The West Papua Council of Churches (WPCC) has written to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, on April 12, urging an immediate visit to West Papua to investigate the escalating ‘humanitarian crisis’.

The WPCC, representing the four major denominations of Christians in West Papua, also wrote to the leaders of the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG), asking them ‘to accept the ULMWP as a full member of the MSG at the next meeting’.

High Commissioner for Human Rights, Bachelet, spoke out against the rising conflict in West Papua in her address to the UN Human Rights Council session in February, noting how an increase in demonstrations has led to a brutal response by Indonesian police.

The end of ‘Special Autonomy’, and overwhelming opposition to its renewal, has seen Papuans peacefully protesting across the region to reject Jakarta’s reimposition of the law.

In their letter to the UN the WPCC outlined the aims of a UN investigation in West Papua. Firstly, to investigate the plight of Papuans displaced by military operations in Nduga and Intan Jaya. Over 50,000 are estimated to be displaced by conflict, with the real figure potentially much higher.

Secondly, to monitor the huge deployments of Indonesian soldiers to West Papua amid the surge in conflict – adding to the estimated 21,000 soldiers deployed since 2018 – and to end the genocide against Melanesian Papuans by Indonesian forces.

The WPCC also stress the danger reimposition of ‘Special Autonomy’ poses to West Papuans, exposing the law as a means for Jakarta to divide Papuans by creating new provinces and districts, and to strengthen infrastructure supporting Indonesian military and police.

The council point out that expansion of military and police bases in West Papua is ‘camouflage to hide the occupation of the Land of Papua for the benefit of exploiting natural resources’. In the central highlands, the focal point of Indonesia’s military operations, the enormous Wabu Block gold deposits were discovered recently, sparking a rush to exploit the natural resources against the wishes of Indigenous Papuans.

Currently, over 750,000 Papuans have signed the Petition Against Special Autonomy, calling instead for self-determination through an independence referendum.

The WPCC draw attention to Indonesia’s gaslighting over special autonomy and false assertions that it has addressed the severe and systemic issues caused by the occupation of West Papua.

‘The Indonesian government is diverting the world’s attention from the problems in Papua by pushing their own narrative including: that large amounts of funds have been sent to the Land of Papua; Special Autonomy was a success; and stigmatizing the Papuan elite for corruption.’

In their letter to the Melanesian Spearhead Group, the council state that the ‘first step to save’ Papuans is through ‘the acceptance and Melanesian recognition of ULMWP as a full member of the MSG.’

Prior to the formation of the ULMWP in 2014, the MSG stated that Papuan independence groups would have to unite for their acceptance into the MSG to be considered.

Indonesia has consistently sought to undermine increasing recognition of the ULMWP by applying to join the MSG themselves. They were made an associate member in 2015, despite protestations by sovereign members Vanuatu and Timor-Leste who refused to attend Indonesia’s Melanesian Cultural Festival that year.

The WPCC’s letter to the MSG highlights ‘the extermination of the Melanesian ethnicity in West Papua’ ending with a call for Melanesian solidarity in ‘confronting the forces of Indonesian colonialism’.

The escalating conflict has killed religious leaders, civilians, and vulnerable Papuans in recent months, while forcing thousands more from their homes. The WPCC’s letter joins the 84 nations already demanding a UN investigation in West Papua, including the UK, Netherlands, Australia and New Zealand.