Benny Mawel, Jayapura – Indonesian Catholic students have called on the government to listen to the grievances of the people of Papua and resolve longstanding conflicts.
The call was made at the end of a four-day Catholic Student Association of the Republic of Indonesia conference in Jayapura on July 31.
Conference participants – association members from 70 chapters across the country – said the central government should dissolve the current investigative team formed by the Coordinating Ministry for Political, Legal and Security Affairs, and sit down with the Papuans.
An ongoing conflict in West Papua between the Indonesian government and indigenous groups seeking independence or greater autonomy has led to many rights abuses, according to rights groups and Papuan activists.
Many Papuans look upon the investigative team, set up by Indonesian President Yoko Widodo to look into the alleged abuses, with suspicion.
They claim the team – made up of human rights commissioners, supreme court judges and rights advocates – are not independent and subject to interference from central government.
"We encourage independent parties to mediate and help settle the problems," Angelo Wake Kako, the association's chairman, said on July 31. He also said that Catholic students are fed up with the bloodshed. "We never want to see murder again," said Kako.
Catholic students have also urged President Widodo to remove restrictions and allow foreign journalists free access to Papua. "We demand [the] government gives access to foreign journalists so they can visit Papua, without interference, including from the military," said Kako.
Mario Yumte, a member of the association's Jayapura chapter, said Papua's longstanding conflicts need to end with dignity.
Catholic students see it as their duty to encourage the relevant parties to sit down, talk heart to heart, and listen to each other, she said. "If we are silent on the Papua conflict it means we do not care about humanity," said Yumte.
Joseph Rahawadan, a senior member of the group, said that Jakarta needs to listen to the struggles and hopes of the Papuan people.
"As long as there is no serious dialogue with the Papuans, the problem will never end," said Rahawadan. "The central government needs to send a team to immerse themselves in the lives of the Papuans for several months to know what they want," he added.
Father John Djonga, a human rights advocate, said Aug. 1 that he appreciated the Catholic students' concerns about Papua. But he also reminded students to build intensive communication with local Papuan leaders.
Communication with local leaders, he said, is important because there is so much poverty and injustice in Papua that needs immediate attention.
According to the priest, there have been efforts to have a dialogue mediated by third party, but the Indonesian government has not listened. This made the Papuans seek international attention regarding their struggle especially in the Pacific region, Father Djonga said.