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18 July, 2016

The recent violence in South Sudan that resulted in the deaths of over 300 people has thankfully deescalated over the past week.

South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir and first Vice-President Riek Machar have ordered a ceasefire, and we are praying that it will hold long enough for government agencies to restore stability and humanitarian agencies to respond to the crisis.

The ACT Alliance has warned that there is a real possibility that the situation could deteriorate again, and they are closely monitoring the situation.

The Presbyterian Church of South Sudan Leadership & Peace Training Conference, 2016. Rev. Peter Gai with UnitingWorld’s Dr Sureka Goringe and Megan Calcaterra

“The developments in the country are alarming and threaten all that has been achieved in the last decade and through last year’s peace agreement,” said Pauliina Parhiala from the ACT alliance.

UnitingWorld has been in contact with our church partners in South Sudan who are grateful for the prayers and support of the Uniting Church in Australia.

“Thank you so much for your kind words of comfort. From day one we’ve known that your love and kindness are so great for us and that we are in your hearts. May God bless you and please keep on praying,” said Rev. Peter Gai, Moderator of the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan (PCOSS).

One of the biggest factors in the conflict is widely held to be failing leadership that has fed a sense of distrust and frustration in the South Sudanese people, who are tired of tribal politics and violence – a sentiment widely echoed by the international community.

“The people of South Sudan desperately want peace,” said UnitingWorld’s Megan Calcaterra, recently in South Sudan to connect with the PCOSS and attend one of their peacebuilding conferences.

“They see it as the most important step in developing their new nation and overcoming the challenges they face. Peace and trauma healing are key to their journey in overcoming poverty, achieving justice and reconciliation, developing leaders and building effective government and institutions.”

Since South Sudan became independent in 2011 the nation has been marred by civil war. In December 2013 a civil war was triggered by clashes between rival soldiers in Juba that degenerated into nationwide conflict. Tens of thousands died and close to one million have been displaced by the violence.

Please continue to pray for peace in South Sudan and the work of Presbyterian Church of South Sudan

12 June, 2016

In response to the famine emergency caused by El Nino-driven drought in Papua New Guinea, UnitingWorld and its partner the United Church in PNG (UCPNG) have been distributing food and providing vital leadership to ensure relief operations reach the worst affected areas.

Collaborating with the World Food Program (WFP) and Church Partnership Program (CPP) agencies, UnitingWorld and UCPNG played a key role in developing the ‘PNG CPP El Nino Response Program’ to coordinate relief work.

As part of the response program, impact assessments conducted by UnitingWorld/UCPNG-trained personnel were instrumental in the WFP being able to secure $14 million (USD) from the United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund. The money is being used to effectively distribute food to four areas in the Highlands and Milne Bay that were identified as most severely affected.

The funds were urgently needed, as the cost of providing a diet containing sufficient energy and protein for large populations is enormous, and it meant that UnitingWorld’s capacity to respond

Photo credit: James Komengi

was limited and had to be carefully targeted to particular areas based on need. The WFP funding assistance made possible by the efforts of UCPNG staff and others, has meant that food distributions now better match the scale that is needed to address the emergency.

UCPNG staff have also been involved in delivering frontline emergency supplies as part of the World Food Program’s national response, delivering emergency food supplies to the four ‘Local Level Government’ areas in Hela and Enga Provinces in the Highlands; home to more than 140,000 people.

Food distribution and livelihood recovery activities in many of these areas are extremely challenging because of their remote locations and fragile security situations caused by enduring tribal conflicts. The expertise of UCPNG staff has provided invaluable support to the WFP in ensuring food is distributed in ways that avoid fueling tribal tensions.

 

UnitingWorld’s Emergency Response Coordinator Michael Constable has praised the work of UCPNG in responding to the emergency.

Photo credit: James Komengi

“These successes highlight the strength of collaboration and innovation in delivering humanitarian assistance in extremely difficult environments. Supporting local communities to take leadership roles in preparedness, response, early recovery and risk reduction is not only effective, it’s essential in PNG” said Mr Constable.

“Enabled by the support of donors, the work of UCPNG has likely prevented thousands from dying of starvation, kept entire communities from becoming entrenched in poverty, and spared a generation of children living in remote communities from the irreversible effects of malnutrition.”

