In the Light of Faith, let’s Build a Peaceful and Prosperous Papua


Circular letter from the Catholic bishops in the Land of Papua.

1. Introduction.

The Catholic Church in the land of Papua is an ecclesiastic province consisting of five dioceses, namely: Merauke Archdiocese, Jayapura Diocese, Manokwari-Sorong Diocese, Agats Diocese and Timika Dicese. Each diocese is an autonomous unit. The bishop in each of these autonomous units also has the autonomy to carry out his pastoral duties, under the power and authority he receives from Jesus Christ himself, the church’s Good Shepherd. The church as a whole is structured into one body with His Holiness the Pope at its head. Within the Church of Christ as we see it on earth, His Holiness the Pope is a representative of Jesus Christ, the invisible head of the Church. The bishops, although each may carry out his pastoral duties autonomously, must still unite in collegiality with His Holiness and all other bishops. This is how the unity of the church is clearly and visibly formed. Bishops in an episcopal conference and ecclesiastic province manifest this collegiality through their cooperation, and also through speaking out together in order to give guidance to members of their flock, especially if they are facing similar events in their lives. This is the reason why we are issuing this circular letter jointly.

This circular letter is addressed to the Catholic congregation in the Land of Papua, to oriests and pastoral parish councils, grassroots Church communities, consecrated life instititions and Catholic lay organisations. Because many of the issues we will talk about are intertwined with local government and the lives of the wider population, we also address this circular letter to local government, institutes of elected representatives and all well-intentioned individuals. After we celebrate the successful recent elections, even though some small resentments may have arisen here and there, and as we move towards the elections of representative councils and the next President and Vice-President of the Republic of Indonesia, we believe this is an appropriate moment to address many of the issues which require our attention as part of our collective effort to build a peaceful and prosperous Papua.

2. Keeping our faith within a diverse society.

Catholics in Indonesia are a small flock. Even in Papua us Catholics are a minority, even though together with Protestants, we as Christians outnumber any other religion. Us Catholics mustn’t be discouraged because we are few in number and it seems as if our number will not increase. This often brings questions about how priests are carrying out their work. Seeing how many Protestant denominations and other religions are busy looking for new followers, our priests are asked: why are we not more actively trying to get more followers? Well if we remember the message of our Lord and Shepherd to His small band of followers. Jesus said, “Do not be afraid, little flock” (Luke 12:32). There’s no need to be afraid, because our calling is not to be a big and powerful flock, or the numerical majority. Our calling is to be the salt and light of the earth (Matthew 5:13-16). These metaphors show that we don’t need to be the greatest or most numerous, especially when building and depending on outward symbols of our religion. But, through the way we live our lives, we are called to bring a feeling of security and peace to society, and through good behaviour we show which road leads to happiness and which road leads to misfortune.

As with other religions, the Catholic Church also has a mission to announce our faith in its beliefs to others. In our multireligious society, we carry out this mission while respecting each persons freedom of religion, and taking a tolerant and respectful attitude to those who hold a different faith and religion to ours. Tension and conflict does sometimes emerge on this land due to a lack of tolerance, or competition for followers, or because one Church wants to monopolise and area and hinder other Churches or other religious from doing what they have a right to do. This is clearly not in accordance with our missionary spirit to spread the love of God and bring all people under His loving embrace.

To overcome these obstacles we ask local government to carry out its duties to foster good relationships between religions. We call on our priests and lay leaders to participate actively in the Fellowship of Churches and the Forum for Religious Harmony (FKUB) or other forums or movements with the aim of cultivating friendship, cooperation and dialogue in the interests of peace and harmony in our shared lives, and to struggle together to prevent and break down fanaticism and religious radicalism that leads to terrorism.

3. Papua Land of Peace.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God (Matthew 5:9). Jesus Christ Himself is our peace (Ephesians 2:14). He has already reconciled us with God and torn down the wall that divides us, that makes us enemies, thus uniting all groups in this peace. The good news for us is that in Jesus Christ God has made peace with us and sent

us out to bring peace to all people and all beings. This is the good news, the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. The essence of the Gospel is that was that we must bring the peace created by Jesus Christ to all people and all beings.

In our society we live alongside all sorts of religions, each with its own vision for life. However, there is a common meeting-point: All yearn for peace, all want to live in peace. And all are called to build harmony and good relationships between all components of society. Churches and religions in forums for cooperation want to realise this vision and mission: Papua – a land of Peace. The whole Catholic congregation is called to join with other elements of society to develop efforts to build Papua as a Land of Peace. In this way we actualise God’s Gospel and His mission to bring peace.

We, as Catholics must be involved in all development activities which support peace for all members of the community. In particular, because of the calling of our Gospel, we mush build good and harmonious relationships with other religions and other churches. We know that there are many differences among us, both in terms of the teachings of Lord God and the afterlife, and in how we view humans and the way they observe their religions. These differences do not need to be a reason to become enemies or allow conflicts to divide us. We are called upon to develop positive attitudes and steps to bind us together in friendship, respecting the freedom of religion and all that is unique and special in each religion.

