Congress Votes to Bar Use of U.S. Weapons in East Timor
see also Congressional Record
East Timor Action Network
Contact: John M. Miller
Congress Votes to Bar Use of U.S. Weapons in East Timor
Deals Blow to Indonesian Regime in Midst of Financial Bailout Negotiations
May Endanger all Future Weapons Deals Between Washington and Jakarta
The U.S. Congress voted today to block the use of U.S. weapons in occupied East Timor, placing an unprecedented restriction on U.S. arms sales to Indonesia.
The vote comes as the White House is offering a three billion dollar financial bailout for Indonesia, and on the eve of expected meetings involving President Clinton and Defense Secretary Cohen, and General Suharto, Indonesia's long-standing dictator.
The Congressional vote deals a severe blow to Suharto and his embattled regime, and may endanger all future weapons deals between Washington and Jakarta.
The new legislation, included in the foreign operations section of the FY 1998 Foreign Operations Appropriations bill requires that any contract to sell lethal equipment to Indonesia "state that the United States expects that the items will not be used in East Timor."
The appropriations bill f passed by the Senate this afternoon, November 13, and by the House early this morning f now goes to the President for signature.
The Indonesian government has stated repeatedly that it will not accept conditions on weapons sales, particularly conditions tied to its record on human rights. This spring, Suharto canceled a pending F-15 fighter plane deal because members of Congress were talking about attaching human rights conditions.
The bar to U.S. weapons use in East Timor, sponsored by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), was crafted in House-Senate Conference Committee with unanimous bipartisan support. Senator Russell Feingold (D-WI), and Representatives Nita Lowey (D-NY), Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Frank Wolf (R-VA) also played key roles in passage of the East Timor related language in the bill.
The East Timor Action Network (ETAN) praised the vote as a turning point in the worldwide campaign to end Indonesia's illegal occupation of East Timor. ETAN mounted an extensive grassroots campaign on behalf of the legislation.
"This bill is unprecedented. It puts Jakarta on the spot. Now each time they sign a deal to acquire weapons from the United States, they will have to, in effect, agree not to use those arms in occupied East Timor," said ETAN National Coordinator Charles Scheiner.
Scheiner added that "the bill is a political milestone because it constitutes implicit recognition by the U.S. Congress that, despite the Suharto regime's claims, East Timor is distinct from Indonesia."
Indonesia invaded East Timor in 1975 and has occupied it ever since, despite two U.N. Security Council resolutions calling on Jakarta to "withdraw without delay." The resolutions, as well as eight resolutions passed by the U.N. General Assembly, recognize the right of the East Timorese to self-determination. The U.N. classifies East Timor as a non-self-governing territory. The United States has never extended de jure recognition to the takeover.
According to estimates by Amnesty International and Col. Gatot Purwanto (the former Indonesian intelligence chief in East Timor), roughly 200,000 East Timorese - a third of the original population - have been killed as a result of the Indonesian army's occupation.
The East Timor weapons ban is the latest in a series of expanding restrictions imposed by the U.S. Congress on the sale of arms to Indonesia. Public and Congressional pressure blocked a transfer of F-5 fighters in 1993, and under similar pressure, in 1994 the State Department instituted a ban on the sale of small arms and crowd control equipment to Indonesia. The ban has since been expanded to include helicopter-mounted weapons and armored personnel carriers.
As a result of such pressure, Suharto has apparently agreed to enter talks on Timor this month, to be held informally under the auspices of South African President Nelson Mandela.
The Timor legislation (Sec 571 of HR 2159) reads in full: "In any agreement for the sale, transfer, or licensing of any lethal equipment or helicopter for Indonesia entered into by the United States pursuant to the authority of this Act or any other Act, the agreement shall state that the United States expects that the items will not be used in East Timor: Provided, that nothing in this section shall be construed to limit Indonesia's inherent right to legitimate self-defense as recognized under the United Nations Charter and international law."
"The key phrase "the United States expects that the items will not be used in East Timor means that the U.S. regards Indonesia as obligated to refrain from using the weapons in East Timor," said Roger Clark, Professor of International Law at Rutgers Law School, Camden, NJ. Professor Clark is widely viewed as the leading international scholar on the legal status of East Timor.
After the December 1975 invasion of East Timor, the State Department's legal office said that the use of U.S. arms weapons during the invasion violated the agreement governing weapons sales to Jakarta signed in 1958. The Mutual Defense Agreement Between the United States of America and Indonesia on Equipment, Materials and Services allows the use of the weapons "solely for legitimate national self-defense" as defined by the U.N. Charter.