The emergency is far from over, however. The drought has severely impacted food security in many areas of PNG, exacerbated by weather patterns that are expected to continue into late 2016. UCPNG staff are currently involved in planning a collaborative food distribution to 77,000 people in Milne Bay Province with a range of national and intergovernmental organisations.

UnitingWorld will continue to support our partner UCPNG as they carry out relief operations and rebuild the livelihoods of people in Papua New Guinea.

Thank you! This work would not have been possible without the more than $180,000 raised by UnitingWorld supporters. Together, we’ve made a huge impact to the lives of people struggling to overcome famine and drought. Please continue to pray for the work of UCPNG and the people of Papua New Guinea.

11 July, 2016

More than 300 people are reported to have been killed in South Sudan since heavy fighting broke out between political factions late last month.

Intensifying gun battles between government and opposition forces in the capital Juba and in the north-west town of Wau have resulted in dozens of civilian casualties, and thousands have been displaced from their homes.

Leaders of the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan say the people want peace

70,000 civilians have been forced to seek shelter in churches, surrounding villages and UN camps – many of which have come under fire along with government buildings. A rocket-propelled grenade reportedly landed in one of the UN camps wounding eight people.

South Sudan’s civil war was divided along ethnic, tribal lines with the president – Salva Kiir, a Dinka, and the vice-president Riek Machar, a Nuer – representing their respective tribes. Earlier this year they formed a power-sharing transitional government, a move that was hoped to bring a lasting peace to a conflict that has a death toll estimated by some to be as high as 300,000.

Despite recent press statements from both Kiir and Machar’s staff making a joint call for calm, recent events suggest it’s unlikely they are in full control of their forces. The renewed fighting has raised fears that the fragile peace deal they made in August last year will not hold, and the country could deteriorate into full-scale civil war.

The Presbyterian Church of South Sudan Leadership and Peace Training Conference, 2016

Rev. Peter Shabak Gatluak of the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan has described the feeling in Juba
right now as one of “fear and panic”, and has asked the Uniting Church in Australia to pray for them as they fear for the future of their country.

Please join us in praying for the people of South Sudan, as well as our partner church as they work for sustainable peace and lead their people through uncertain times.

Read more:

Scores killed in South Sudan fighting, gunfire erupts in capital Juba – SMH

‘Wounded in spirit, South Sudan’s people need the salve of mutual forgiveness’ – Guardian (Op Ed)

28 June 2016

Amid reports of a deteriorating human rights situation in West Papua, a minute of support for Papuans was issued on 28 June during the closing day to a meeting in Trondheim, Norway, of the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches (WCC).

The WCC has followed the situation since before the 1969 incorporation of West Papua into Indonesia.

During peaceful protests of government policies in May and early June of this year, more than 3,000 people are said to have been placed under arrest. A further 1,400 West Papuans are reported to have been arrested on 15 June.

Calling on member churches to pray and act in support of Christian witness in the region, the Central Committee authorized an international ecumenical delegation to be sent “as soon as possible” in order to “hear the voices of victims of violence and human rights violations, and to pursue the pilgrimage of justice and peace in this context.”

Read more:

Minute on Human Rights Situation in West Papua (WCC)

A call to pray for our brothers and sisters in West Papua (UCA)


This press release was originally published by the World Council of Churches (WCC) of which the Uniting Church in Australia is a member

Do you ever have days, even while you’re still in the middle of them, that you know will always stick with you? My first visit to a village in West Bengal, India, was one of those days.

My colleague Steph and I had driven three hours from the church office with our brilliant partners from the Diocese of Durgapur, through bustling market streets full of people and cows and very fresh butchers, past fields of corn and rice and cauliflower, and eventually along a long and bumpy dirt road to our first village visit of the day.

Before we even got out of the car, the welcome drums began. The pathway to the village was lined with beaming kids and their parents, clapping along as men and boys beat huge drums while women dressed in bright red and orange saris danced ahead of us. Kids began throwing handfuls of marigold petals over us (sometimes with a fairly abrupt whack in the face and giggles from all) and older women played seashells as trumpets. It was one of those moments you just try and drink everything in as quickly as you possibly can – the colours and sounds and sun beating down – but really there’s no way to absorb it all. All we could do was slowly shuffle along in the middle of it all, catching petals, clapping along and grinning back.

