world council of churches

Indonesia and East Timor: The Ecumenical Response
Background Information


The situation of Indonesia in general and of East Timor in particular has been of concern for the ecumenical movement for the last three decades. During 32 years of Suharto's dictatorship, the country witnessed grave and serious human rights violations. The 1975 killings in East Timor were followed a few years later by a spate of extra-judicial killings that attracted worldwide condemnation. Around that time Suharto's regime embarked on its famous transmigration programmes in relation to East Timor and Irian Jaya. The regime ruled the country with an iron hand and systematically eliminated all dissent and opposition.

The recent Asian economic crisis hit Indonesia the hardest. Its socio-economic and political impact was felt all over the country. The student uprising culminated in the downfall of Suharto in May 1998. It also left the armed forces in tatters. Since then Indonesia has suffered violent ethnic and religious clashes that have left thousands of people dead and millions homeless. The story has been the same in East Timor, Irian Jaya, Aceh and other places.

During this period of crisis the World Council of Churches has kept in constant touch with the churches in the country. In co-operation with the Communion of Churches in Indonesia (PGI) a special consultation was organised in November 1998 to be in solidarity with the churches of Irian Jaya in their struggle for justice and human rights. There have been visits to Indonesia by ecumenical delegations jointly sponsored by WCC and the Christian Conference of Asia (CCA), first in January/February 1999 and then in July 1999.The purpose of these delegations was to be in solidarity with the churches and to accompany them through this difficult period. In addition, there have regular staff visits to monitor the preparations for the August 1999 Referendum in East Timor.

A major concern of the ecumenical family has been the burning of places of worship in Surabaya, Ambon and Muluccos, and the Muslim-Christian clashes in these regions. The Council has communicated its concern about these developments, and attacks on the Chinese ethnic community, to the government of Indonesia. It has called for inter-religious dialogue to pave the way for harmonious relations between the two communities. The PGI has joined hands with the leadership of one of the largest muslim groups, Nahdatul-Wida, in an appeal for inter-religious harmony.

The relief arm of the ecumenical organisations, ACT (Action by Churches Together), has issued appeals for humanitarian assistance to the people who have lost their homes and whose lives are disrupted as a result of the ongoing clashes.

The Christian Church in East Timor (GKTT), a member of the WCC, is actively involved in coordinating the visits of international delegations to monitor the August 1999 referendum in East Timor. The WCC, besides providing assistance has accompanied the churches in the territory as they prepare for this important event.

Clement John
International Affairs, Peace & Human Security
August 1999

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