18 July 2006

Speaking Ethically No. 3

By Rod Benson

May 2006

The President of the Baptist Union of Australia, Dr Ross Clifford, used his recent Easter message to draw attention to the plight of West Papuan dissidents. Why is this issue important?

West Papua (or Papua, the western half of the island of New Guinea) is another East Timor in the making. In 1961 Indonesia invaded the Dutch colony. In 1969 Indonesian authorities hand-picked 1025 Papuans who unanimously voted to retain Indonesian control in an “Act of Free Choice.” In 2001 Jakarta foreshadowed “special autonomy” for Papua, but this has stalled and there is a growing – and increasingly frustrated – separatist movement.

In addition to unchecked exploitation of Papua’s natural resources and allegations of official corruption, the major cause for alarm is reported widespread human rights abuses by Indonesian military and police. These include intimidation, confiscation of land, rape, torture, forced disappearance, arbitrary arrest and detention, extrajudicial executions, starvation, and the destruction of entire villages. Up to 400,000 Papuans are believed to have been killed or have disappeared since 1961.

In view of this, the Australian government should:

* seek United Nations support for an independent inquiry into alleged human rights abuses in Papua
* continue to grant asylum to genuine Papuan political refugees
* urge Indonesia to uphold freedom of religion for Papuan Christians in the face of growing Muslim fundamentalism and large-scale immigration of Indonesians to Papua
* encourage Indonesia to grant greater autonomy to Papua while recognising that political independence is not a viable option

At the same time, churches and individual Christians in Australia should:

* learn more about Papuan history and geography, and the history of missions in
* lobby the Australian government (see above)
* prepare to offer hospitality to Papuan political refugees
* encourage all parties in Papua to pursue nonviolence
* pray for wisdom and peace, and for missionaries serving in

Rev Rod Benson is Director of the Centre for Christian Ethics at Morling College, Sydney. Previously he pastored Baptist churches in NSW and Queensland.

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