Date: Fri, 21 Aug 1998 10:07:23 -1000
From: ethrc <>

"East Timor: No Solution Without Respect for Human Rights"
Bi-Annual Report of Human Rights Violations in East Timor
January to June, 1998 August 18, 1998 Ref: SR1/98



Executive Summary ................................1

A. INTRODUCTION ..................................2
1. Hope for East Timor in the Post-Soeharto Era .................2
2. Overview of Human Rights Violations: January to June 1998 ......6
3. Greater Freedom but Violations Continue .......................6
4. Towards a Solution Based on Respect for Human Rights ..........8

B. RECOMMENDATIONS .............................................11
1. Recommendations to Government of Indonesia ...................11
2. Recommendations to the International Community ...............13

C. HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS ......................................14
1. Violations of the Right to Life .............................14
1.1 Extrajudicial executions ....................................14
2. Violations of the Right to Individual Liberty ...............17
2.1 Arbitrary detention .........................................17
2.2 Enforced disappearances .....................................19
3. Violations of the Right to Integrity and Security of Person ..20
3.1 Torture .....................................................20
3.2 Other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment .................23
3.3 Excessive use of force ......................................24
3.3 Rape and attempted rape .....................................25
4. Violations of the Right to Due Process .......................26
4.1 Breaches of procedural guarantees ...........................27
5. Violations Freedoms of Expression and Association ............28

Appendix: Table Summarising Other Cases Reported to the ETHRC ...30


The first half of 1998 saw dramatic changes take place in Indonesia. Under the pressure of the deepening economic crisis, President Soeharto resigned on 21 May after 32 years of rule and Yusuf Habibie was sworn in as the new President. The East Timorese people quickly saw the changes in Indonesia as creating new opportunities in their search for a solution to the question of East Timor's political status, and hope for an end to the serious human rights violations that have plagued the territory for 23 years.

The new President has shown early enthusiasm for reform, reflected in some positive developments for East Timor which have been welcomed by the East Timor Human Rights Centre (ETHRC). In particular, the ETHRC welcomes the release of 29 East Timorese political prisoners and the greater freedom of speech which is evident in the territory. The withdrawal of 1,000 Indonesian troops was celebrated by Indonesia with great fanfare and welcomed internationally, but many commentators have questioned whether the withdrawal represents a genuine reduction in troops, underscoring the need for international verification of the withdrawal process.

Some progress has been made at the latest round of the Tripartite Talks between Indonesia and Portugal under UN auspices, creating hope that a solution on the future of East Timor may be possible. Indonesia and Portugal agreed to hold in-depth discussions on Indonesia's proposal for a special status, based on a wide-ranging autonomy for East Timor, without prejudice to their basic positions of principle. This agreement is welcomed by the ETHRC, although the option of "special status" should not be seen as a final solution on the political status of East Timor but only a transitional arrangement, with the final solution to be determined by the East Timorese people in a UN-supervised referendum.

The ETHRC believes the dialogue will only move forward if Xanana Gusmao is released to enable him to participate in the discussions for a solution. Immediate confidence-building measures will also be required to address the serious human rights violations continuing in the territory, most importantly, the release of all East Timorese political prisoners, a substantial reduction (preferably under UN supervision) of the Indonesian military presence in the territory, continued efforts to improve respect for freedoms of speech and association, and access to East Timor for international human rights organisations. More wide-ranging political and legal reforms will also be required to address the structures in the Indonesian system which make human rights violations possible.

The period January to June 1998 saw a continuation of the patterns of human rights violations that have persisted in East Timor during the 23 years of occupation by the Indonesian military. During this period, the ETHRC received reports of the extrajudicial execution of 23 East Timorese people, 107 East Timorese people being arbitrarily detained, 95 being subjected to torture and 74 to other forms of ill-treatment. The Centre also received reports of 20 disappearances, 11 breaches of procedural guarantees, 4 women being raped and numerous restrictions on freedom of expression and association.

This report documents these violations, for the period January to June 1998, and proposes concrete steps which can be taken by the government of Indonesia and the international community to improve the human rights situation in East Timor, and to move towards a lasting and internationally acceptable solution to the conflict. Such a solution will only be possible if it is based on respect for human rights, and if it is reached by consultation with the East Timorese people.


