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Statement by Karen Orenstein, Washington Representative, East Timor Action Network at Capitol Hill Press Conference 

September 6, 2001

One week ago today, East Timor took an historic step with its first democratic, multiparty election. More than 91% of eligible voters participated. The people of East Timor have ETAN’s deepest admiration and our strongest congratulations. Perhaps the US can learn a lesson in participatory democracy from the people of East Timor, but that’s a topic for another day.

East Timor is indeed moving toward full independence, but this progress is marred by serious, unaddressed injustice and a continuing refugee crisis involving one-tenth of the East Timorese population.

Exactly two years ago today, the Indonesian military and their militia proxies brutally massacred at least 200 refugees taking shelter in a church in Suai, East Timor. A nun who witnessed the massacre commented, “They went to the church because that’s where they felt safe. They felt being near the priests was protection.” The priests were instantly gunned down. Women’s underwear near a staircase in the church signaled large-scale rape. To date, no one has been brought to justice for these atrocities, although the two men who led the attack both members of the Indonesian military have been definitively identified.

Also on this very day last year, the same military-supported militia responsible for the scorched earth campaign in East Timor in 1999 brutally hacked to death 3 UN refugee workers, including a U.S. citizen, and killed an unknown number of East and West Timorese civilians. Nearby Indonesian military and police witnessed, but did nothing to stop, the brutal attack. The extremely lenient sentences given to the confessed murderers by an Indonesian court rightfully sparked widespread international condemnation last spring. If this is the sort of “justice” given out for the cruel slaying of UN workers under international scrutiny, then can we really expect any “justice” from Indonesian authorities for ordinary East Timorese citizens who were the victims of violent, systematic crimes committed by the Indonesian military?

It is now more than 2 years after East Timor’s overwhelming vote for independence, and more than 2 years after the Indonesian military and their militia thoroughly leveled East Timor, raped hundreds of women and girls, murdered around 2000 women, men and children, and forcibly transported some 250,000 East Timorese to Indonesian territory. Yet not one single Indonesian military or police officer has been held accountable for these crimes against humanity, even though both UN and Indonesian inquiries into the destruction have laid the blame squarely on senior level Indonesian security forces personnel.

An estimated 80,000 East Timorese are still held in squalid refugee camps, controlled by armed militia and Indonesian military. Humanitarian and human rights workers have described worsening, widespread malnutrition, epidemics, militia intimidation, misinformation, and widespread violence against women in the refugee camps.

Despite this, some in the US administration believe it is time to reward the Indonesian military with prestigious US military assistance, even though the Indonesian military and government have failed to meet the very reasonable conditions set by Congress for the resumption of more normal military relations safe return of the East Timorese refugees, accountability for those responsible for massive crimes in East Timor, and cooperation with the UN administration in East Timor. Not only have the Indonesian authorities failed to meet these conditions but members of the same repressive military and police forces guilty of crimes against civilians in East Timor are continuing to use their brutal tactics against civilians throughout the Indonesian archipelago. In fact, some have even received promotions.

What can the US do to positively influence the justice stalemate for the people of East Timor and to help resolve the refugee crisis in West Timor in a just and humane manner? The East Timor Action Network recommends the following: 

1. The US administration should publicly support an international tribunal on East Timor, and push for the passage of a UN Security Council resolution to establish such a tribunal. An international tribunal is the only way to ensure that Indonesian military commanders and political leaders are held accountable for the crimes against humanity in East and West Timor, beginning from the invasion of East Timor in 1975. Indonesia does not have the political will and East Timor does not have the resources or access to defendants to do this. Recent moves by Indonesian President Megawati to revise the decree for a human rights court on East Timor were taken only to pacify the international community - the changes actually make it less likely that high-ranking military will be tried for their crimes. Limiting an Indonesian court’s jurisdiction to just 2 months and 3 districts of East Timor will exclude many atrocities, including the mass displacement and deportation of three-fourths of East Timor’s population, and the high-level coordination by Indonesian security forces and political leaders of the scorched earth campaign. It will also exclude most cases of the extensive use of violence against East Timorese women, including rape, sexual slavery, and forced sterilization. Numerous crimes committed before 1999 also remain unaddressed. US support for an international tribunal would also go far in bringing justice to the people of Indonesia, helping to end the impunity of the Indonesian military and deter further violence by police and military personnel against ordinary people, especially in Aceh and West Papua/Irian Jaya. Senators and Representatives should support and pass S. Con. Res. 9 and H. Con. Res. 60, thereby sending a strong and serious signal to the military and the Megawati administration. We thank Senator Harkin and Representative Evans for introducing the concurrent resolutions.

2. The US administration must make a just and humane resolution to the refugee crisis in West Timor a priority in its relations with Indonesia. The stakes need to be raised so that the Indonesian authorities will not continue to feed the international community hollow promises to disarm and disband militia threatening the security of East Timor and the lives of East and West Timorese citizens. All non-humanitarian financial assistance going to Indonesia from the United States, whether through bilateral or multilateral means, should be contingent on the verified disarmament of the militia, and the arrest of militia leaders. The US should also raise the profile of the plight of the many children taken from their East Timorese parents by militia-run organizations and sent to various institutions throughout the Indonesian archipelago, where they are indoctrinated and intimidated. This situation is morally appalling and in contravention to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which Indonesia is a signatory.

3. The US should immediately cut any remaining military ties with the Indonesian military. Certainly consideration of expanding the ties which exist must end. Renewing military relations with Indonesia will undoubtedly set back reform efforts and democracy in Indonesia while undermining East Timor’s security. The Indonesian military has answered to no one for its many crimes against humanity and continues to kill and terrorize civilians. Nothing has changed in Indonesia as far as human rights are concerned - now is not the time to reward this brutal force.

4. The US must demonstrate the fullest possible support for an independent East Timor. At least for the next few years, substantial US support for development, reconstruction, and nation-building, with a particular commitment to sustainable, independent, environmentally-sound, and economically and socially just development, will be of the utmost importance.

Finally, I would like to thank Senator Harkin, Senator Reed, Congressman McGovern, Congressman Lane Evans, and the many other friends of East Timor on the Hill who have shown and continue to show inspiring support for the people of East Timor. I would also like to express my appreciation for the people of East Timor. They have shown the world how a courageous, principled people can resist the most brutal injustice for years and still teach the world a lesson in what democracy really looks like.

Thank you.

Congressional press conference statements.

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