A coalition of close to 200 Catholic priests called for peace in Indonesia’s Papua region, even urging the United Nations to intervene in the conflict-ridden territory.
In a statement, the priests said they support moves to invite the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights “to come, see and hear the actual human rights conditions in Papua.”
The signatories of the statement include diocesan priests and members of the Franciscan, Augustinian, Jesuit, and Missionaries of the Sacred Heart congregations.
They called on the Indonesian government to review policies, such as the deployment of more troops in the area, calling it “counterproductive” and only encourages more violence.
In their statement released this week, the priests called on other countries to urge separatist groups and the government’s security forces to declare a ceasefire.
The Church leaders claimed that some government officials have even accused priests of supporting separatist groups, thus endangering the lives of the clergy.
“There are even those in government who accuse priests who talk about human rights issues of being among the separatists,” read the priests’ statement.
They also said that “everywhere [soldiers] are shootings of civilians,” adding that “there is no transparent legal process to address such rights violations, let alone end them” in the territory.
“The Church in Papua is present among the suffering people,” said Father John Bunay, spokesman for the priests, in a statement quoted by the International Christian Concern.
The priest, however, claimed that Catholics bishops “are silent over what is happening.”
“We hope our voices echo in the hearts of the people,” he said.
In 2020, the Papuan Council of Churches called on the Indonesian government to stop sending troops to the region, saying that it would not solve the “systemic violence” in the country’s easternmost province.
The council — comprising representatives from, among other associations, the Indonesian Christian Church in Papua, the Papua Kemah Gospel Church and the Evangelical Church in Indonesia — wrote to Indonesian President Joko Widodo to voice its concern.
Papua has been plagued by separatist conflict for decades and access for foreign journalists is often restricted.
In the past year there have been sporadic and deadly attacks involving security forces and indigenous Papuans, including the killing of several Papuan minors.
In 2020, the United Nations human rights body expressed concern over reports of extrajudicial killings and escalating violence in the region.
The International Christian Concern claimed that over 60,000 Papuans have been displaced since the recent eruption of conflict in the region.