WelCom News
A newspaper for the Wellington and Palmerston North Catholic Dioceses

Papuan justice worker tells of undermining of rights

Cecily McNeill
30 July 2009

Rosa Moiwend from West Papua longs for the time when she can hear her own language spoken at the opening of a meeting as te reo Maori is used in greeting here.

Rosa is in New Zealand to learn English, the language of political debate and negotiation.
Rosa’s country is under the control of Indonesia and, as a child, Rosa had to learn to speak the Indonesian tongue just to start school.

As she went through the school system she found herself the only West Papuan student in the top stream at the state school (Catholic School fees are too high for most Papuan families) the subject of ridicule because of her difference from her mainly Muslim Indonesian migrant classmates. Other Papuans found this treatment too difficult.

‘I speak Japanese very well,’ Rosa says, ‘and I can cook their food but they don’t want to learn to speak my language or to eat the Papuan sweet potato dishes that I prepare.’

West Papua is dominated by the rainforests which are the bread basket of the local people. Within a couple of hours, Papuans can kill a kangaroo, a pig or a cassawary bird for the family dinner. They build their houses using materials from the forests – sleeping mats, umbrella mats. They see the forest as their mother and have a strong connection with nature.

But the forests have been decimated by foreign logging companies, particularly P T Intimpura which exports logs to countries like New Zealand. The Merbau tree in the Papuan forest is sold in New Zealand as Kwila for decking. The West Papuans want the government to limit the companies’ licences to slow down the rate of logging.

The disappearance of the forests has inhibited the opportunities for Papuans to learn about their culture as well as to support themselves. Finding the source of their livelihood diminishing, many Papuans move to the cities and join the growing ranks of unemployed.

‘It is easy for people from Indonesia to come to West Papua to get a job because they are better educated,’ Rosa says. ‘Four or five big ships come into the country each week and population growth through this sort of migration is unregulated.’

In 1969 non-Papuans comprised just seven percent of the population. Forty years later, the population is about 48 percent mainly Muslim Indonesian migrants and 52 percent indigenous people.

‘Many Papuans have become Muslim to facilitate trading relationships,’ Rosa says.
As well, Indonesia, looking to offset huge foreign debt, is particularly interested in the western tip of the island because of its rich reserves of oil and gas.

Since 1998 the Catholic Church has promoted peace and justice in West Papua because of human rights violations and violence towards West Papuans.

A law giving the Papuans autonomy over their land was introduced in 1999 but is not enforced. Chinese and Indonesian companies as well as foreign-owned ‘local’ companies are given free rein to plunder the rich mineral deposits while Papuans watch from the sidelines and hope that one day their land rights will gain the protection of the law.

While the Catholic schools are too expensive for indigenous people, the Catholic hospitals give the best treatment against such introduced diseases as malaria and HIV. Last year the government introduced free treatment for Papuans.

Rosa works with the Justice and Peace Commission in the West Papua community to try to strengthen the community to solve its own problems and to bridge the gap between the community and the government.

‘People just want an end to their suffering. They are not looking beyond that,’ Rosa says.