"The solution of the problem must be in the framework of the United Nations and a just and free process where the East Timorese people can choose their destiny."(1)

- Xanana Gusmao June 1998

1. Hope for East Timor in the Post-Soeharto Era

President Soeharto resigned on 21 May 1998 after more than three decades of autocratic rule in Indonesia, a rule which was characterised by continuing violations of human rights. In East Timor, after 23 years of Indonesian occupation and human rights violations, the change of leadership in Jakarta and the promises of reform which have followed have given the East Timorese people real hope that a solution to the conflict may at last be found. Since the 1975 invasion of East Timor by Indonesia, the people of East Timor have experienced the very worst that the Indonesian regime has had to offer. At least 200,000 East Timorese people have died as a consequence of Indonesia's occupation and other human rights violations including arbitrary detention, torture and ill-treatment, "disappearances" and unfair trials have been commonplace. In the context of these violations, and in the face of the continuing transmigration of Indonesians into the territory, the growing economic marginalisation of the East Timorese and the suppression of their culture, it is not surprising that the Indonesian regime has failed to win the hearts and minds of the East Timorese people.

The new president, Yusuf Habibie, has shown early enthusiasm for political reform and human rights, resulting in some positive advances for East Timor. Most notable are the greater freedom of expression being tolerated by Indonesian security forces in the territory and the release of some East Timorese political prisoners. These developments are welcomed by the East Timor Human Rights Centre (ETHRC).

Fifteen East Timorese prisoners were released on 10 June after President Habibie signed a presidential decree ordering their release. The group included six people who were given an amnesty and another nine against whom all charges were withdrawn. Earlier, on 4 June, four East Timorese students on trial in Semarang, Indonesia, were given a not-guilty verdict and released. The verdict was welcomed as concerns had been raised that their trials were unfair and that they had been subjected to torture. A further ten East Timorese people who were facing charges were released on 13 June when Indonesian authorities in East Timor dropped all charges.(2) Suggestions that more East Timorese political prisoners will be released have not yet been followed through.(3)

In East Timor, the Indonesian military has allowed demonstrations and public forums to take place mostly without incident and foreign journalists have been given greater access to the territory. The new freedom has seen East Timorese people openly expressing their wishes for a future free East Timor - a remarkable departure from the pattern of the last 23 years during which political dissent has not been tolerated. However, the bold exercise of this new-found freedom, particularly by the East Timorese youth, has not been without repercussions. Tension remains high and some East Timorese people have been killed and others arbitrarily detained and tortured in the month of June. There are widespread intimidation and pressure tactics on the part of the Indonesian military, intended to discourage the youth from expressing their views.

On 28 July, the withdrawal of 400 Indonesian troops from East Timor was celebrated by the Indonesian authorities with great fanfare. One hundred journalists were flown in to Dili especially for the one-hour ceremony marking the occasion. A further 600 troops were withdrawn on 8 August, completing Indonesia's commitment to withdraw 1,000 combat troops. While the international community has welcomed the troop withdrawals, many commentators have questioned whether the withdrawals represent a genuine reduction in the Indonesian military presence in East Timor. Then, shortly after the first troops were withdrawn, the Indonesian government announced that it had sent 263 army health personnel and riot police to the territory, although it said the new troops would not engage in combat or intelligence operations.(4) This claim is impossible to verify. On the contrary, it has been well-documented that territorial troops and members of the police force do, in fact, engage in these activities.

Taur Mata Ruak, commander of the armed East Timorese resistance (Falintil) said the Indonesian troop withdrawal was probably a publicity stunt and called for UN supervision of future withdrawals.(5) The local community was also cynical about the withdrawal, noting that troops are regularly moved in and out of East Timor and that, overall, troop numbers remain high. According to official (Indonesian) estimates there are still 11,000 Indonesian troops in East Timor, but some commentators estimate that the troop numbers could be much higher, possibly as high as 30,000. The ETHRC believes that without independent verification of the withdrawal process, claims that the military presence in East Timor is being reduced should be treated with caution. Independent verification can only be provided through UN or other independent monitoring of troop withdrawals.

Some progress has been made at the latest round of the Tripartite talks between Indonesia and Portugal under UN auspices, which took place from 4 to 5 August. Indonesia and Portugal agreed to hold "in-depth discussions on Indonesia's proposal for a special status, based on a wide-ranging autonomy for East Timor, without prejudice to their basic positions of principle."(6) Prior to the talks, President Habibie had offered to give East Timor "special status" and to release Xanana Gusmao, leader of the East Timorese Resistance, but the offer was conditional upon East Timor agreeing to accept integration with Indonesia - a pre-condition unacceptable to the vast majority of East Timorese people. It is hoped the more flexible approach taken by the government of Indonesia to hold further discussions without this pre-condition will enable the discussions to move forward.

