Tribute to Father Neles Tebay

The Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue (HD) is deeply saddened to hear of the death of Father Neles Tebay on 14 April 2019 in Jakarta, Indonesia. A Roman Catholic priest from the highlands of Papua, Father Neles Tebay had worked tirelessly to end the long-running violent conflict in Papua using peaceful dialogue.

For the past decade, he worked closely with civil society activists from other parts of Indonesia to establish a road map to peace for Papua based on dialogue. In 2009, he co-authored, along with late scholar Muridan Widjojo, the book ‘Papua Road Map’, which was published by the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI). His vision of dialogue was one in which all Papuans should be consulted on a peaceful future, based on shared development, respect for human rights as well as addressing historical issues. 

At a time that saw the rise of militant youth groups in urban areas which favoured the use of violence, Father Neles co-founded the Papuan Peace Network (PPN) with the goal of consulting all Papuans on the need for peaceful dialogue with the government in Jakarta. He wrote extensively in the media and appeared on radio and television across the country. 

Father Neles was no apologist for actions by the central government and security forces. In 2017, he wrote: “Since annexation in 1963, indigenous Papuans say they have been targeted by Indonesian security forces for arbitrary arrest, torture and even marked for death. The evidence is overwhelming and the signs are that atrocities committed against the Papuans will not end soon.”  

Yet, his vision of peaceful dialogue won him respect in government circles, and led him to organise, starting in 2012, a series of preparatory dialogues with government departments and policy-makers concerned about the future of Papua. In the past five years, Father Neles Tebay succeeded in persuading Indonesian President Joko Widodo to make a commitment to dialogue in Papua, as part of which he was appointed as adviser. Despite battling a rare form of cancer over the past three years, he continued his campaign for peace in Papua.   

Father Dr. Neles Tebay was born in Nabire in 1964. He studied theology at Fajar Timur in Abepura, Papua. After his ordination in 1992, he obtained a Master’s Degree in Manila and a Ph.D. at the Urbania University of Rome. In Papua, he worked at the Diocesan Office of Jayapura for Justitia et Pax and led the Papuan Peace Network.

HD was honoured to have collaborated closely with Father Neles Tebay over the last few years, in support of peace in Papua, and would like to pay tribute to the man of peace and conciliation he was as well as to his tireless commitment to dialogue even in sickness.

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