Ecumenical groups address issues in Indonesia, Papua New Guinea

Ecumenical groups address issues in Indonesia, Papua New Guinea

Two ecumenical groups — the World Council of Churches (WCC) and the World Association for Christian Communication (WACC) — have respectively highlighted situations in the Tanah Papua area of Indonesia and in Papua New Guinea, which shares the Pacific island of New Guinea.

The WCC addressed the ongoing human rights crisis as the Papuan people seek greater self-determination and WACC said it was supporting a communications project to benefit villagers seeking to protect their river environment from mining activities.

In Tanah Papua (the two Indonesian provinces of Papua and West Papua), WCC General Secretary the Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit said that “we urge an end to the ongoing violence and impunity. We support the call for social and economic justice through serious dialogue and a concrete political process that seeks to address root causes of the present problems.”

The Papuan people have been demanding freedom of expression and the right to self-determination but their demands have been suppressed by Indonesian authorities, sometimes violently. During his visit to Tanah Papua from June 17 to 20, Tveit met with Indonesian and Papuan church leaders, according to a WCC news release.

Tanah Papua has a prominent Christian presence, with more than 45 diverse denominations. The province has remained the focus of tensions between the authorities and the Papuan people. In February, the WCC’s Executive Committee expressed concern over continuing violence and urged a peaceful resolution.

“The Indonesian government must consider the realities of Papuan people and ensure a secure future for them,” said Tveit.

While in Tanah Papua, Tveit visited several churches including WCC member church the Evangelical Christian Church in Tanah Papua, Protestant Church in Indonesia, Evangelical Church in Indonesia, Baptist Church in Papua, Christian Church of Holy Word and the Christian Missionary Alliance.

Tveit also met with government officials, representatives of non-governmental organisations, independent movements and interfaith networks for updates on the Papuan situation. The meeting took place at the headquarters of the Communion of Churches in Indonesia (CCI).

CCI General Chairman the Rev. A. A. Yewangoe noted that the “cultural and ethnic identity” of the Papuan people needs to be appreciated in addition to the socio-political situation.

The Toronto-based WACC announced in late June that it was involved in a project in Papua New Guinea that would help villagers along the Sepik River identify communications tools as they assess the effect of a nearby copper-gold mine on their environment.

The project, which includes a campaign on www.globalgiving.org, is intended to help indigenous people living in 50 small villages who “have been fighting to have their voices heard by the government and the management of a new mine,” according to a WACC news release.

The mine is a joint venture with the Switzerland-based mining company Xstrata plc (which owns an 81.8 per cent share), Highlands Frieda Ltd. and OMRD Frieda Co. Ltd.

According to Xstrata’s website, the company acknowledges that mining has an impact on the natural environment. It said it “seeks to minimise these impacts, rehabilitate the areas we disturb during our operations and preserve or restore the long-term health and viability of the environment around our mines.”

WACC said the villagers rely heavily on the Sepik River for water, food and transportation and they are worried about sedimentation of the water and heavy metal pollution from mining operations.

The Sepik Wetlands Management Initiative (SWMI), a local wetlands management and community development organisation, found an increase in silt in the river after test drilling, WACC reported. “The people anticipate environmental, social and cultural disruptions,” said Jerry Wana, chairman of SWMI, according to WACC.

“Communities need to be able to communicate their concerns and voice them to the rest of the world,” said the Rev. Akuila Yabaki, President of WACC Pacific.

Yabaki said that marginalised groups, like the villagers in Middle Sepik River, benefit from learning strategies to communicate the impacts of such mining projects with stakeholders such as the government and mining companies. He said that by learning about communication rights, communities in the Pacific can collaborate with partners across the globe facing the same issues.

WACC’s General Secretary, the Rev. Karin Achtelstetter, said the project merits support because “these villagers face issues that are not uncommon in other countries in the Pacific and across the globe.”

Ecumenical News International

See also:

WCC expresses concern over human right violations in Tanah Papua (WCC press release of February 24 2012)

Read full text of the WCC Executive Committee statement

WCC member churches in Indonesia

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