Agreement was also reached at the talks to include the East Timorese more closely in the search for a solution and Indonesia expressed its intention to further gradually reduce the military presence in East Timor and to expedite the release of East Timorese political prisoners.(7) It was agreed that the UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, would intensify consultations with East Timorese representatives inside and outside East Timor. In this regard, Annan has already called on Indonesia to release Xanana Gusmao, the jailed leader of the East Timorese resistance, to enable him to participate in the dialogue. The East Timorese people and the international community have repeatedly called for Xanana Gusmao to be released and it is difficult for Indonesia to continue to ignore these calls without appearing to undermine the talks and calling into question its commitment to finding a solution.

Jose Ramos-Horta, joint winner of the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize, has welcomed the progress made at the latest round of talks but has indicated he will not participate in discussions with the government of Indonesia unless Xanana Gusmao is released to take part in all discussions about East Timor's future. In his statement before the UN Decolonisation Committee, Jose Ramos-Horta said:

"it is regrettable that the Indonesian authorities still refuse to engage our leader, Xanana Gusmao, in dialogue. There cannot be peace, stability and a lasting resolution of East Timor without the leadership of the Resistance being involved in the dialogue."(8)

The international community has been vocal in its support for the greater freedom in East Timor and the progress being made towards a resolution of the conflict but continues to press Indonesia to implement further confidence-building measures. On 10 July, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed a resolution supporting a political solution on the status of East Timor through an internationally supported referendum on self-determination. The resolution also calls on the Indonesian government to enact political reforms, release political prisoners, and protect human rights.(9) The European Union has also showed strong support for the calls for reform. In late June, following a visit to the territory by a troika of European Ambassadors, the EU called for the immediate release of Xanana Gusmao and other political prisoners, for Indonesia to immediately reduce the number of troops in East Timor in a visible way, and for consultation with the East Timorese people on the future of East Timor:

"it is our impression that there will be no lasting solution in East Timor without a firm commitment to some form of direct consultation." (10)

Some commentators have been more cautious about developments under President Habibie. While welcoming the outcome of the tripartite talks as an opportunity for the East Timorese, James Dunn expressed some reservations:

"The Habibie proposal appears to be less about reform than the response of a government vulnerable to domestic and international pressures, not to speak of the lingering resentment of the East Timorese themselves... Jakarta's strategy so far, it seems, has been to sideline a serious diplomatic problem, while keeping concessions to the victims to a minimum. Thus most of its concessions, such as withdrawal of 1,000 of its 12,000 strong Timor force, amount to little, representing a change of tactics rather than a change of heart."(11)

The ETHRC certainly shares these reservations, but the progress made in the tripartite talks does, at least, create an opportunity for the East Timorese, the first real opportunity the East Timorese have had in 23 years. The ETHRC therefore welcomes the agreement reached to pursue discussions about some form of "special status" for East Timor. However, the so-called "special status" or "autonomy" should not be seen as a final solution on the question of the political status of East Timor but only a transitional arrangement which, it is hoped, would create an atmosphere in which a fair referendum could be conducted in due course. To move the discussions forward, the release of Xanana Gusmao and the withdrawal of Indonesia troops from East Timor will be essential.

More wide-ranging reform will also be required to promote and protect human rights to address the structures in the Indonesian system which make violations in East Timor possible. On 25 June, President Habibie unveiled Indonesia's five-year action plan on human rights, aimed at addressing the need for reform. The plan aims to promote and protect human rights by cultivating and strengthening a human rights culture through its four components: ratification of human rights agreements, dissemination of information and education on human rights, measures to address human rights issues determined as national priorities, and implementation of ratified international human rights agreements.(12) The plan commits Indonesia to ratifying the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment which it has already signed but not ratified, and to ratifying the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Social Economic and Cultural Rights (ICSECR) by the year 2003. At the launch of the plan President Habibie said:

"We hope that we can strongly impress the world with our sincere ... will to move forward and protect human rights."(13)

However, the five-year plan does not include any mention of East Timor, and the lengthy schedule for ratifying the ICCPR and the ICSECR will obviously not provide the immediate confidence-building measures needed in East Timor. In the meantime, more immediate improvements in the human rights situation in East Timor are needed, as progress towards reform, and respect for human rights in the territory, remain limited. Of particular concern is the fact that many East Timorese political prisoners remain in detention. In a recent report(14), the ETHRC provided details of up to 141 political prisoners either convicted or awaiting trial for political reasons.(15) Of even greater concern is the fact that there has not been a noticeable reduction in human rights violations in East Timor, contrary to earlier indications that human rights violations in the territory may have been decreasing.

Report continued

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