Once we made it to the village itself, after squirming a little during the impossibly generous foot-washing ceremonial welcome, the real purpose of our visit began. We were there to hear from women, men and children about what the Community Development Project, run by the Diocese of Durgapur and supported by UnitingWorld, really means. What difference is this making to you, in your everyday life? What has this meant for your community? What is life like here?

Answers were honest and direct. Life is hard, but this project is making a difference. Our children at the study centre are working hard and their grades are improving – they’re no longer at risk of dropping out of school and we’re not scared for them. This woman here (she is pointed out to us) was supported to apply for and access the old age pension, so she doesn’t have to work all day long in the forest gathering leaves anymore. Our community worker, from our village (he stands up), helped us get government grants to build houses and toilets and access to water sources for irrigation. The government health worker is visiting and we know how to stay healthy, how to keep our children well. Our women’s self-help groups (they raise their hands) have saved money this year, and have plans to start their own business.

Of course, life is still hard. The village is far from government services, seasons can no longer be relied upon, water has not reached everyone. But what struck me more than anything, and what we shared together that day, was the fierce sense of community in this place and determination to find solutions together. Even this project itself is not something that is ‘done to’ people here; it’s what they’re doing for themselves and what they’re supported to keep doing, day after day.  It’s just part of who they are – and it’s this determination and dogged effort that will change their futures.

This project is doing good: real, tangible, important things – and can do more. We left the village after dancing and drumming back to the car and went on to the next. And of course it wasn’t the only day like this I’ve had. But this really was one that stuck with me.  How we spend our days is our we spend our lives, and these days are well spent.

For just two more days you can make your donation to these projects up to six times more effective.  We need to raise $1 in supporter donations for every $5 we have access to in Government Funding for our Community Development Projects.  To see your gift multiplied to make a significant difference, please give now at here.

Laura McGilvray, among other roles with UnitingWorld, supports our partner the Church of North India.  She loves her work and wishes everyone had the opportunity to experience days like this one, seeing first hand the impact of long term planning, training and funding.

Micah Australia is hosting a series of vigils across Australia in the month of June to pray for justice for our global community, guidance for Australia’s contribution to a world free from poverty, and to call for our nation to be a good neighbour in the community of nations. For more info on where to find a vigil near you – or how to host one, visit http://www.micahaustralia.org/vigils

UnitingWorld is a member of Micah Australia – a coalition of churches and Christian organisations raising a powerful voice for justice and a world free from poverty. Micah is endorsed by over 30 Christian agencies and mission groups as well as church denominations and individuals.

The International Coalition for Papua (ICP) has launched an urgent appeal to the United Nations in response to a series of unlawful mass arrests made by security forces during peaceful demonstrations across West Papua. Demonstrations have continued throughout May with several hundred more detained this week in Jayapura.

 


Their statement:

Photo credit: Jakarta Post

To the attention of:
Mr. Maina Kiai,
UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association

Mr. David Kaye
UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression

Introduction

A record high of mass arrests including the use of torture and ill-treatment of peaceful political protesters related to political aspirations for West Papua1 took place in early May in different parts of Indonesia, mostly in West Papua. This urgent appeal provides updated information on growing tensions in West Papua, which have resulted in an increase of cases of arbitrary arrest and torture, as described in a previous urgent appeal on the torture and extrajudicial execution of Arnold Alua in Wamena on April 24/25, 2016, submitted by Franciscans International on May 3, 2016. We are writing to you on behalf of the International Coalition of Papua (ICP), Jakarta Legal Aid Institute (LBH Jakarta), Franciscans International (FI), Westpapua-Netzwerk (WPN), VIVAT International-Indonesia, Geneva For Human Rights (GHR) – Global Training, Jubi Association, Sekretariat Keadilan, Perdamaian dan Keutuhan Ciptaan Fransiskan Papua (SKPKC Papua), Aliansi Demokrasi Untuk Papua (ALDP), Jaringan Kerja Rakyat Papua (JERAT Papua), Jaringan HAM Perempuan Papua (TIKI), Papua Customary Council (DAP), Indonesia’s NGO Coalition for International Human Rights Advocacy (HRWG – Indonesia) in relation to the unlawful arrests of at least 1,783 persons, mostly indigenous West Papuans, between 25 April and 2 May 2016.

