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For Immediate Release

Contact: Karen Orenstein, +1-202-544-6911

John M. Miller, +1-718-596-7668, +1-917-690-4391 

Organizations Worldwide Urge Indonesian Action to Reunite East Timorese Children with Their Families

Groups Urge Indonesian President to Display "Political Will" to Free Children from Militia-Affiliated Institutions

February 20, 2003 -- Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) from around the world today urged Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri to step up efforts to reunify East Timorese children with their families. Thousands of East Timorese children were originally separated from their families during 1999's devastation of their country; many were taken to orphanages and other institutions throughout Indonesia.

Representatives of 66 NGOs based in 16 countries sent a letter to President Megawati Sukarnoputri expressing dismay at "the slow pace of your government's efforts to achieve reunification."

The full text of the letter and a list of signers can be found at

While praising the Indonesian government's recent initiatives on the issue, the NGOs stressed the seriousness of the situation by stating, "The coercive separations of East Timorese children, the failure to honor the requests of parents for reunification, and the lack of prompt government action in these cases are in clear violation" of Indonesia's obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Indonesia ratified the Convention in 1990.

Many of the children were taken from East Timor and refugee camps in West Timor by foundations run by pro-Indonesian East Timorese and sent to orphanages and other institutions throughout Indonesia around the time of East Timor's 1999 vote for independence. Observers have concluded that the foundations are brainwashing the children about current conditions in East Timor and the country's history and future as part of a possible plan to re-integrate the now-independent East Timor into Indonesia.

"The East Timorese children's 'caretakers' have repeatedly denied parents' requests for the return of their children. They have aggressively thwarted the UNHCR's [UN High Commission for Refugees] and the International Rescue Committee's reunification efforts, at times making direct physical threats against agency staff," stated the NGOs.

At least 600 East Timorese children remain in Indonesian institutions.

The East Timor Action Network/U.S. coordinated the NGO statement. Signatories included the Association of Law, Human Rights and Justice in East Timor (HAK), Kontras (Commission for Disappearances and Victims of Violence) in Indonesia, Pax Christi USA and the U.S. Committee for Refugees.

In addition to President Megawati, copies of the letter were sent to United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers, the East Timor Red Cross Society, Jesuit Refugee Service and U.S. officials. 

The East Timor Action Network/U.S. supports human dignity for the people of East Timor by advocating for democracy, sustainable development, social, legal and economic justice, and human rights, including women's rights. For more information, see ETAN's web site at


see also ETAN's Refugee and Separated Children pages



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