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Petition to the United Nations Special Committee on the Situation with Regard to the Implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples

from the East Timor Action Network/United States

presented by John M. Miller 
United Nations, New York, July 5, 2000

Mr. Chairperson, distinguished members of the committee and guests, my name is John M. Miller, and I am speaking for the East Timor Action Network, a grassroots movement with more than 10,000 members and 27 local groups across the United States. ETAN has petitioned this committee every year since 1992.

East Timor will soon be off the agenda of this committee. The people of East Timor are on their way to achieving the independence for which so many have suffered and died. It is the independence denied them 25 years ago when Indonesia invaded, cutting short the decolonization process.

For the past decade, ETAN has forcefully advocated self-determination for East Timor. We were pleased that our efforts helped shift U.S. policy from one of arming and training the Indonesian military (TNI) to one supporting East Timor's rights. We were also pleased when Indonesia shifted its policy to allow the U.N. to organize last year's vote. But throughout the year, we grew increasingly concerned as our and others' warnings about leaving the Indonesian military and police in charge of security were ignored. The result, as we all know, was tragic.

On August 30, the people of East Timor voted overwhelmingly for independence. They voted after experiencing tremendous violence and threats of destruction. Threats that were viciously carried out. Hundreds of thousands were forced from their homes. Towns and villages were systematically looted and destroyed by the Indonesian military and its militia. A still unknown number were killed.

Because time is limited, I will not further detail last year's history. The U.N. is now administering the territory and is supposed to be preparing it for independence. However, due to a combination of arrogance, bureaucratic bungling, and procedural delays, UNTAET has only just begun progress toward a genuine partnership with the people of East Timor to run what is, after all, their country. We expect this committee and member states of the U.N. to closely monitor, and where necessary criticize, UNTAET as it oversees physical reconstruction and political institution building in East Timor.

We, the East Timor Action Network, intend to remain engaged with East Timor, and we will continue to pressure the U.S. Congress and, now that it playing a positive role, the U.S. administration to remain positively engaged as well.

Mr. Chairman, In addition to holding UNTAET accountable for its current actions, there remains unfinished business growing out of Indonesia's illegal occupation of East Timor. Issues of concern include the safe return of all those East Timorese who wish to do so, the security of East Timor and its border, and the prosecution of those responsible for East Timor's suffering.

This past spring, the East Timor Action Network coordinated a fact-finding delegation of U.S. congressional aides, journalists and human rights activists which visited the East Timorese refugee camps in West Timor. They found that East Timorese refugees remain under threat from militia leaders and members of the Indonesian armed forces (TNI). These threats and a campaign of disinformation are preventing the refugees from returning to East Timor.

ETAN's Karen Orenstein, co-leader of the delegation, reported, "Despite Indonesian government and military denial of militia presence … there was obvious fear on the faces of most East Timorese in the camps. Intimidation and tension created by militia leaders was palpable." Military-backed militias continue to carry out a widespread disinformation campaign alleging horrific conditions and abuse by international forces in East Timor. The delegation also reported evidence of modern weaponry in the camps and continued Indonesian military training of militia. They found malnutrition and a growing health crisis. U.N agencies and humanitarian NGOs have stated similar findings. The use by international agencies of the Indonesian military and police to provide security for aid workers keeps refugees from speaking freely and repeats last year's pattern of relying on the TNI for protection.

Recently, the media and UN High Commissioner for Refugees have reported growing tension between some refugees and the local population. This should provide an incentive for the Indonesian government to responsibly resolve the status of the refugees, but the continued interest of militia leaders and some elements of the Indonesian military in maintaining control over the refugees is keeping the problem from being resolved, despite repeated Indonesian government pledges to do so.

ETAN's delegation concluded, "The only way to increase the rate of repatriation is to remove militia intimidation and control of the camps. Militia leaders must be arrested so people can feel safe to choose to return to their homes in East Timor."

Mr. Chairman, East Timor can never be a whole nation, until all those who wish to return are able to. The remaining refugees -- forced from their homes at gunpoint and now being kept as virtual hostages -- must be allowed to return.

While East Timor's security has certainly improved since earlier in the year, the militia continues to engage in border incursions. Just last week they attacked U.N. peacekeepers. Militia leaders continue to make threats. Unless firm action is taken to prosecute and remove them from West Timor, in a year or two -- once the U.N. peacekeepers pull out -- the militia may feel emboldened to once again attack East Timor in force.

Mr. Chairman, The surest way to insure the safe return of the refugees and East Timor's future security is to continue to pressure the Indonesian military and to prosecute those responsible for East Timor's destruction. Indonesia is preparing to try some of those believed responsible for last year's violence and East Timor's nascent justice system is planning trials of those in its custody. Most observers at this point expect these processes -- already fraught with delays -- to be severely flawed for many reasons.

