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