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Pacific Churches Up Their Call for Human Rights Justice

French Polynesia's Protestant church tiij France to the
International Criminal Court over the legacy of the French
 nuclear weapons tests. Photo: AFP/ Valerie Macon
Church groups around the region are calling for justice on long-standing issues undermining the rights of the region's people.
At a recent gathering in Auckland, the Pacific Conference of Churches' general secretary discussed issues such as West Papua, climate change, the legacy of nuclear testing and the militarisation of the Pacific.
Indira Stewart was there.
In his presentation, general secretary Francois Pihaatae pointed to the Protestant church in French Polynesia and their decision to take France to the International Criminal Court over the impact of decades of nuclear testing. Mr Pihaatae added that church leaders played a key role in ending French nuclear testing in the territory in 1996. He says this shows that the united voice of church groups should not be underestimated.
"When the church speaks it's not only the church, it's also the people. Because most of the time we have the people with us. We cannot ignore also the unity of the people at the grassrootlevel because they hold the power to speak."
A New Zealand Humans Rights activist Maire Leadbeater agreed, pointing to the churches' influence in West Papua's bid for self-determination.
 "There's only one reason why I think we've had seven pacific nations speak out strongly in the United Nations General Assembly, and that's because the pressure's coming from the grassroots. And a big part of that grassroots pressure in the pacific is coming from the churches."
Mr Pihaatae says more church groups are uniting in pressuring political leaders to speak out about West Papua. For the first time since the body was established 20 years ago, the Papua New Guinea Council of Churches also joined the call to support West Papua's bid for decolonisation. He says council members want Indonesia's government to end what he calls the genocide of West Papuans.
"A call to Indonesia to stop killing these people. That's the only first priority for us to call Indonesia Military or police or whatever means they are using to kill the people. They are not animals, they are human beings like themselves - Indonesians. And the second thing we are trying to do is to take the issue of West Papua on the decolonisation list. You know, for them to enjoy freedom like other Pacific Islands who are independent. Free."
Mr Pihaatae says the council includes West Papua churches and wants them to know that they are not alone.
 "We have right now, two member churches in West Papua and we will welcome another two next year. So that means that through our actions, we are trying to bring back our West Papua people to home."
Other issues included the impact of resource extraction on the environment, the non-communicable diseases epidemic, the church's role in combating violence against women, as raised by one member of the Quaker church in a Q-and-A session.
"I was in Tonga last year when the Tongan government was ready to ratify CEDAW, and it was the churches mostly who led the backlash against that which stopped that convention being ratified. I acknowledge it's not an indigenous way of approaching things. But it was a backwards step for Tongan women."
Mr Pihaatae says the church is actively seeking the participation of men in efforts to combating violence against women.
"Dealing the issue of women with women, it doesn't work. Then we started that new approach. We call the men in and create a workshop for men and it works well."
 Mr Pihaatae says the council will continue to bring the people of the Pacific together to fight for justice and peace to protect their collective future.

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