We urge the committee and its members to work to quickly establish an international tribunal for East Timor as recommended by the International Commission of Inquiry on East Timor and sought by most East Timorese. Such a tribunal should have substantial Indonesian and East Timorese participation, but prosecution of the crimes committed in East Timor is an international responsibility. Ideally such a tribunal would not be restricted to last year's events but go back to 1975, bringing to justice all those responsible for the atrocities committed in East Timor throughout Indonesia's occupation.

Successful prosecution of those responsible for the pre- and post-vote violence would also have the advantage of removing those Indonesian and East Timorese military, militia and political leaders with the greatest stake in continuing to threaten East Timor.

Believing that all available avenues must be used to bring justice for East Timor, ETAN assisted in a lawsuit brought last March in U.S. court against Indonesia's General Lumintang. U.S. law allows anyone to sue for gross violations of human rights provided the plaintiff is on U.S. soil and served with the legal documents when the suit is filed. General Lumintang was sued by several East Timorese who were injured, lost property or had relatives killed in the aftermath of the August 30 vote. The lawsuit cites a telegram signed by General Lumintang and sent to the regional and local commanders just hours before the agreement to conduct the East Timor's plebiscite was signed here at the United Nations on May 5. The telegram ordered the commanders to plan a crackdown should the East Timorese vote in favor of independence. This was to include "a plan to move to the rear/evacuate if the second option independence is chosen." As we know, such a plan was put into action soon after the vote.

We want to reiterate that an international tribunal should be main vehicle for bringing those responsible to justice.

Mr. Chairman,

We wish to inform the committee that the U.S. Congress and administration remain actively concerned about East Timor. In addition to its direct contributions toward the reconstruction of East Timor, the U.S. continues to limit engagement with the Indonesian military.

Just a week ago, Ambassador Holbrooke told the Security Council he endorsed East Timorese demands for a rapid transition to independence. We hope this committee will also endorse this demand. Ambassador Holbrooke also said that he was "deeply shocked by the continuing militia activities along and across the border into East Timor. The Indonesia government, its military, has failed to disarm and disband these militia," he said. Some militia members, he said, are now armed with more sophisticated weapons than they had previously.

Last September 9, President Clinton suspended all U.S. military ties with Indonesia. Soon after, the Indonesian military began to pull out of East Timor and Indonesia gave permission for an international peacekeeping force to enter the territory. Late last year Congress put part of this ban into law through the annual Foreign Operations Appropriations Act. This law stipulated conditions that must be met before normal military ties can be restored. These include return of the refugees East Timor and accountability for military and militia members responsible for human rights atrocities in East Timor and Indonesia. They also require Indonesia to actively prevent militia incursions into East Timor and to cooperate fully with the UN administration in East Timor. We fully expect Congress to renew these restrictions, even as it considers broader legislation that would also prevent forms of military engagement current legislation does not cover.

Such restrictions can only strengthen the hand of those in Indonesia who wish to bring their military under democratic control. In mid-June, six prominent Indonesian NGOs stated their opposition to any resumption of U.S.-Indonesian military ties. The groups called U.S. military assistance to the Indonesian military "indefensible" and warned that any "positive effect the US suspension [of military ties in September 1999] has had is now in danger of being squandered" by plans to conduct a joint military exercise this month with Indonesia -- a position with which we agree.

They said that "Given that the Indonesian military makes no distinction between national defense and domestic policing... any training and aid provided to the military can just as easily be used against Indonesian citizens as external enemies.... Until the TNI renounces its 'dual function' doctrine which justifies its interventions into domestic politics, U.S. military aid to it is indefensible," the Indonesian NGOs added.

Some have argued that reform of Indonesia's military and prosecution of its members for crimes against East Timor are internal matters. But history has shown that external support for the Indonesian military has only reinforced its worst tendencies. With the U.N. making a tremendous investment in East Timor's future, it would be counterproductive for its members to prop up the institution that over the past 25 years has been the East Timor's self-determination's deadliest enemy.

A truly democratic Indonesia means that promises and agreements made with an independent East Timor will be kept, not undermined, and a genuine reconciliation can take place between the peoples of the two countries.

Mr. Chairman,

This committee's responsibilities toward East Timor are coming to an end. It is imperative that among its final actions it is clear about the remaining obstacles to genuine independence for East Timor. Members of this committee, after years of testimony, should be more familiar than most with the hardships the East Timorese have suffered in their struggle for self-determination and independence. We hope that once East Timor formally leaves the ranks of non-self-governing territories and joins the ranks of U.N. members, that you as representatives of your individual governments will remain engaged and work to insure that East Timor remains at peace.

Thank you.

Additional Statements to July 2000 U.N. Decolonization Committee Meeting 

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