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Statements at Sept. 6, 2001 press conference organized by the East Timor Action Network

Press coverage

Transcript of Statement by Sen. Tom Harkin (transcribed by ETAN)

First, I'm joined by my good friend ... Congressman Jim McGovern and I were in East Timor last year together and he has been a very integral part of our efforts here in the Congress dealing with the East Timorese going back many years.

Senator Reed and I were in East Timor a year before last, so I've been there right before the election and then was there last August a year ago in August. I want to thank Karen, the Washington Coordinator for the East Timor Network for all of her great work here for bringing us together today.

A little bit of history a little bit of background. In 1975 I was a freshman Congressman and I introduced the first resolution condemning the Indonesian government for the invasion of East Timor. And calling upon them on to remove their military and to provide the East Timorese the right to determine their own future. That was in 1975.

So I've been involved with East Timor and with Indonesia since that time. Two years ago, in August I traveled to East Timor, as I said, with Senator Jack Reed, and we helicoptered around the island and one of the places that we went to was Suai. And we met there with the mayor. That's not right. I forgot how they were called at that time, sort of the head person in Suai. And then we also met at the church with Father Duanto, Father Francisco, and Father Hilario. And I have a lot of pictures and I even have my handheld movie camera with me. And in the church there in Suai, where I was, literally hundreds, several hundred people, who had sought refuge at this church, people who lived in the surrounding countryside who wanted to vote in the election, were being harassed by the militias, and so they came into this church to seek refuge. And the church provided them with refuge and food. At that time the militias and the Indonesian military had cut off the water to the church. So I went to see the mayor. I'm sorry I can't remember the proper name for him, but went to see him. And then when I went back to Indonesia and we met with the President. We asked him to turn the water back on, and we were able to accomplish that at least for the people who were in that church.

But the point of my story is that hundreds of people there had gathered because they wanted to vote. This church and these three priests had provided them the sanctuary for them. We left and just a few days after that were the elections; we were there literally just a few days before the election was held. Right after, as you know, the militia supported by the Indonesian military went on a rampage. Father Duanto, Father Francisco, and Father Hilario were murdered in cold blood, as were two hundred of the people that we met there that day.

Two hundred of the people that we met with, including men, women and children, were slaughtered. An Indonesian human rights commission found that the Timorese militia, along with members of the Indonesian military and police, attacked the church. The same commission named the Indonesian military officers that led the attack. But not one person has been formally charged nor prosecuted for this massacre.

A year ago, three UN aid workers, including an American citizen, were dragged from their offices by Timorese militia thugs, murdered, and their bodies set on fire in Atambua, which is in West Timor. Six militia men were prosecuted and they received jail sentences of ten to twenty months. None of the militia thugs' ring leaders were called to account. The UN High Commission for Refugees called it a mockery.

These are not isolated cases: the one that I was particularly involved in, because I met these people, I met the priests; the one of the UN workers were not isolated. This occurred in a back-drop of murder, rape, and mayhem that occurred right after the election of August of 1999. At least 1,500 people were killed, thousands injured, 500,000 civilians forced into refugee camps, out of a population of 750,000. Think about that. Communities and villages were destroyed.

As I said, last year I was there. I was able to see first hand with my own eyes and to talk to people about what happened. I was there one year before. One year later, I'm back. I visited the house in which I stayed, totally gutted, totally burned out, totally destroyed by the militias with the support of the Indonesian military. I got to speak with a lot of people who lost family members, spoke with people who said that the militia came with Indonesian military, randomly shooting and killing people and setting houses and schools on fire, setting businesses on fire. And, of course, as you know, we met with the Bishop there, and they burned out his place also and he lost a lot of his own personal effects and a lot of his friends.

Anyway, a lot of these thugs continue to do their work in West Timor. But I think we are basically here to say that something has to be done about this. This is like Rwanda. This is like the Balkans. And we have called on and established War Crimes Tribunals for those countries. And we need to do it again for East Timor.

I've sponsored legislation. We have twelve Senate colleagues on this to establish an International War Crimes Tribunal for East Timor. Congressman McGovern and others in the House are leading the charge in the House on a similar measure. It is modeled right after legislation that established a tribunal for Iraq, for the Balkans, and for Rwanda. Because it calls on the Bush administration to support an International Criminal Tribunal to prosecute all of the individuals responsible for the human rights abuses in East Timor. [The legislation] asks the Bush administration, directs pertinent U.S. government agencies to be collecting and organizing all necessary evidence and information needed to indict and prosecute these war criminals before an International Tribunal. And finally [the legislation] calls upon the Bush administration to work actively and urgently with the international community to adopt a UN Security Counsel Resolution, establishing an International Tribunal on East Timor.

