East Timor Action Network
Backgrounder for East Timor's
May 20, 2002 Independence Day
- Development and Financing Gap
- Pentagon's relationship with Indonesia
- Brief overview of East Timor's history
Against the odds, East Timor will become the world's newest nation on
May 20. At midnight, the United Nations transitional administration will
hand over control to the East Timorese government, and the East Timorese
will have achieved their long-sought goal of self-determination. A
scaled-down UN operation -- including peacekeepers, civilian police, a
serious crimes unit and international civil servants -- will remain in
East Timor over the next few years.
Due to grassroots and Congressional pressure, United States policy
shifted from one of enthusiastic backing of the invasion to support for an
independent East Timor:
- As detailed in recently declassified documents, U.S. President
Gerald Ford and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger gave Indonesia the
"green light" to invade East Timor in 1975. The U.S. was the
largest patron of the Indonesian military -- 90% of weapons used in
the invasion of East Timor came from the U.S. Since then, the U.S.
supplied Indonesia with over one billion dollars worth of military
assistance and weapons.
- Congressional and grassroots pressure led to limits on U.S. military
training and some weapons transfers to Indonesia and an endorsement of
self-determination for East Timor.
- The complete cut-off of military ties with Indonesia by President
Clinton in September 1999 was critical to the Indonesian military
withdrawal from East Timor and Indonesian agreement to allow an
international security force to enter Timor.
- Since then, the U.S. government has given substantial financial
assistance to East Timor, and many members of Congress continue to
take strong, principled stances supporting human rights, justice, and
security for East Timor. A complete accounting for the U.S. role in
supporting the invasion and occupation of East Timor has yet to take
The new nation faces major challenges: justice remains elusive,
government services are haphazard, unemployment is high and economic
development is slow, security along the border is tenuous and all refugees
who wish to repatriate have yet to do so. The U.S. can have a positive
impact on the new country by supporting sustainable,
environmentally-sound, and socially-just development. Supporting East
Timor at this critical phase is the least the U.S. can do after having
supported the Indonesian occupation for decades.
The U.S. must act on the following critical issues now facing East
The people of East Timor have yet to see justice for the crimes against
humanity, war crimes and genocide committed against them since 1975. In
January 2000, the United Nations International Commission of Inquiry on
East Timor found the Indonesian military (TNI) responsible for crimes
against humanity committed in East Timor in 1999. The UN commission called
for the establishment of an international tribunal. In response, the
Indonesian government promised to establish its own Ad Hoc Human Rights
Court for East Timor, which began hearing cases in March 2002.
Justice for East Timor is being addressed at three levels:
- Indonesian Ad Hoc Human Rights Court for East Timor
- The hybrid UN-East Timorese Serious Crimes Investigation Unit (SCIU) in
- East Timorese Commission for Reception, Truth, and Reconciliation
The Indonesian court is seriously flawed. The court's limited
jurisdiction covers only 2 months of a brutal 24-year occupation and only
three of East Timor's 13 districts. Under these constraints, only a few
mid-ranking officers will be tried, the systematic planning and execution
of 1999's devastation will go unexamined, and massacres committed over the
previous 23 years will be ignored. These sham trials will not provide
justice for East Timor, nor will they prompt reform of the Indonesian
military or the notoriously corrupt Indonesian judicial system. Indonesian
prosecutors have not targeted any of the numerous systematic
committed against women in 1999, including rape and sexual slavery, as
well as widespread forced sterilization during many years of the
The justice system in East Timor is severely constrained by
insufficient staff and funding. Moreover, it does not have access to the
high-ranking officers with command responsibility, as well as most of
those culpable for atrocities, who reside with impunity in Indonesia.
Indonesia has refused all extradition requests by the SCIU , including
requests for East Timorese militia leaders currently residing in
Indonesia, despite an agreement between Indonesia and the UN.
The East Timorese Commission for Reception, Truth, and Reconciliation
is charged with documenting and assessing responsibility for human rights
violations committed between 1974 and 1999. It is empowered to request and
gather information from victims, witnesses, government officials and
agencies in other countries. However, only East Timorese are likely to
- Only an international tribunal covering 1975 to 1999 can provide
full justice for the people of East Timor. The U.S. administration
must actively support an international tribunal on East Timor and
initiate proceedings in the UN Security Council to pass a resolution
establishing such a tribunal. Resolutions in the House and Senate have
been introduced calling for such moves, House Concurrent Resolution 60
and Senate Concurrent Resolution 9. Additional co-sponsors are needed
to obtain hearings and votes on these bills.
- The U.S. government must assure adequate material and human
resources are available to East Timor's judicial system.
The U.S. Administration should direct pertinent agencies of the
executive branch to collect, declassify, and provide information
(including from intelligence sources) and appropriate resources on a
timely basis to assist the East Timorese Commission for Reception,
Truth, and Reconciliation.
Congress should conduct an investigation into the U.S. role in backing
Indonesia's invasion and occupation.
Human Rights & Justice Pages
2. Development and Financing Gap
Centuries of Portuguese colonial neglect and 24 years of brutal,
illegal Indonesian military occupation have left East Timor one of the
poorest countries on the planet. East Timor has a 60% illiteracy rate, a
per capita gross national product of $340, and a life expectancy of only
57 years. The infant mortality rate is 135 per 1000 live births, and the
maternal mortality rate is twice that of other countries in Southeast Asia
and the Western Pacific. The short period of UN administration has barely
tackled most of these problems.
