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Subject: ETISC: UN must have referendum in ET
Date: Thu, 27 Aug 1998 17:21:17 +0000
From: "ETISC" <>

East Timor International Support Center PO Box 651, Nightcliff, Darwin, NT0814, Australia web-site

ETISC Position Paper August 27, 1998

The starting point for the UN in East Timor must be a referendum

Politics is about two things: 1) the art of the possible, 2) doing what is right, legally or morally.

The United Nations is succeeding in neither of these two areas in its attempt to find a solution to the East Timor problem.

First - the politics. There are three players - Indonesia, Portugal, and the East Timorese. Indonesia wants to keep hold of East Timor, possibly as an autonomous state, whilst the other two parties to the dispute, Portugal and the East Timorese, want a referendum, and will be guided by the will of the people.

The United Nations has taken as its starting point for the negotiations, according to a 26 August report, the study of various autonomy models, such as the Cook Islands, Aruba, and Hong Kong. In doing so it is clearly failing in its role as a mediator, by taking as the basis for the negotiations, a position which coincides precisely with the wishes of one of the three parties, and opposes the wishes of the other two parties. Not only is this wrong-headed and unjust, but it is flying in the face of political reality, that politics is the art of the possible. Such an approach will not lead to a "just and comprehensive solution".

Equally profitless is the UN desire to shun the universally accepted and democratic means for judging the will of the people - namely a referendum. Should the United Nations be pandering to the political sensitivities of the minority players, Portugal and Indonesia, at the expense of gauging the will of the majority player, namely the East Timorese - the ones who are the very raison d'Ítre of the dispute, the ones who are affected by, and must live with, the ultimate decision? For the United Nations to imagine that negotiations based on listening to the loud voices of the "big boys" and ignoring the voices of the "little people" will in fact yield results acceptable to all three parties, is particularly bone-headed. This UN approach will fail all three parties - and itself.

Second - doing what is right, legally or morally. Have the United Nations representatives forgotten what created the East Timor problem? It was the invasion of East Timor by Indonesia, one of the three parties in the dispute. This was, and still is, according to international law, illegal. The United Nations therefore, in its role as mediator, peace-keeper and guardian of international Conventions, must endeavour to right the wrongs that have been committed by Indonesia.

The United Nations cannot afford to ignore the spirit of the United Nations Charter, its own charter, nor the illegality of unprovoked invasion. If the UN ignores the law, and the fate of those illegally wronged, who can the poor and weak turn to for redress, or justice?

But proceeding further, it must also be asked if the UN has forgotten the resolutions passed in the General Assembly and the Security Council in 1975 and 1976, which constitute the very reason that Kofi Annan and Jamsheed Marker are currently endeavouring to find a solution to the East Timor problem? Had there been no resolutions by the world body, then this would not now be a UN issue. Had the world body at some point passed a resolution approving of the Indonesian annexation, then this would no longer be a United Nations issue. But the world's highest body HAS passed resolutions condemning Indonesia and demanding withdrawal from East Timor, and it has NEVER approved of the annexation.

Such a systematic history of world opposition to Indonesia, as expressed in UN resolutions, therefore allows the Secretary General no alternative but to strive hard to honour those resolutions, and seek the withdrawal of Indonesia. That Indonesia has been in East Timor for 23 years is irrelevant, in legal and moral terms. Withdrawal means simply withdrawal - withdrawal of all troops and all sovereignty, over a land that was never part of Indonesia, either in 1975 or ever before that. Indonesia is an invader, not an equal party in the dispute.

The United Nations clearly needs a new starting point for its negotiations, and one that is very different from the futile exercise of laying three documents on the table - about the autonomous territories of the Cook Islands, Aruba, and Hong Kong. In any move towards negotiations and a new status for East Timor, two important conditions must be met:

1) The possibility that the people most directly and deeply affected by decisions will have the opportunity to express their view. This means the East Timorese. 2) The opportunity for East Timor to gain any one of the three states which have been part of the discussion so far, namely: a) integration into Indonesia b) an autonomous territory within Indonesia c) independence

These conditions can be met simply. A referendum CAN be held. It is ludicrous to say that the East Timorese are not ready for a referendum, for after 23 years, they have become politically aware, and fully understand the options - integration, autonomy and independence - and what they mean. It is also wrong to suggest that mechanisms cannot be put in place for the holding of a referendum within the next 12 months. The Indonesian forces can quickly be withdrawn, a UN peace-keeping force installed, and a UN commission established to prepare for and conduct a referendum. The choices in the referendum can be: 1) independence, 2) autonomy under Indonesia (powers to be negotiated), 3) integration with Indonesia, which would mean continuing with the current state. It would be fair to say that if one of the options obtained a clear majority over the other two options combined, then no party could feel wronged. If this was not the case, then there would be need for further UN negotiation which would take, as its starting point, not the autonomy option which is the current UN approach, but rather the position which won the most votes in the referendum.

Two points need to be reiterated. First, the current UN starting point of discussing various autonomous models is wrong. The starting point ought to be the position which gains the highest number of votes in a people's referendum. After this the detail can be discussed. Second, a referendum not only should be held, but most certainly can be held. Speed is essential. Let the people speak - as soon as 1999.

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