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Vigil highlights issue of human rights abuses

Catholic Leader - December 11, 2011

Candles were lit in a vigil in the grounds of Brisbane's St Stephen's Cathedral to honour five West Papuans believed killed in a recent military attack on crowds gathered for the Third Papuan People's Congress.

Members of the West Papua Solidarity Group Brisbane staged the vigil on December 1, supported by Brisbane archdiocese's Catholic Justice and Peace Commission (CJPC).

The commission has also sent material to all parishes and schools in the archdiocese encouraging them to dedicate a day to prayer and action for the people of West Papua.

Two human rights lawyers from the Indonesian human rights organisation Kontras – Olga Hamadi (Papua) and Indria Fernida (Jakarta) – were also sponsored to attend a series of rallies and media conferences around the city recently.

CJPC executive officer Peter Arndt said the events, supported by the commission, were to promote greater awareness of human rights abuses in West Papua.

"Candles were lit at the vigil for the five Papuans believed to have been killed during a military attack (on October 19 in Jayapura, West Papua) which came after a declaration of independence by congress leaders," Mr Arndt said.

"Six of the congress leaders were arrested and beaten by police. Their names were also read at the vigil. It is believed that they were beaten while in custody."

"The West Papua Solidarity Group Brisbane, with the support of the CJPC, has sent money to the Franciscan Office for Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation to help pay for medical treatment for one of the men. Visiting human rights lawyer Ms Hamadi is a member of a legal team supporting the six arrested men."

Mr Arndt said the commission was pleased it was able to help to bring the human rights lawyers to Brisbane.

"We have been expressing concern about the military violence in West Papua for many years and it is good to have people who know the situation very well to better inform us," he said.

"We have been in regular contact with Church and community representatives in West Papua for some time and we know that things are very tense and difficult there. There have been too many unarmed civilians assaulted and killed by Indonesian security forces and it must stop."

Mr Arndt said Indonesian bishops have called for dialogue between Jakarta and leaders of the Papuan people, including the various independence groups, and Australia should be encouraging its friend and neighbour, Indonesia, to agree to this request.

"Life is very difficult with the constant threat of violence, and things must change," he said.

"We have been very pleased that Australia's media is giving more coverage to the situation and that politicians from all sides have been speaking out about West Papua.

"In recent times, we have heard speeches supporting the human rights of the people of West Papua and criticising the actions of the Indonesian military from Greens Senator Richard di Natale, LNP Federal MP Jane Prentice and State ALP MP Judy Spence."