West Papua, as one of the most isolated areas in the world, remains one of the last conflict regions within Indonesia. Local activists keep reporting cases of arbitrary arrests, torture and extra-judicial killings in West Papua. Most of the cases are committed by security forces – both police and military. The cases mirror the widespread impunity enjoyed by security forces and the lack of effective mechanisms to prosecute such perpetrators. In the last few months, political tensions in Papua have raised due to increasing popularity for the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP – a political organisation of West Papua outside Indonesia) amongst many Papuans. ULMWP intends to become a full member of the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG). In response, the Government of Indonesia increased their surveillance of the Indigenous West Papuans in order to suppress political expression in support of ULMWP.

The most recent arrests are related to peaceful mass protests in all major Papuan cities (Jayapura, Merauke, Fakfak, Sorong and Wamena) and several other cities, such as Makassar (South Sulawesi) and Semarang (Central Java Province). The demonstrations were held in support of the ULMWP to be recognized as a full member of the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG), the commemoration of 1 May 1963 as Indonesia’s accession of West Papua, and to support the International Parliamentarians for West Papua (IPWP) forum in London. United Kingdom, on May 3, 2016. Due to the high number of arrests, the names of all victims have not yet been obtained. Currently the names of 243 victims have already been obtained, while the documentation of further names is still in process (see Annex I).

LBH Jakarta released a report on the incidents, showing a total count of 1783 arbitrary arrests, stating that the information on 1,783 unlawful arrests has been verified and is consistent with its own telephone witness interviews. The report is based on testimonies collected on location by members of the West Papua National Committee (Komite Nasional Papua Barat KNPB), Papuan Students Alliance (Aliansi Mahasiswa Papua AMP) and United Liberation Movement for West Papua ULMWP. According to LBH Jakarta, in total, 1,735 people were unlawfully on 2 May 2016. The details are as follows: 1,449 people in Jayapura, 118 people in Merauke, 45 people in Semarang, 42 people in Makassar, 40 people in Fakfak, 27 people in Sorong and 14 people in Wamena2. The other arrests occurred prior to the demonstrations, when activists were registering demonstrations at the local police station or during distribution of leaflets.

Previously, on 15 April 2016, the Jakarta Legal Aid Institute (LBH Jakarta) made a press statement condemning the reprisal against the members of KNPB. Within the 9 days the Indonesian security forces arrested at least 61 indigenous West Papua activists, including 15 activists in Timika on 5 April 2016, 5 activists in Yahukimo and 15 activists in Kaimana on 12 April 2016, 14 activists in Merauke, 3 activists in Sorong and 11 activists in Jayapura on 13 April 2016.

The unlawful mass arrests were accompanied by acts of intimidation and maltreatment of protesters during arrest and interrogation. In Jayapura, at least nine demonstrators and a journalist reported of being tortured by the Indonesian police officers. Violent acts against journalists also occurred in Fakfak. In both cities, the police obstructed journalists from conducting media coverage on the demonstrations. In Manado, North Sulawesi Province, the notification letter of the 2nd May demonstration was rejected by the North Sulawesi Police without any clear legal basis. (For a full chronology of events, see the entire ICP report here.)

We are deeply concerned about the increasing number of arbitrary arrests and torture of indigenous Papuan activists, peaceful protesters and journalists. The Government of Indonesia has severely limited the freedom of expression, freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of information in West Papua due to the growing number of supporters for the ULMWP. As a result, the role of the police in West Papua has shifted from an institution protecting the rights of people to an institution oppressing these freedoms through unlawful arrests, excessive use of force, torture, censorship and prohibition of demonstrations with political content.

