Indonesian Bishops call for environmental justice

DTE 95, March 2013

Indonesia’s Catholic Church leaders have expressed concern about the over-exploitation of natural resources and the resulting social conflict and marginalisation of vulnerable communities. Short-termism in politics and the denial of environmental justice makes matters worse, they say, calling on politicians, business and the Christian community to take steps to protect resources, livelihoods and the right to life of current and future generations.

The environment was the major theme of the annual Indonesian Catholic Bishops conference which was held in Jakarta from 5-15th November 2012. The pastoral letter issued on the final day of the conference, is titled “Involvement of the Church in preserving the integrity of creation”. It reminds Catholics that, if used responsibly, there are enough natural resources for the needs of everyone – irrespective of race, religion and social status - for current and future generations. “Nature should be treated justly, and managed and cultivated with full respect and responsibility.” Instead, say the bishops, it has been exploited with greed and carelessness without regard for the common good, by the irresponsible felling of forests and clearing of land for plantations and mines. The letter continues:  

“The environment has been damaged, there are natural disasters, social conflict arises, there is no longer access to natural resources, and local communities and indigenous peoples, women and children are marginalised. This situation is made worse by policies which are based on the political interests of the moment and short-term thinking which denies environmental justice. The results include the accumulation of waste, pollution of the rivers and seas, the air and the land, and the depletion of natural resources which causes large-scale harm to the environment.”[1]

The Catholic Church, say the bishops, has long shown concern for environmental problems. In Indonesia, concern was previously expressed through its 2005 pastoral letter, and the Church is continuing to make many efforts in education, advocacy and negotiations to overcome environmental destruction.

The letter uses the term ‘eco-pastoral’ (ekopastoral) to describe the combined care for humanity and the environment. The bishops appeal to all Catholics to work together and with others involved in efforts to protect the environment to raise awareness and preserve the integrity of creation.  The letter concludes with specific messages for politicians, businesspeople and the wider Christian community, as follows:

  • To our brothers and sisters who are in public policy-making positions: policies concerning the use of natural resources and regional spatial planning should bring greater prosperity for communities and preserve the environment. Laws that deny community interests need to be reviewed and there needs to be tighter control on their implementation.
  • To our brothers and sisters who work in the business world: the use of natural resources should not just be for economic advantage, but also for social benefit: local communities’ right to life should still be fulfilled and the availability of natural resources for future generations should still be guaranteed. Moreover, productive businesses by poor, marginalised communities, especially indigenous peoples, peasants and fisherfolk, and those who are vulnerable to climate change and natural disasters, need more support.
  • To all Christians: Christians should develop a new way of living, of living in harmony with nature, based on an awareness of and care for the environment. This is  a part of the manifestation of faith and preaching, in the form of action to restore the integrity of creation. To do this, we need joint efforts, for example recycling rubbish, saving electricity and water, planting trees, movements to promote ecological concerns and persuasive legal advocacy on the right to life, sustainability and the environment. Educational institutions in particular are expected to play a major role in the movement to raise awareness of environmental problems and the importance of local wisdom.


Indigenous population decline, resource destruction and abuse highlighted in appeal for Church action in Papua and Kalimantan

The Bishops will have been aware of the strength of feeling on the urgent need for environmental justice among the Catholic community in Papua and Kalimantan in advance of the conference in November. The previous month, the Catholic Justice and Peace Forum for Papua and Kalimantan (FKP PK)[2] wrote to the Bishops to urge the church take action to support local efforts to protect community livelihoods, natural resources and human rights in Papua and Kalimantan.[3] “It is not enough for the Church just to care”, it said.

The FKP PK letter describes the situation for people and environment in Papua and Kalimantan as being ‘in disarray’. Exploitation of natural resources, it says, is being facilitated by the MP3EI economic masterplan,[4] government policies which ignore the ties between indigenous peoples and their land, and the conversion of land for large-scale projects which is damaging community assets and destroying sources of livelihood. “In effect it destroys life”. Other factors contributing to the destruction of communities and the environment in the two regions include investments which will benefit only a small number of people or corporations, the manipulation of policies and the use of the security forces to push these through; and the unfair way in which the Indonesian government resolves agrarian and natural resources-related conflict, by siding with corporations.

As a result, the number of indigenous Papuans is in decline, due to “the systematic loss of life”, says FPP PK. Indigenous peoples in Papua and Kalimantan are being sidelined due to population invasions (through the government’s transmigration programme and migrant job-seekers); women and children are being most affected by socio-economic, cultural and political disruption and there are frequent inter-community conflicts as well as conflicts between the communities and the government (security forces) and between communities and investors. “Communities’ efforts to defend their rights are viewed as actions obstructing development” and they are criminalised when they oppose the theft of their land. Natural disasters – droughts, floods, haze from forests fires, crop pest outbreaks – have resulted from clearing land, while large-scale investment is threatening the forests and fields that communities depend on for their food, and they are losing their livelihood sources. “Traditional values, knowledge and culture are being pushed aside because there is no place for these in the model of development being pursued by the Indonesian Government.”

The FKP – PK letter ends by urging the Catholic Church to:

  • Continue to speak out against injustices  in economic investment practices;
  • Encourage policy makers at national or provincial level to review or halt policies that work against the people of Papua and Kalimantan;
  • Urge government leaders at national or provincial level,  the judiciary, security forces and investors: to stop practices which violate basic human rights and which deprive people of their  livelihoods by force, and to start a fair process based on justice and truth;[5]
  • Ensure that all Church organisations: the commissions, the parish priests, prayer leaders, religious orders, Catholic education institutions, and other groups share the same concern and join this struggle.


[1] The full letter is available in Indonesian at

[2] FKP PK consists of the Justice and Peace Secretariats (SKP) of the various dioceses in Papua, the Justice and Peace Commissions (KKP) of the various dioceses in Kalimantan, the Franciscan Secretariat in Papua for Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation (SKPKC), the JPIC Missionaries of the Sacred Heart in Indonesia and the Indonesian Bishop’s Conference’s Commission for Justice, Peace and Migrant workers pastoral care.

[3] Letter from Forum Keadilan dan Perdamaian Papua – Kalimantan, 24 October, 2012. Full letter available online at

[4] For more background on MP3EI see DTE 91-92, May 2012.

[5] Emphasis as in original document (this version is slightly abridged).

This article was original published on February 20, 2013