I happen to have a friend of mine, Steve R, former U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Iowa, who is at the present time in Africa, trying to think of the name of the town that he is in, and he is one of the prosecutors for the war crimes that took place in Rwanda. I met with him when he was back this summer for a few weeks and he was describing to me some of the things that happened there in Rwanda. And I thought to myself, sounds just like what happened in East Timor, the same kind of killing brutalization by militia thugs supported by a military. And we are bringing people to justice for what happened in Rwanda. We have to do the same thing for East Timor.

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For Immediate Release: 
Contact: Michael Mershon; (202) 225-6101

September 6, 2001


Shortly before the August 30, 1999, referendum on independence, I was in East Timor with Senators Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Jack Reed (D-RI). At that time, Dili, East Timor's capital, was a city fill of activity. We were the only congressional delegation to travel to East Timor before those elections and the last Members of Congress to see Dili, and East Timor as they once were.

Our delegation traveled to two towns along the western border: Maliana and Suai. I would like to share some of my memories of Suai.

August is the dry season in East Timor. That day was sweltering hot and dusty. In this poor town, we went to the Catholic Church compound, where over 2,000 people were seeking refuge. Father Hilario Madeira, the senior parish priest, and Father Francisco Soares, who would be our guides, greeted us. They introduced us to their world - one filled with worry and tension, and subjected daily to violence and intimidation by the Indonesian military and the militias organized and armed by the Indonesian military.

Despite the strain and uncertainty of their situation, I was impressed by Father Hilario and Father Francisco Soares warmth, good humor, hospitality and steady nerves. Here were men carrying out God's mandate to love and care for your neighbor, protect the weak, and live humbly.

In talking to the refugees, we discovered that most had been burned out of their homes, or forcibly evicted. The majority were women and children. They sought refuge in the church compound, surrounded by militia, who had cut off all food and water.

Our delegation met with town officials, asking for the water to be restored. Clearly, the militias were in charge of the water, and town officials would do nothing. The armed Indonesian police and soldiers - those charged with the protection and security of the East Timorese people during the U.N. process - stood in the shade, doing nothing, laughing and joking with the militias. When I met later with then-Indonesian President Habibie in Jakarta, we demanded the water be restored in Suai. Less than 24 hours later, the militias turned on the water.

Father Hilario shared with us his concerns about the current violence and his fears about violent retaliation against the people who would go to the polls for the first time in their lives scarcely a week later We took that message to heart.

Later that evening, in Dili, we had dinner with Nobel Prize winner and Catholic Bishop, Carlos Ximenes Belo. In the dining room of his house, overlooking the courtyard between his residence and the chapel where he said Mass, Bishop Belo emphasized the need for protection following the vote.

As our delegation prepared to depart from Dili, we called upon the United Nations to immediately deploy armed peacekeepers to East Timor to protect the people from further violence, especially following the referendum.

As the whole world now knows, everyone's worst fears were realized.

Two years ago, over Labor Day weekend, I learned that the home of Bishop Belo, where I had eaten dinner just two weeks earlier, had been burnt to the ground. The Bishop barely escaped with his life. The 3,000 people given refuge. in his courtyard were forced out at gunpoint by uniformed Indonesian military and militias. At that time, their fates were unknown. Thankfully, many survived and are today active in rebuilding Dili.

Suai, however, was not so blessed.

Just two years ago yesterday, on the Wednesday after Labor Day, I received a phone call from human rights workers in Jakarta that eyewitnesses reported militias had gunned down and murdered Father Hilario and Father Francisco, along with Jesuit priest Father Dewanto, on the steps of their parish church. Approximately 200 people from Suai sheltering inside the church were also killed. Some escaped, but most of the others were forcibly transported out of the country and into holding camps inside West Timor. Today, two years later, some 80-to-100,000 East Timorese remain trapped in squalid, militia-controlled camps.

These were good men. These were holy men. Nothing we say or do in Congress, nothing the U.N. may say or do, and nothing President Bush might say or do, can ever bring these men back to the people of Suai.

In so many ways, we in the United States and the international community failed them. They trusted us, and we failed them. If we are to honor their memory, then we must not fail them again.

Last week, on August 30 , the East Timorese people once again went to the polls in record-breaking numbers to vote for a national assembly that will begin drafting East Timor's constitution. This time, the Indonesian military and its militia lackeys were not there to burn the country down following another vote that moves East Timor ever closer to full independence.

But the legacy of violence, destruction, fear and sorrow continues to take its toll on the people of East Timor.