The East Timor Action Network/US was founded in November 1991, following the massacre of more than 271 peaceful demonstrators in Dili, East Timor. ETAN/US supports genuine self-determination and human rights for the people of East Timor in accordance with the UN Charter and General Assembly and Security Council resolutions. ETAN/US currently has 16 local chapters.
The following is taken from the Congressional Record, the "Thomas" Congressional web site, and the text of the bill and conference report, known as H.R.2159. Items in brackets are ETAN's annotations; everything else is straight from Congress.
OFFICIAL TITLE AS INTRODUCED:
A bill making appropriations for foreign operations, export financing, and related programs for the fiscal year ending September 30, 1998, and for other purposes.
[Recent legislative history:]
Nov 12, 97: Conference report H. Rept. 105-401 filed in House. Nov 13, 97: House Agreed to Conference Report by the Yeas and Nays: 333 - 76, 1 Present (Roll no. 631). Conference report considered in Senate. Senate agreed to conference report by Unanimous Consent.
[Text of the bill, which has passed both Houses of Congress and will become law when signed by President Clinton later this months. Only the section relating to East Timor is included here. The overall bill appropriates $13 billion for "Foreign Operations."]
Title V: General Provisions -
LIMITATIONS ON TRANSFER OF MILITARY EQUIPMENT TO EAST TIMOR
Sec. 571. In any agreement for the sale, transfer, or licensing of any lethal equipment or helicopter for Indonesia entered into by the United States pursuant to the authority of this Act or any other Act, the agreement shall state that the United States expects that the items will not be used in East Timor: Provided, That nothing in this section shall be construed to limit Indonesia's inherent right to legitimate national self-defense as recognized under the United Nations Charter and international law.
[The following is the House-Senate Conferees' description of this part of the legislation. It is not legally binding (unlike the bill text itself), but gives Congress' rationale behind the legislation:]
Sec.571. Limitations on Transfer of Military Equipment to East Timor
The conference agreement includes language which requires that any agreement for sale, transfer, or licensing of any lethal equipment or helicopters for Indonesia entered into by the United States shall state that the United States expects that such items will not be used in East Timor. The conference agreement also provides that nothing in this section shall be construed to limit Indonesia's inherent right to legitimate national self-defense as recognized under the United Nations Charter and international law.
The conferees recognize Indonesia's important contribution to regional security and its inherent right of self-defense under the United Nations Charter. The conferees note, however, that U.S. military equipment has been used by Indonesian troops in East Timor. The conferees are concerned that U.S. military equipment not be used in a manner inconsistent with international law, particularly with respect to the observance of human rights and therefore have included bill language which makes clear that such items should not be used in East Timor.
The House bill did not contain a provision on this matter.
[The bill passed the House in the wee hours of November 13 by a vote of yeas 333, nays 76, answered `present' 1, not voting 22. There was no separate vote or discussion on the East Timor section.
When the bill was discussed prior to its unanimous Senate passage on November 13, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), the author of the East Timor provision, made the following statement on the Senate floor (excerpted from a longer statement about many issues):]
Over the years, the Congress has passed numerous resolutions on the situation in East Timor. Despite international pressure, the Indonesian Government has refused to withdraw its thousands of troops from the island. The situation has remained tense since the 1990 Dili massacre, the anniversary of which coincidentally was yesterday, and arbitrary arrests and disappearances of East Timorese are common.
Indonesia is the world's fourth most populous country and enjoys close economic and security relations with the United States. I would like to see that relationship flourish. But we cannot ignore what happened this past June when supporters of democracy were arrested and killed by Indonesian soldiers, and the main political opponent of the Suharto regime was forced to withdraw from the election, notwithstanding that the election was rigged from the start. Nor can we ignore the abuses in East Timor. I had the honor of meeting East Timorese Bishop Bello (sic) earlier this year, and I believe that while we should encourage close relations with Indonesia, we should also do what we can to ensure that we are not contributing to the problems in East Timor. For that reason, a provision I authored was included in the conference report which is designed to prevent United States lethal equipment or helicopters from being used in East Timor. This provision is intended to expand on the administration's current policy of not providing small arms, crowd control items, or armored personnel carriers to Indonesia. It is also consistent with actions taken recently by the British Government.
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