Recommendations: 

We ask you to urge the Government of Indonesia:

  1. To ensure freedom of information, freedom of peaceful assembly freedom of expression and freedom of opinion in West Papua
  2. To open access to West Papua for international human rights organisations, journalists and international observers
  3. To develop and enforce policies that ensure the role of the police as a protector of the right to peaceful assembly and expression of political opinions
  4. To conduct human rights trainings for police institutions in Papua, focusing on the practical implementation of international human rights obligations for government agencies with regard to the freedom of information, freedom of peaceful assembly freedom of expression and freedom of opinion in West Papua
  5. Decide the dates of the visit of the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, as it was agreed, and allow other UN special rapporteurs to visit West Papua

This appeal was originally published by the International Coalition for Papua of which UnitingWorld is a member.

The ICP is a coalition of faith-based and civil society organisations that are concerned about human rights violations in West Papua and seek greater transparency and peaceful solutions to conflict.

Read more:
Al Jazeera: Mass arrests reported in Indonesia’s restive Papua
ABC: West Papua protest results in more than one thousand arrests in Indonesia
New York Times: Indonesia Detains Hundreds Demanding Release of Prisoners

A forum to open the way for secular and faith-based agencies and Churches to work collaboratively toward gender equality and the reduction of violence against women in the Pacific is being hosted by UnitingWorld in Suva from 12 to 13 May. The “Bridging the Gap Forum” is part of UnitingWorld’s Pacific-wide Partnering Women for Change Program, co-funded by the Australian government through the  Pacific Women Shaping Pacific Development program.

According to UnitingWorld Pacific Program Manager Bronwyn Fraser, “There are many agencies doing fantastic work in addressing gender inequality and violence against women across the Pacific. However at times there is a disconnect between the work of secular agencies and Churches. In a context such as the Pacific, this can hold back progress.” Secular human rights agencies such as the Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre and FemLINK will attend the Forum alongside faith-based organisations and Churches.

Rev Dr Cliff Bird, a prominent Pacific Theologian from the Solomon Islands and UnitingWorld’s Pacific Regional Coordinator, will deliver the Keynote Address. He highlights the need to bring together the different approaches of agencies working for human rights, noting in a context where up to 95% of people are Christian (with Fiji being at significantly lower percentage), there is not a strong understanding of human rights concepts, especially for the 60 to 80% of the population that live in isolated and rural parts of the Pacific.

Resources on gender-inclusive theology published by UnitingWorld

“On the one hand human rights are seen by many ordinary Oceanic peoples as foreign, making claims that are seen as overtly individualistic, unbiblical and unchristian,” says Rev Dr Cliff. “On the other hand, some human rights organisations and agencies see churches and religions in general in negative ways: harbouring church members who perpetrate violence against women and children; condoning, perhaps even justifying violations of human rights within the family, community and church settings, through acts of ‘forgive and forget’ for instance.” The Forum will make space to bring these viewpoints together while allowing women’s voices to be heard and to shape responses.

Ms Sheona McKenna, from the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, will open the forum on behalf of Australia’s High Commissioner to Fiji, Margaret Twomey. Ms McKenna noted ‘exploring the theology of gender is important because theologians and church leaders have key voices in shaping the way that gender is understood, experienced and lived out in communities across the world. Theology is a key sphere where gender is explored and the voices of church leaders across the world are powerful in shaping social norms and practices.’

Ms Colleen Geyer, the first female General Secretary of the Uniting Church in Australia will also address the Forum. “Our understanding of all people as made in the image of God also recognises the importance of women in leadership, just as God’s grace is for all people. When we share in ministry and leadership, our shared gifts and skills contribute to a more whole community” says Ms Geyer.

UnitingWorld’s Partnering Women for Change Program works with partner Churches and ecumenical networks to review traditional patriarchal views of the bible in favour of an inclusive and equality biblical framework, as well as working closely with women’s fellowship organisations in supporting voice and leadership opportunities for women within churches and community.

Dated: 9th May 2016
Contact: Bronwyn Fraser +61 401 023 756
bronwynf@unitingworld.org.au

In a letter to Park Geun-hye, president of South Korea, the World Council of Churches (WCC) expressed disappointment over sanctions and fines imposed on members of the National Council of Churches in (South) Korea (NCCK) after they participated in a dialogue encounter with representatives of the (North) Korean Christians Federation (KCF).

