The Papua Church Council has criticised the Indonesian government for institutionalised racism in handling West Papua’s 59-year struggle for self-determination, highlighting Jakarta’s handling of protests in Surabaya last August. After an Indonesian flag was damaged, Papuan students were subsequently attacked by military officers and nationalist militia, who taunted Papuans with racist slurs, and called them “animals”.

Papua is home to Grasberg, one of the largest gold mines, a natural gas field, and several other natural resources. It had declared its independence in the early 1960s, but was incorporated back into Indonesia following a controversial referendum.

In a letter to the President Joko Widodo, Papuan church leaders said racism and inequality had “grown and become entrenched” after the Special Autonomy Act 21 of 2002 was implemented instead of granting them self-determination. The council appealed to the government to look into four critical issues – the history and political status of the integration of Papua into Indonesia; state violence and gross violations of human rights; discrimination and marginalisation of indigenous Papuans in their own land; and development failures including education, health, and the economy of the Papuan people.