All forms of making enemies, conflict and war are walls that divide us and which must be torn down. All weapons of war, swords, spears and arrows must be forged into farm tools which bolster peace. (Joshua 2:4). Tribal war is not a sport and it is not a cultural heritage which must be preserved. Those sorts of wars and other forms of violence must be halted. It is not enough just to resolve them with indigenous customary ceremonies. For a peaceful resolution, positive law must be upheld so that with legal aid and justice, the light of the Gospel will more powerfully chase away darkness and bring light to all.

We hope that problems of population can be addressed through attention to Papua’s Special Autonomy status and the rights of indigenous Papuans, the majority of whom are Christians. The fact that the majority of the people who migrate from outside Papua are coming from majority-Muslim areas, gives rise to worry and suspicion that can affect interreligious relations. Therefore demographic planning and the protection of the rights of indigenous Papuans as laid down in the Special Autonomy law needs to be carried out through clear and defined regulations, because demographic issues can easily trigger conflicts and destroy interreligious harmony.

4. Papuan Special Autonomy.

When Law of the Republic of Indonesia 21/2001 was enacted in 2001, Papua was given Special Autonomy status. As time has gone on, many aspects are in need of renewal to take into account changes which have taken place in governing structures and how various sectors are managed, such as education, healthcare and security of the community. An update is also needed to affirm how this law is implemented, such as the need for special provincial regulations (Perdasi and Perdasus), many of which have been neglected, with the result that most of the main provisions of the law are still dead, or are open to interpretation.

The basis and objective of Special Autonomy is clearly stated in the Special Autonomy law. As a basis for consideration the deficiencies in Papuan society are mentioned, such as: a sense of justice has not been met, community welfare has not been achieved, law enforcement is still falling short, as is respect for human rights, especially those of Papuans. The products of nature’s riches are still not being utilised as well as they could be to raise the standard of living of indigenous peoples, leading to a gap between Papua and other regions.

To close this gap and raise Papuans’ living standards, and give opportunities to indigenous Papuans, there is a need for special legislation such as that which is contained within the Special Autonomy law. Fundamental values contained within this policy are preserving and respecting ethics and morals, the basic rights of indigenous Papuans, human rights, the supremacy of law, democracy, pluralism and the constitutional equality of all citizens, a recognition of fundamental rights and a resolution of issues connected with violations of the human rights of indigenous Papuans and how to protect those rights.

To implement these policies, the Special Autonomy law gives a greater level of authority to Papuans to look after their own affairs, which also comes with a great responsibility. The central pillars which need to be improved and built upon are as follows:organising governance, how natural riches can be used for the welfare of indigenous peoples, empowerment and capacity building around economic, social and cultural matters, a recognition of basic rights along with protecting human rights and finding a resolution to human rights violations, and achieving a sense of justice. After 16 years of the law’s existence, we ask how far these special policies have been implemented? It is certain that there have been improvements and progress in many areas. Local leadership is in the hands of indigenous Papuans, cities and many regencies are progressing in establishing good and clear governance, there are polices which give scholarships to many children, training is provided and there is an increase in welfare and healthcare. There is also a peaceful atmosphere

within society which is a sign of good interreligious relationships and between different components of society. Nevertheless, there are still many areas which need more continuing work, because what we want to build are complete humans who have to keep growing in all dimensions.

The key to progress and self-reliance is work. All people should work in the field which God has entrusted them with. We place our hope in the government that it will work with discipline, diligence and honesty for social progress, school and university students should study diligently, entrepreneurs and farmers pursue their own sectors, and people should find productive uses for the village budget allocation rather than just waiting for money to trickle down from the government and then be rapidly spent on short-term consumerism.

5. Special Autonomy and Demographics.

On the issue of demographics, the Special Autonomy Law obliges the Government to supervise, monitor and control the growth of population (article 61:1). This issue needs to be handled seriously because it has a direct impact on the protection of, and respect for, basic rights of the indigenous population as mandated in the law. Migration of new inhabitants moving to Papua is very high and is out of control. Marginalisation and the economic gap is becoming ever greater. Migration from mountainous areas and the interior to cities creates similar problems. People from the interior who move to the city don’t get opportunities to get work and a place to live. They live on the peripheries, marginalised from centres of economic activity, with all the negative consequences that entails. Whenever a settlement starts to grow, the indigenous inhabitants are pushed away from the main streets and are forced further into forest areas. Many people are easily convinced to give up their land rights in exchange for some immediate income, but in doing so are losing the mother that feeds them and sustains their lives. With Special Autonomy status, Papuans declare they want to be masters of their own land. In the sectors of politics and governance, Papuans now hold high positions. If this is what is meant by being masters of their own land, the objective has been reached. But of course it is not just this which was expected from the Special Autonomy status. In many other r indigenous Papuans have still not become masters of their own land because they still don’t hold positions which determine and benefit them.