Insufficient funds could stand in the way of East Timor's commitment to
use its revenues for healthcare and education rather than to service a
debt to wealthy states and financial institutions. The government faces a
substantial revenue shortfall (a financing gap) in its already lean budget
for the first three years of independence. Timorese leaders have publicly
affirmed their determination to avoid going into debt, and a "no
loans" policy has been put into place. The international community
should use this opportunity to take preemptive action to prevent the
stranglehold of structural adjustment, loans, and the vicious cycle of
poverty that has harmed so many poor nations from putting its deadly grip
on the new country. Donor countries and international financial
institutions (IFIs) will hold a pledging conference May 14 and 15. The
U.S. and other countries should pledge in grants (with no strings
attached) enough to cover the gap in its entirety for all three years.
Otherwise, East Timor may have no choice but to resort to loans with terms
dictated by the IMF, World Bank, and Asian Development Bank.
The Bush administration and other governments have recently stated
their commitment to eradicating global poverty. The U.S. now advocates
that a large portion of international assistance to poor countries should
come in the form of grants.
- The U.S. government should commit to funding 25% of the financing
gap for East Timor's first three years with grants free of restrictive
macroeconomic conditions. Funding can come from State Department and
Treasury Department discretionary funds, as well as money appropriated
by Congress. The U.S. administration should coordinate with other
donors to ensure the financing gap is fully covered with grants.
- Congress should appropriate at least $25 million in economic
assistance for East Timor in the FY03 Foreign Operations
Appropriations Act for important reconstruction and civil society
efforts and the provision of vital services like education and
healthcare, in addition to money designated for the financing
- The U.S. must work with the United Nations and its members to make
sure that the job of preparing East Timor for self-rule is completed.
Enough proper expertise and funds must be provided to ensure a smooth
transition in government services and to train East Timorese to fully
manage there own affairs.
see For a Debt-Free
3. Pentagon's relationship with Indonesia
The Pentagon has already succeeded in securing funding for a new
Regional Defense Counter-terrorism Fellowship Program, which will likely
train Indonesian military personnel, and plans to significantly increase
engagement though other means. Important restrictions on military aid to
Indonesia in the FY02 Foreign Operations Appropriations Act may be
effectively nullified by these actions.
Indonesian armed forces are resisting accountability for atrocities in
East Timor and continue to perpetrate systematic human rights violations
throughout the archipelago. Murder, rape, and torture of civilians by the
TNI and police are a regular occurrence. Rewarding the TNI with US
assistance would condone serious rights violations. The United States'
most important point of leverage to foster respect for human rights and
accountability and encourage military reform - restrictions on
U.S.-Indonesia military ties -- may be lost with little or nothing gained.
- Restrictions on US military assistance for Indonesia must be
respected and renewed in the FY03 Foreign Operations Appropriations
- The TNI should not receive defense articles, service, training, or
other aid under the Regional Defense Counter-terrorism Fellowship
Program or any other program at least until the Indonesian military
meets Congressional conditions on military restrictions.
see U.S.-Indonesia Military
Although repatriation rates recently increased, approximately
55,000 East Timorese refugees continue to live in deplorable conditions in
an environment of intimidation in Indonesia. The UN Secretary General has
reported that hard-line militia may still pose a long-term threat to East
Timor's peace and security. 1,600 of the over 2,000 children separated
from their parents in the violence of 1999 through military and militia
force or coercion remain separated from their families. Over 160 of the
children have been sent to orphanages in Indonesia, where it is reported
militia leaders are attempting to indoctrinate them to fight for the
"reintegration" of East Timor into Indonesia.
- The U.S. government must escalate pressure
on Indonesia to disarm and disband all militia, hold them accountable to
the rule of law, and ensure security along the border with East Timor.
UN must return to West Timor and work to ensure all refugees are able to
leave the camps and make a free and informed decision to repatriate to
East Timor or resettle in Indonesia.
- The U.S. government must support
prompt reunification of East Timorese children with their parents.
Brief overview of East Timor's history
1. East Timor was a Portuguese colony for some 400
2. On December 7, 1975, the Indonesian military brutally
invaded East Timor, occupying the country until 1999. In the early
years of the occupation, the Indonesian military killed one-third
of the population - 200,000 people - through murder, forced
starvation, and other means. The years of occupation were riddled
with massacres, programs of forced sterilization, hunger, and
attempts at cultural annihilation. Tens of thousands suffered
tremendous hardships to survive and resist the occupation.
3. The November 12, 1991Santa Cruz massacre - filmed and
witnessed by foreign journalists -- sparked a global outcry and a
flurry of diplomatic and grassroots activism in support of East
4. On August 30, 1999, the people of East Timor voted
overwhelmingly for independence in a UN-conducted popular
consultation. 98.6% of the eligible population participated; 78.5%
chose independence despite months of systematic terror and
intimidation by the Indonesian military and its militia. After the
result was announced, the Indonesian military and its militia
retaliated by destroying the country: murdering some 2,000 East
Timorese, displacing two-thirds of the population, raping hundreds
of women and girls, and destroying over 70% of the country's
5. Since October 1999, the UN has administered East Timor.
After independence, the UN will remain in East Timor but on a
6. In August 2001, 91.3% of eligible East Timorese participated
in the first democratic, multiparty election for a Constituent
Assembly, whose members wrote the country's first constitution. .
The Constituent Assembly will become the first parliament after
7. In April 2002, East Timor held its first-ever presidential
election. Independence hero Xanana Gusmao won by a landslide.
86.3% of those eligible participated.
This document as PDF file
East Timor Action Network