Penalties were imposed on Dr Noh Jungsun, Rev. Jeon Yongho, Rev. Cho Hungjung, Rev. Han Giyang and Rev. Shin Seungmin, all representatives of the NCCK Peace and Reunification Committee, who participated in a meeting with the KCF leadership in Shenyang, China, on 28-29 February this year.

In the letter, WCC general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit recalled that the WCC has been actively engaged in promoting peace, reconciliation and reunification on the Korean peninsula for more than 30 years.

“Through such national, regional and international ecumenical commitment and cooperation, the ecumenical movement seeks to witness to the peace of Jesus Christ and to make visible the unity of the Church in a divided and conflicted world,” he wrote.

Tveit referred to the recent escalation of tensions and confrontation on the Korean peninsula, and stressed that “It is especially in this situation that encounter and dialogue is even more urgently needed.” With regard to the fines imposed on the members of the NCCK delegation, he expressed a critical standpoint:

“We do not believe that penalizing encounter and dialogue between South Korean and North Korean Christians is a necessary or effective measure for reducing tensions and advancing the cause of peace; on the contrary. Moreover, such a measure impedes and undermines the longstanding inter-church relationship on the Korean peninsula that the WCC has sought to encourage over more than three decades.”

Tveit called on the South Korean government to revoke the penalties, and appealed to President Park “not to close channels of communication and encounter, but to intensify efforts to promote dialogue at all levels.”

Expressing the hope that “the cycle of threat and counter-threat can be broken, before the threshold to catastrophic conflict is one day crossed”, Tveit asked for President Park’s leadership “away from this precipice, towards peaceful co-existence and an end to the suspended state of war.”

Article originally published by the World Council of Churches (WCC) of which the Uniting Church in Australia is a member

“Rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering toward slaughter” (Proverbs 24:11).

It is with great distress that the Christian Conference of Asia (CCA) has been receiving disturbing news about the violent response and firing of bullets by Police on 6,000 farmers in Kidapawan, North Cotabato, a southern island of Mindanao, on 1 April. It is unfortunate that the legitimate rights of poor farmers, who are demanding appropriate action by the government to provide assistance to the sustenance of farmers in the drought ravaged area, are being ignored. We understand from reliable sources that at least three persons were killed and hundreds of people were wounded while the police opened fire against the protesting farmers, who were insisting for a dialogue with the Governor of the Province, and for 15,000 sacks of rice that were previously promised to them.

It was during the firing against the protestors that the farmers sought refuge in Scottswood Methodist Centre and took sanctuary in the Methodist Church compound. We are deeply disappointed that the Governor’s office has threatened Methodist Bishop Ciriaco Francisco for harboring protestors, and the United Methodist Church with legal action in the form of revoking their legal permit.

The Christian Conference of Asia extends solidarity and prayers to the members and leadership of the United Methodist Church in their continuing protection of some 3,000 farmers and tribal leaders, who were faced with bullets fired on them by the Philippine National Police on 1 April 2016.

While CCA condemns this violent response to the protesting farmers, we applaud the efforts of the United Methodist Church in their perseverance in sheltering the farmers and tribal leaders as they continue their struggle for rightful sustenance. It is a known factor that the lumad farmers in the area have been continuously faced with discrimination and persecution. There is no justification for violent oppression as response to the legitimate demands of farmers for their right to food and livelihood.

On behalf of CCA, I convey our prayerful regards to Bishop Ciriaco Francisco and express our solidarity with the United Methodist Church at this time of their travail. We join hands with those who are struggling for basic human rights and justice, and urge the government and provincial authorities to provide adequate provisions and security to the farmers, who are legitimately registering their concerns. We pray and hope that peace with justice will prevail in the area and rights and dignities of the persecuted farmers involved in the struggle will be upheld. We appreciate the commitment of those who are demonstrating the values of the love of Jesus Christ and the biblical spirit of compassion, as has been shown by the United Methodist Church in sheltering the wounded and unprotected: “Rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering toward slaughter” (Proverbs 24:11).

Mathews George Chunakara
General Secretary

Letter originally published by The Christian Conference of Asia of which the Uniting Church in Australia is a member