The great increase in inhabitants from outside Papua creates a non-level playing field for finding work, where indigenous Papuans lose out. Many jobs, especially in the informal sector, are taken by migrants. How can this imbalance be overcome? Of course it is not by mocking Papuans or grumbling about them, saying they are lazy, stupid, backwards or various other stigmas. What they need is clear protection and unequivocal support from those in government. This is because it is actually this informal sector, which could be managed by local people, but in which unequal competition is felt most strongly. For this reason, we ask that in this informal business sector, limits are placed on the role of migrants and that local people are trained to do the work. People’s mining areas such as those in Nabire Regency, Senggi, Mimika, Asmat and Korowai and gold-panners in the tailings of the Freeport mine, need to be regulated to ensure local peoples’ right to a livelihood. The same goes for public services such as minibus services and motorbike taxis on the city margins and in the interior, kiosks, hairdressers, mechanics workshops and so on, which could definitely become areas of work for local people. We ask the local government to regulate this, as mandated in the Special Autonomy law (article 38:2).

Regarding oil palm companies and other forms of investment, we ask that the land rights of local people are safeguarded and protected. To this end local government should conduct a review and emphasise agreements concerning land leases and land ownership. These agreements must encompass companies’ responsibilities to increase the welfare of local people, determine a higher price for timber logs, and the rehabilitation and maintenance of the environment as the integrity of creation.

6. Human Rights

Just as all citizens do, the people of Papua have a right to protection of their fundamental rights, including the right to life and to a suitable standard of living, the right to a healthy life and access to a good education. Considerable progress has already been achieved. The respect for life and the dignity of humankind can be said to be improving, as far as this can be measured by a reduction in frequency and types of human rights violations involving violence from security forces. However acts of violence that threaten and destroy human life are still continuing in our society. We are called to guard and protect life, starting from the moment life blossoms in a mother’s womb until the moment God calls us back to the source of life. There must be firm enforcement of the law whenever these rights are violated. Actions that have placed human life in danger must not be settled with informal or improvised justice, but through positive law. Settlements based on indigenous customary law are not adequate because the size of the penalties are often decided arbitrarily and the chain of revenge is not broken.

To resolve cases of human rights violations and reconciliation, and to provide clarity on the history of Papua, it is underlined in the Special Autonomy law (article 45-46) that the government should create a representative office of the National Human Rights Commission, a Human Rights Court and a Truth and Reconcilliation Commission in Papua. This mandate in the Special Autonomy Law has not been carried out, except for the representative office of the National

Human Rights Commission. In the meantime, campaigns for Papuan independence and cries for the freedom of the Melanesian race have become ever more incessant. Unresolved human rights cases are often used as a weapon to demand separation from the Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia. These matters are like thorns in the flesh because they spread a cynical attitude towards Special Autonomy, and of course they obstruct the enthusiasm for development. For this reason we once again ask for a resolution of major cases of human rights violations, at least those which have taken place in the last 17 years (Wasior 2001, Bloody Wamena 2003 and Paniai 2014) so that the noble struggle to uphold human rights is not manipulated once more for political ends. There has been some news recently that the Coordinating Minister for the Law and Human Rights has been setting up a new body which will be called the National Harmony Council which will resolve human rights violations using indigenous customary law, rather than juridically. Whether it is called a Commission or a Council, the resolution of these cases must meet its objective: reveal the truth and uphold justice.

7. Summary and Recommendations

To finish this Circular Letter we wish to affirm the following points as recommendations to the Church, to Local Government and other relevant parties.

(1) We encourage Catholics to persevere in deepening and enriching their Catholic faith and the teachings of the Church and pray that the lives and activities of all members of society are animated by faith and love.

(2) Within our society there are many religions each with its own faith and teachings. We are not called upon to make enemies of others, but to show a tolerant and respectful attitude to others so that the differences between us are not seen as threats, but as honourable matters that can enrich us ourselves. We encourage our pastors and religious leaders to take an active role in forums to promote harmony, or movements to build interfaith friendship and harmony.

(3) We ask those in positions of power to protect and value to indigenous Papuans in a meaningful way. Those in power should provide training and capacity building to Papuans, across different sectors. Jobs, especially those involving the use of natural resources should be allocated first and foremost to indigenous Papuans.

(4) Migration from outside Papua must be regulated and controlled so that Papuans do not become a minority, or spectators in their own land.

(5) The right to own and use land should be regulated and protected.(6) We ask the government to review MoUs concerning land leases by oil palm investors and the price of timber logs.

(7) We ask the government to resolve cases of human rights violations, while continuing to work hard alongside all elements of society to ensure that fundamental rights to life, healthcare and education can be put in place.

This letter has been issued in Jayapura amidst the background of elections for the new leaders of Papua Province and several regencies, and the screening of candidates for legislative elections and for the President and Vice-President of Indonesia. Hopefully God will bestow His blessing on all, and give us all the light and wisdom to ensure the advancement and development of our society towards truth and benefit for all.

Jayapura, 8 August 2018.