Peace building in West Papua

Dialogue versus violence

Michela Noonan

The West Papua Project is an initiative of the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies (CPACS), a non profit organisation which seeks to facilitate dialogue between individuals, groups and communities. CPACS was established in 1988 as a specialist research and teaching centre within the University of Sydney. Since its inauguration in 2000, the WPP has been one of the Centre's main projects, hosting a major conference and three previous international workshops to date, full details of which are available on the CPACS website: Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies

The fourth 'West Papua Project' workshop, held at the University of Sydney August 16-17, 2004 focused on two areas. The first day investigated the issue of Dialogue, posing some fundamental questions: What is dialogue? How can an understanding of dialogue help create the conditions of peace? And what are the prospects of dialogue over the conflict in West Papua? The second day examined the critical issue of Development, exploring the pressing needs in West Papua's health and education.

Over fifteen experts from Indonesia and Australia offered their insights. Their perspectives were varied - eight West Papuans joined indigenous representatives from the Pacific, experts on Indonesia, human rights activists, lawyers, doctors, academics, historians, peace and dialogue practitioners, members of the clergy and religious organisations, military experts and politicians. Each day about eighty attendees, many of whom were experts in their fields, contributed to discussion. The workshop was a successful if sobering insight into a near neighbour that unfortunately remains little considered in Australia.


Professor Stuart Rees introduced the workshop and urged consideration of dialogue not as a 'question and answer session' but rather as a process that relies on four main ingredients: respect, genuine interest, active listening and practical questioning. Courage, cosmopolitanism and access to reliable information are essential in order to start the process.

Reverend John Barr of the Uniting Church reinforced these principles, asserting the need to: inform ourselves, open ourselves to other people, create ethical and moral principles that are not based on a childish vision of 'good and evil' but rather on respect based on community--above all an understanding that we need the people of West Papua just as they need us: We are one human family.

Jason Field, applying his experience as an indigenous person, felt that to maintain constructive dialogue it is important to assert yourself without losing your audience. He also felt an framework for dialogue can be established through policy change: it is necessary to have