etmnlong.gif (2291 bytes) spacer NGO Letter Highlights East Timor Refugees

110 Maryland Ave., NE, Box 30 
Washington, DC 20002

January 27, 2000

President Bill Clinton 
White House 
Washington, DC 20500

Dear President Clinton:

As representatives of humanitarian, human rights, peace and justice, and religious organizations, we strongly encourage you to apply urgent pressure on the Indonesian government to ensure the safe return of East Timorese refugees who remain trapped in camps and settlements in West Timor and other areas of Indonesia. Nearly five months after the announcement of the referendum results and despite repeated pledges by the Indonesian government to remedy the situation, more than 100,000 East Timorese remain unable to return home.

As you know, soon after the UN-organized vote, the Indonesian military and its militias forced hundreds of thousands of East Timorese at gunpoint onto trucks, boats, and even airplanes. In a systematic operation, they were shipped out of their country to West Timor and other islands of Indonesia. By the end of September, some 250,000 East Timorese were living in refugee camps in West Timor. The UN estimates that only 130,000 of them have returned.

Although conditions have gradually improved, life for East Timorese in the refugee camps remains dire. Indonesian military-backed militias control many of the camps; East Timorese live in a climate of fear and intimidation. People voicing a desire to return to their homes are threatened. Numerous instances of murder, rape, and the sexual enslavement of women have been reported by international and NGO sources. The refugees lack adequate shelter, sanitation, and water. Nearly 500 East Timorese, including 310 children, have died due to inadequate sanitation and medical care in the refugee camps, according to West Timor officials. UNICEF recently reported that one in four children under the age of five suffers from acute malnutrition. The World Health Organization says that cramped living conditions, contaminated groundwater and unhygienic conditions will contribute to outbreaks of disease including cholera, malaria, and tuberculosis, especially now that the rainy season has begun. Access to many of the camps by humanitarian aid organizations remains limited, and aid workers themselves have been threatened. Numerous repatriation efforts have been thwarted due to militia violence. Moreover, the military and militia groups have conducted a widespread disinformation campaign to discourage East Timorese from returning home.

The number of East Timorese in Flores, West Papua/Irian Jaya, Sulawesi, and other islands is unknown, but given the almost complete lack of international access, the conditions of refugees thus displaced are likely worse than those in West Timor. There are reports of between 2,000 and 5,000 East Timorese on the nearby island of Kisar alone.

The Indonesian government has made repeated promises to halt intimidation campaigns, allow humanitarian organizations unfettered access to the refugee camps, and ensure the safe passage of all East Timorese who wish to return home. Repeatedly, these promises have gone unfulfilled. On November 12, while in Washington to meet with you, President Abdurrahman Wahid promised to speed up the return of refugees. On November 22, Ambassador Holbrooke traveled to West Timor. He called conditions in the refugee camps "appalling," saying, "They shouldn't exist at all more than a month after the fighting ended." Consequently, an agreement was signed between InterFET and the Indonesian armed forces. Within one week of the signing, the rate of return was less than before Mr. Holbrooke's visit. That the camps still continue to exist is truly appalling.

Pressure from your administration can ensure that Indonesia lives up to its promises. East Timor is beginning the 21st century as the world's newest country, but it will never be a complete nation while so many of its people essentially remain hostages in Indonesia. All refugees who wish to do so must be allowed to return home safely and immediately. We urgently request that you use your voice to forcefully convey to the Indonesian government that their armed forces must end all collusion with militia groups. Militia members should be separated from all civilian refugees, removed from the camps, and brought to justice. All militia groups need to be disarmed and disbanded. Humanitarian aid workers must have complete and open access to refugees in all camps, including those taken to areas outside of the Timor island. An organized system should be put into place to track and locate East Timorese taken off-island.

As a man living near Baucau, East Timor, recently said, "We have our freedom now but we will not be happy until our families are reunited." We stand together to express our deepest concern for the fate of the East Timorese refugees.

We look forward to your response, both public and private. We thank you very much for your serious consideration.

