Subject: SMH: Timorese rights group loses funds

Sydney Morning Herald
October 15, 2005

Timorese rights group loses funds
By Cynthia Banham, Foreign Affairs Reporter

An East Timorese human rights group that criticised the Federal Government over its negotiations with the fledgling nation on maritime boundaries has been stripped of it funding.

AusAID agreed last December to provide $65,830 under the Federal Government's Human Rights Small Grants Scheme to the non-government organisation Forum Tau Matan (FTM) to monitor the East Timorese prison and legal system,

The Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, announced the grant in a press release marking the 56th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, saying Australia had a "proud tradition of protecting and promoting human rights".

The grant, Mr Downer said, would help "grassroots organisations to support human rights in a direct and tangible way".

But six months later, in June, the organisation received a letter from AusAID, which the Herald has seen, advising it that it would not get the funding because in the past few months there had been a "number of significant developments in the Australian development co-operation program with Timor-Leste".

"In this context, we have been reviewing the ways in which we engage with NGOs in different sectors," the letter stated. However, says the East Timorese aid monitoring group La'o Hamutuk, the reason for the Government's change of heart was a statement signed by Forum Tau Matan in September last year, in which it criticised Australia for its conduct over the controversial maritime boundaries negotiations.

In that statement, the forum and a number of other organisations accused Australia of "belittling" East Timor, and called on the Government to negotiate a permanent maritime boundary "based on current international legal principles".

In May, East Timor and Australia agreed to defer a boundary settlement for 50 years in exchange for Dili receiving 50 per cent of revenue from the Greater Sunrise oilfield in the Timor Sea.

Alex Grainger, from La'o Hamutuk, told the Herald an AusAID officer told Forum Tau Matan staff last month that the reason behind the decision to revoke the funding was that it had signed the statement.

A spokeswoman for AusAID confirmed yesterday that the group's public criticism of Australia had been taken into account by the Government when it decided to revoke the contract.

"Australian government funding decisions are made on a case-by-case basis," the spokeswoman said. "Having reviewed the case of FTM, an Australian Government decision was made not to proceed with funding for FTM's proposed project.

"This decision took into account FTM's public criticism of Australia. Given that FTM had already incurred some expenses in the expectation that it was to receive funding, the Australian Government provided some financial assistance to meet any reasonable costs."

Mr Grainger said AusAID had subsequently paid the group $7000 in compensation for breaking the contract.

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