|June 12, 1998
ETAN/US Statement on recent Indonesian government actions relating to East Timor
This past week, Indonesian acting president B.J. Habibie has taken several actions relating to the Indonesian-occupied territory of East Timor. Unfortunately, they have little intrinsic significance.
After initially stating that there would be no change regarding Jakarta's claim that the illegally annexed territory is a province of Indonesia, Habibie backtracked and said he would consider granting a "special status" of autonomy for East Timor. He also released fifteen of the several hundred East Timorese being held in Indonesian jails, military bases and police stations. This morning, in a reversal of this positive trend, Indonesian troops violently assaulted a peaceful East Timorese demonstration in Jakarta, injuring several, arresting many, and taking hundreds away in buses.
The East Timor Action Network welcomes Habibie's statement and the prisoner release as signals that the Habibie government could be more flexible than its 32-year predecessor, although the signals are mixed. The positive actions are no more significant than that. However, they make it imperative for the U.S. government to actively support self-determination and East Timorese participation in discussions of East Timor's political status, as well as continuing to press for democratic change in Indonesia. U.S.-Indonesia relations (including with the Indonesian military) cannot be normalized until a referendum on self-determination takes place in East Timor.
East Timor's political status is for the East Timorese alone to decide. According to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, as reaffirmed by the International Court of Justice, two U.N Security Council resolutions, and eight U.N. General Assembly resolutions, the people of East Timor have an inalienable right to self-determination, to decide their own political status. This right cannot be taken away by the Indonesian military invasion, and it cannot be usurped ("granted") by the unelected protege of Indonesia's ousted dictator.
The "autonomy" that Habibie offers is little more than words. Parts of Indonesia which have such status have no power to resist decisions made by the central government in Jakarta, or by the military which backs that government. There is no reason to expect that East Timor, which has been ruled by brutal force since the 1975 invasion, would be treated differently. In the "autonomous region" of Aceh, human rights are violated even more often than in other parts of Indonesia.
The East Timorese people must be allowed to vote freely, under international supervision and without the presence of an occupying military, on their political future. They might choose to be a province of a democratic Indonesian state, or they might choose total independence or some other option. They have waited more than 22 years to exercise that right, and will not surrender it to a president who has been in office barely 22 days.
This week, massive public meetings and protests in East Timor have shown that people there are more than ready to enjoy political rights. In a break from past practice, Indonesian soldiers watched but did not assault, imprison or torture people who openly voiced their thirst for freedom. That tolerance must continue and expand, with the withdrawal of Indonesia troops from East Timor, so that the people there can make political decisions without coercion. The violent army dispersal of the peaceful demonstration by East Timorese at the Department of Foreign Affairs in Jakarta today is not encouraging - and we urge the United States and other governments to strongly criticize the Indonesian government for the beatings and arrests. This brutal suppression of free expression must not recur.
ETAN welcomes the release of a few East Timorese and Indonesian political prisoners. But, as recently documented by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, there over 85 East Timorese currently serving sentences in Indonesian prisons for political offenses, as well as at least 110 other cases where the two organizations could not confirm the details. In addition, there are dozens, perhaps hundreds, of East Timorese held in detention without charges, or "disappeared" and presumed abducted by Indonesian armed forces.
Xanana Gusmao, the leader of the East Timorese resistance, remains in a Jakarta jail despite calls for his release from the U.N. Secretary General, many members of the U.S. Congress, and most Indonesian democratic leaders and movements. He should be released immediately so that he and the Indonesian government, together with the United Nations and Portugal, can negotiate the specifics of East Timor's referendum on self-determination.
Freeing Xanana and all other East Timorese political prisoners, withdrawing Indonesian military forces from East Timor, and committing to an internationally-supervised plebiscite are essential steps that President Habibie or any other Indonesian leader must take. Only then can Indonesia begin to resolve its "East Timor problem" -- a problem it created when it brutally invaded the neighboring country in 1975 and began the systematic killing of one third of its people.
The changes in government in Jakarta which have already occurred, and those which will take place over the next few months, offer new possibilities. The increased openness of the Indonesian press and public discussion will help Indonesian citizens understand the crimes that have been committed in East Timor in their names. But for the people of East Timor, meaningful change has hardly begun. The East Timor Action Network is guardedly optimistic that it will happen soon.