Sincerely,

American Friends Service Committee James Matlack, Director

American Kurdish Information Network Kani Xulam, Director

Amnesty International, USA T. Kumar, Advocacy Director for Asia and the Pacific

Arias Foundation for Peace and Human Progress Greg Puley, Project Coordinator

Catholic Conference of Major Superiors Rev. Ted Keating, SM, Executive Director

Catholics Speak Out/Quixote Center Catherine Fielder, SL, Coordinator

Center for Taiwan International Relations David W. Tsai, President

Columbia University Center for the Study of Human Rights Peter H. Juviler, Co-Director

Concern World Wide U.S. Inc. Rob Williams, International Development Manager

Conversion for Reclaiming Earth in the Americas Phil Wheaton, Director

Counterpart International, Inc. Stanley Hosie, CEO

Covert Action Quarterly Louis Wolf, Editor

East Timor Action Network Lynn Fredriksson, Washington Representative Charlie Scheiner, National Coordinator

East Timor Relief and Research Project Ben Terrall, Director

Education for Peace in Iraq Center Erik K. Gustafson, Executive Director

Equal Justice USA/Quixote Center Jane Henderson, Project Coordinator

Fellowship of Reconciliation John Dear, S.J., Executive Director

Foreign Bases Project John M. Miller, Director

Free Burma Coalition Zarni, Founder

Friends Committee on National Legislation Joe Volk, Executive Secretary

Global Exchange Medea Benjamin, Co-Director

Grassroots International Kevin Murray, Executive Director

Guatemala Human Rights Commission USA Alice Zachmann, Director

Haiti Reborn/Quixote Center Melinda Miles, Coordinator

Health Alliance International Mary Anne Mercer, DrPH, Deputy Director

Human Rights Alliance Kathryn Cameron Porter, President

Indonesia Alert! Malik Miah

Indonesian, Chinese, and American Network John Oei, Founder

International Human Rights Law Group Gay McDougall, Executive Director

International Labor Rights Fund Pharis Harvey, Executive Director

International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War Dr. Mary-Wynne Ashford, Co-President

Jesuit Refugee Service/USA Rev. Richard Ryscavage, S.J., Director

Jews Against Genocide Eileen Weiss and Sharon Silber, Co-Directors

Justice for All Allan Nairn

Maasai Environmental Resource Coalition Meitamei Olol-Dipash, International Programs Director

Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns Rev. Peter Ruggere

Methodist Federation for Social Action Kathryn Johnson, Executive Director

National Council of Timorese Resistance Constancio Pinto, Representative to North America, Acting Representative to the UN

Nonviolence International Michael Beer, Director

Pax Christi USA Nancy Small, National Coordinator

Peace Action Gordon S. Clark, Executive Director

Physicians for Human Rights Leonard S. Rubenstein, Executive Director

Portuguese-American Leadership Council of the United States, Inc. Ron Cruz, President

Press for Change Jeff Ballinger, Director

Priests for Equality/Quixote Center Rev. Joseph Dearborn, National Secretary

Quest for Peace/Quixote Center Marie Clarke, Co-Director

Quixote Center Tim Scanlon, Co-Director

Refugees International Lionel Rosenblatt, President

Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights Margaret Huang, Program Director, Asia and the Middle East Saferworld Peter J. Davies, U.S. Representative

Save the Children Charles MacCormack, President

Servants of Mary Cecilia Fandel, OSM, Vice President

St. Joseph the Worker Parish, Berkeley, CA Father Bill O'Donnell, Pastor

Students for a Free Tibet John Hocevar, Executive Director

U.S. Association for UNHCR Jeffrey Meer, Executive Director

U.S. Tibet Committee Sonam Wangdu, Chairman

Veterans for Peace Robert C. Vandivies

Visions in Action Shaun Skelton, Director

Washington Kurdish Institute Mike Amitay, Director

Women Strike for Peace Edith Villastrigo, National Legislative Director

World Organization Against Torture, USA Morton Sklar, Director

World Policy Institute at the New School William D. Hartung, President

World Relief Ahuma Adodoadji, Disaster Response Director

World Sindhi Institute Munawar Laghari, President

Cc: President Abdurrahman Wahid 
H.E. Alwi Shihab, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Indonesia 
Juwono Sudarsono, Minister of Defense, Indonesia 
Madeleine Albright, U.S. Secretary of State 
Stanley Roth, U.S. Assistant Secretary for East Asia and Pacific Affairs 
Senator Jesse Helms, Chair, Senate Foreign Relations Committee 
Senator Joseph R. Biden, Jr., Ranking Member, Senate Foreign Relations Committee 
Representative Benjamin A. Gilman, Chair, House International Relations 
Committee Representative Sam Gejdenson, Ranking Member, House International Relations Committee


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