others want to get involved in the development of modern society.
Aid could be provided through increased training of indigenous teachers. Young people should be offered scholarships. Empowerment is urgently needed to give people access to the economy.
Bishop Reuel Norman Marigza, Vice Moderator of the Asia region of UEM, was part of the Jayapura group with a focus on freedom of expression and health care. "We were told the fate of a seriously ill woman who had been denied access by several hospitals and health centers. There is a lack of medicines, while large quantities are hoarded in some places until the expiry date. The rate of HIV/AIDS infection among the Papuans is very high and rising: Under 1000 Papuans, 300 are infected (estimated). It is possible that the number of unreported cases is even higher, because many people are afraid of the stigma and keep the disease secret. "We must appeal to the government to provide better care for people in rural areas. So the appeal addresses also to the UN and the German government.
A man spent eleven years in prison because he had carried the starflag of the independent Papua. "Despair and hopelessness are present everywhere", Marigza explains and sees a black Christmas tree as a symbol for this, which a community of the GKI has created as its call for help to the world. "They want someone to speak for them because they cannot be heard.
The four largest Protestant churches in Papua have written a joint pastoral letter in which they draw attention emphatically to the human rights violations, which was new. "They now have a stronger voice together."
Marion Unger, member of the UEM Council: "During the visit to the village Kaliki, 120 km away from Merauke, the consequences of deforestation of the rain forest and the establishment of monocultures such as palm oil plantations and rice fields were discussed. The people are denied access to the forest by the government and are no longer allowed to hunt or fish. Women and children are the first victims of environmental destruction and exploitation by multinational corporations. You see children with scrawny arms and legs and starving bellies. It has been complained that the Papuans are being hunted down under false promises, that they have to help with deforestation at dumping wages and that they have to work at the lowest possible wages in the factories that are being built. They do not receive copies of the contracts and therefore cannot appeal. The level of education is catastrophic, there are hardly any teachers and after six years of primary school some people cannot read or write.
Throughout the visit, the delegation was closely monitored, constantly photographed and filmed by security guards when they were not in church. It was not possible to move freely alone or to several people outside the group (a feeling like in former East Germany)."
Jochen Motte thanked the WCC for giving the UEM the opportunity to participate in the pilgrimage as an associate member, especially as the two organizers, GKI and PGI, are member and long-standing cooperation partner of the UEM community. "This was a remarkable expression of solidarity with our members and partners of international ecumenism, which will inspire and strengthen us in our togetherness and cooperation," said the Deputy General Secretary.
UEM online editor