If we in the United States and the international community are not to fail the people of East Timor once again -

* We must support an International Criminal Tribunal that will bring the Indonesian generals and military officers, and the leaders of the militias, to trial for their crimes against the East Timorese people and breaches of international law. Many of these officers remain active in the Indonesian military, and they will continue to perpetrate human rights crimes unless and until they are exposed and brought to justice. I am proud to be a cosponsor of legislation in the House, H. Con. Res. 60, introduced by Representative Lane Evans, that calls for the establishment of an international war crimes tribunal for East Timor.

* We must take immediate steps to protect and return home safely the East Timorese refugees still trapped in camps inside West Timor.

* We must continue to provide humanitarian, economic and development aid to East Timor that directly benefits the people of East Timor, provides them with employment and material resources, and involves them directly in the decision-making process on how best to target our aid.

* We must continue to suspend all U.S. military aid and training to the Indonesian military until the refugees are safely returned to East Timor, the militias in West Timor are disarmed and disbanded, and the perpetrators of crimes against the East Timorese people have been brought to justice.

* We must strongly and unambiguously support the independence process in East Timor, including establishing a U.S. Mission in East Timor independent of Jakarta, in preparation of the establishment of a U.S. Embassy with an ambassador as quickly as legally possible once full independence is declared in 2002.

We cannot bring back Father Hilario, Father Francisco, nor all those so brutally murdered or harmed for freedom's sake. But we can recognize that the path to independence follows the road of justice and reconciliation - and we must demand justice for the crimes committed against them.

And while we cannot undo the violence and destruction that took place two years ago, we can and we must make sure that East Timor does, at last, achieve peace, reconciliation, justice and its long-dreamed-of and hard-won independence.


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Statement of U.S. Senator Jack Reed 
Press Conference on East Timor 
US. Capitol 
Thursday, September 6, 2001

Last month, East Timor took a huge step towards independence. Despite past acts of violence and intimidation, the East Timorese turned out overwhelmingly for peaceful, democratic elections on August 30.

The results of last month's elections, which are expected on September 10th, fall almost on the anniversaries of the Indonesian military-led massacre in Suai two years ago and the killings of United Nations staff in East Timor just one year ago.

Despite these long awaited peaceful elections and the progress they imply, conditions in East Timor are still far from ideal. Families are still separated and 80,000 East Timorese are still in military and militia-controlled refugee camps in neighboring West Timor.

For these reasons and others, I support Senator Harkin's Resolution calling for the establishment of an international war crimes tribunal to prosecute crimes against humanity in East Timor.

I have also worked with Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont to restrict funding to Indonesia unless the Indonesian government allows refugees to return to East Timor and is actively committed to peace with East Timor. Unfortunately, there is little evidence to date that the Indonesian government is meeting those conditions.

It is my hope that after last month's peaceful election, that East Timor can draft a new constitution, that families will return to East Timor, that the UN and the United States will increase their presence to help ensure continual stability in the region and that those who have committed these awful human rights violations against the people of East Timor will be brought to justice.

After my last trip to East Timor in December of 1999, I stated that the vote was more powerful than the army. Despite the acts of violence and intimidation committed against them by the militias, the people of East Timor have shown that statement to be true.

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2211 Rayburn Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515 
Tel 202-225-5905


An international tribunal on war crimes in East Timor is needed now more than ever. Indonesia has clearly demonstrated its unwillingness to apprehend and prosecute war criminals, many of whom remain in uniform. Further, the Government of Indonesia has not made any progress in allowing an estimated 80,000 refugees to return to East Timor. This dearly demonstrates the lack of commitment by the Government of Indonesia to human rights and justice in East Timor.

A recently formed human rights court in Indonesia does nothing to bring justice to East Timor. It exempts many of the worst war criminals from prosecution by only allowing a handful of the numerous massacres to be investigated.

An international tribunal on war crimes with a full mandate to investigate crimes both before and after the independence referendum is the only true path to justice and reconciliation in East Timor. I am proud to be the House sponsor of Senator Harkin's resolution calling for an international tribunal on war crimes in East Timor. House Concurrent Resolution 60 has 58 cosponsors and has been referred to the Committee on International Relations.


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Press Coverage:
CNS: U.S. lawmakers call for tribunal on 1999 East Timor violence
ABC - US may block military aid to Indonesia (interview w/ Sen. Harkin)

AFP - Congressmen demand action on Timor trials, two years after
Asia Times - US Lawmakers Adamant- No Indon Military Aid Without Prosecutions

Additional background on the 1999 Suai massacre
Background on West Timor killings in 2000.

ETAN Press Release: Grassroots & Congressional Action Mark September 6 Anniversary of East Timor Massacres

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