etmnlong.gif (2291 bytes) spacer State Department Report on Indonesia/E Timor Generally Accurate

East Timor Action Network Highlights a Few Omissions

February 29, 2000

The last year of the twentieth century was a transition for both East Timor and Indonesia. East Timor finally exercised its long-denied right to self-determination, and is now becoming an independent nation. Next year, East Timor will merit its own Country Report. Indonesia firmly broke with the 32-year Suharto dictatorship, holding elections and moving toward a pluralistic democracy.

Yet, as the State Department Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1999 on Indonesia indicates, this progress has come at a tremendous price. Not only have the people of East Timor and Indonesia survived decades of brutal repression and mass slaughter, but their 1999 passage toward freedom was accompanied by widespread killings and many other human rights violations. Although East Timor is now under interim United Nations administration and can look forward to peaceful democracy, many parts of Indonesia continue to suffer at the hands if Indonesia's military.

The State Department Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (DHRL) Report released last Friday discusses Indonesia's "significant progress in its transition from a long-entrenched authoritarian regime to a more pluralistic, representative democracy." Yet, the Report appropriately states "Both the TNI (military) and the police committed numerous serious human rights abuses throughout the year."

The East Timor Action Network commends the State Department for producing a generally accurate Country Report, and for including nearly all of the most serious ongoing violations of human rights. We also appreciate the shifts in U.S. policy toward Indonesia over the past two years and encourage the State Department to continue building relationships with Indonesia's civil society and maintaining pressure on the military. It is still far too early for the United States to resume weapons sales, military training or any other ties with Jakarta's military establishment, still not fully under civilian control and still violating the rights of people in Aceh, West Papua and other areas under Indonesian control.

Space does not permit recounting the voluminous information provided by the State Department, and these comments should be read in conjunction with the State Department Report, available on the Internet at The following are the major areas relating to East Timor where ETAN believes the Report is lacking:

1. The Report fails to convey the extent to which the Indonesian military and its militias attempted to subvert the U.N. referendum process. Although some militia crimes preceding the May 5 agreement are described, as is the devastation after the results were announced on September 4, the terror and mayhem operation conducted by the militias during the referendum process is largely omitted. There is no mention, for example, of the systematic attacks on CNRT offices during the two-week August campaign period, which effectively squelched public advocacy by the pro-independence side. During the week before the vote, militias wrought havoc in towns all across East Timor, killing at least six people in Dili and several in other areas. On August 28 militia entered the Los Palos home of Verissimo Quintas, the 60-year-old traditional chief, and hacked him to death with machetes while Indonesian police stationed close by failed to act. In the enclave of Oecussi, the pre-vote violence was especially severe.

2. The Report is inadequate when discussing human rights cases prior to 1999 in which no new progress was made. Although a few such cases are mentioned (such as the 1991 Dili massacre), the Indonesian military committed literally hundreds of thousands of human rights violations during their 24-year occupation of East Timor. A major deficiency of the current Indonesian and international investigations is that they fail to include violations before 1999. The State Report should point that out, and should report on the (lack of) progress on the many major violations reported by State in previous years.

3. The extent of the post-vote devastation is not conveyed. Although the Report recounts some elements of the post-vote violence by the TNI and the militias, it fails to describe the scale or the systematic nature of the destruction. In less than two weeks, the military, police and militias drove 650,000 out of the East Timorese population of 850,000 from their homes - either fleeing into the mountains or forced, often at gunpoint, on trucks or ships and taken to West Timor or other parts of Indonesia. Simultaneously, they deliberately destroyed 70% of all buildings and nearly all of East Timor's infrastructure. The legacy of this devastation will affect every aspect of East Timorese society for years, resulting in the denial of shelter, education, food, work (East Timor now has 80% unemployment) and many other basic rights.

4. The Report fails to mention the responsibility of the international community, including the United States. The United Nations Security Council approved the May 5 agreements. For the first time since 1975, the international community legalized the Indonesian military presence in East Timor by giving Jakarta responsibility for security during the referendum process. Yet, as the State Report documents, it was clear at that time that TNI was carrying out a widespread, systematic policy of terror, implemented through paramilitary militias, to prevent the vote or distort its outcome. The United States made no effort to pressure Indonesia to improve the agreement by making security an international responsibility, and therefore shares culpability for abuses committed as a result of that agreement.

5. The Report fails to acknowledge restraint by independence advocates. In an unusual breach of objectivity, the State Report cites the "cease-fire agreement of April 21" only in reference to unverifiable allegations of pro-independence violence. In an earlier description of repeated acts of violence by pro-Indonesia militias, the Report makes no mention of this fraudulent TNI- brokered "cease-fire," which was used by the U.S. and the U.N. to justify their acceptance of the flawed May 5 accords.

The Report appropriately devotes far more space to Indonesian violations than to those by the East Timorese resistance, since nearly all violations were committed by the government and its militia proxies. However, by failing to quantify the violations on both sides, the Report conceals how rarely the resistance resorted to violence - and IGNORES their right to self-defense or to oppose an illegal occupation. During the entire consultation process and post-ballot violence, pro-independence guerillas (FALINTIL) refrained from responding to violent military and militia provocations. Their discipline is one of the most incredible accomplishments 1999 in East Timor.

The Report often includes specific names, dates and places when describing abuses by Indonesia. But allegations of abuses by pro- independence abuses are frequently cited without indicating whether they are credible or, as has been the case throughout the occupation, part of an Indonesian disinformation campaign. One typical sentence reads "In East Timor, there were numerous reports of abductions and murders of police and TNI personnel, allegedly at the hands of separatists."

6. Progress toward democratic rule in Indonesia is obvious, but is often overstated in the Report. Although the June Indonesian parliamentary elections were mostly free and fair, the October selection of Abdurrahman Wahid as president was not democratic. His party came in third in the elections, receiving 12.6% of the vote. When the candidate preferred by only one-eighth of the voters is chosen through secret political deals, this can hardly be considered an "open, transparent, democratic process."

In an ironic coincidence, the State Department's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices were released the same day four New York City police officers were cleared of all charges relating to their repeated, unprovoked, fatal shooting of an unarmed African immigrant on the doorstep of his home. Perhaps the U.S. government should examine "political and other extrajudicial killing" in the United States.

ETAN and the State Department concur that East Timor and Indonesia are moving toward democracy. We also agree that it is a difficult path, fraught with roadblocks and potholes. The State Department has reported most of the obstacles navigated during 1999, and ETAN has highlighted a few omissions and deficiencies. We hope that next year's Country Reports for East Timor and Indonesia will have fewer human rights violations to report, and we encourage the United States, Indonesian and East Timorese interim governments to work to ensure that this repressive chapter of the region's history is finally and firmly ended.



make a pledge via credit card here

Bookmark and Share

Background | Take Action | News | Links | What You Can Do | Resources  | Contact

ETAN Store | Estafeta | ImagesHome | Timor Postings | Search | Site Index |