25 July 2001
Dear IFET and other East Timor activists,
A number of people from around the world have asked if the International Federation for East Timor (IFET) is going to organize an observer project for the upcoming August 30 constituent assembly election in East Timor, as we did for the referendum two years ago.
Based on advice from East Timorese NGOs, on our capacity, and on our assessment of the current situation, we will not be organizing such a project. If someone reading this feels differently, and wants to take on the responsibility, this question could be re-opened. This is a decision based on priorities and resources, not on principle.
The Carter Center, International Republican Institute and several governments are sending observers or assisting East Timorese NGOs in developing monitoring projects. Some international groups in East Timor will also observe, as will some East Timorese NGOs. As far as I know, there will not be an internationally organized volunteer observer project coordinated by IFET or anyone else.
We reached this decision reluctantly, after discussions with La’o Hamutuk, Yayasan Hak, and other East Timorese NGOs. Among the principal reasons are the following:
1. In 1999, we believed that the presence of internationals throughout the country would help deter military/militia violence and enable the East Timorese to vote freely. No such threat of violence exists in 2001 -- except for the approximately 100,000 East Timorese “refugees” still stuck in West Timor, and they’re not allowed to vote anyway.
2. In 1999, there was a clear process, and every East Timorese understood the decision on the ballot. This year, the process is confusing and rushed. Instead of a yes/no vote, people are choosing among 16 political parties and hundreds of candidates for a body whose function and future are not well understood. What needs monitoring is not the day of the vote, but the entire process which has and will be going on for years.This is being done by East Timorese NGOs, with some support from internationals, and could be strengthened significantly with long-term support from people with experience and knowledge in constitutional development. However, the benefits of observers coming for a few weeks during just one part of the process do not justify the effort.
3. The 30 August 1999 vote was the critical point in unlocking the long-denied right of East Timorese self-determination. The 30 August 2001 vote is one step in a many-year transition. In spite of the efforts of some on the U.N. Security Council (France and the U.K. in particular) to phase out UNTAET after August 2001, this vote will not mark the beginning of self-rule. Independence will come sometime in 2002, and UNTAET, in consultation with De Mello-selected East Timorese leadership, will continue to govern until well into next year.
4. It takes a huge amount of work, money and time to organize an observer project, even one much smaller than the 140 people we sent in 1999. Nobody has offered to take on that responsibility this year, and neither La’o Hamutuk nor any of the other East Timorese organizations have the personnel or resources to assign to this, given all the other issues (including civic education and political transition) competing for their time.
I apologize if you receive this message multiple times. I wanted to be sure it got to everyone who participated in IFET-OP 1999 or expressed interest in an observer project this year. Please pass this message on to others who might be interested.
Thank you for your continuing support for the East Timorese people as they navigate the difficult waters of the channel from occupation through destruction to independence. They still need international help in many forms, and we in the international community owe it to them for tolerating the crimes against humanity committed against East Timor for a quarter-century.
Viva Timor Lorosae Independente,
P.S. Several observers from 1999, including myself, will be in East Timor on 30 August 2001 and may offer some observations. If you expect to be there and would like to be in touch with other informal, unorganized observers, please let me know how to contact you.
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