Vol. 9, No. 1
Legislation, Language and Lobbying
Legislation, Language and Lobbying
A Report from Washington, D.C.
by Karen Orenstein
The 108th session of Congress has begun, bringing with it a Republican-controlled Senate and House of Representatives. This presents ETAN activists with new challenges as well as opportunities. An intense Senate floor debate over U.S. training for the Indonesian military (TNI), sparked by an amendment introduced by Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) in late January, kick-started 2003 and set the tone for a demanding year.
The Senate and House versions of the Foreign Operations Appropriation bill for fiscal year 2003 (FY03) did not restrict International Military Education and Training (IMET). Feingold’s amendment would have reinserted that restriction, conditioning IMET availability on, among others, the Indonesian government and military “taking effective measures, including cooperating with the [FBI], to bring to justice” those responsible for the August 2002 ambush in Papua that killed two U.S. and one Indonesian citizen and wounded at least 12, eight of whom were American. Indonesian police and non-governmental organization investigations indicate that the TNI was responsible for the ambush.
Under the guise of the “war on terror,” the Bush administration worked with Senate allies to defeat the amendment, allowing full IMET for Indonesia for the first time in a decade. The State Department asserted that the amendment would “damage important U.S. foreign policy interests in Indonesia.”
Thirty-six senators voted for the amendment, and 61 against. Senators Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Christopher Bond (R-MO) led the opposition. In his floor speech, Bond talked of “slurs on the Indonesian military,” and submitted that the amendment would “embarrass the military because some activist groups are not satisfied with the results of the tribunals that investigated the outrages in East Timor.” Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Richard Durbin (D-IL), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), and Ron Wyden (D-OR) co-sponsored the amendment.
Still, there have been significant legislative gains. The FY03 Foreign Operations Appropriations Act continues restriction of foreign military financing and added a restriction on licensing of lethal defense articles for export to Indonesia. Four conditions have been placed on these restrictions (known as the “Leahy Conditions”), pertaining to accountability for gross human rights violations in East Timor and Indonesia and audits by the Defense Ministry of TNI receipts and expenditures publicly available. (The government only provides 25% to 30% of the TNI budget. The TNI raises the rest from legal and illegal businesses, including extortion, illegal logging and granting of mining concessions, drug trafficking, and prostitution rings.)
The same legislation also contained $25 million in economic assistance for East Timor. It further required that the Departments of Defense and State provide Congress with a report on all military training given to foreign military personnel, as well as a report by the Secretary of State evaluating the IMET program in general.
ETAN, together with the Indonesia Human Rights Network (IHRN), is already busy working with friends in Congress on several FY04 bills. In addition to military assistance restrictions, we hope to see strong language on justice, support for peace initiatives in Aceh and Papua, and condemnation of the TNI’s ongoing human rights atrocities and the militia threat to East Timor’s peace and security. ETAN continues to work with other coalition groups on these initiatives.
ETAN is also working with several congressional offices to press the Bush administration to honor a January 2003 letter from East Timor’s Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation. The letter asks Bush to assist in the speedy provision of information pertaining to a selected number of historically significant events and particularly egregious human rights abuses during the Indonesian invasion and occupation.
In April, 46 representatives, led by Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) and Chris Smith (R-NJ), wrote to Secretary of State Colin Powell requesting that the U.S. delegation to the 59th session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR) press for a formal, comprehensive review of Indonesia’s ad hoc Human Rights Court on East Timor and for an international tribunal on East Timor as the only remaining option for real justice. The letter also urged Powell to press Jakarta to extradite suspects residing in Indonesia indicted by the joint UN-East Timor Serious Crimes Unit. ETAN also wrote a memo to the State Department with recommendations for the UNCHR.
In another initiative, Representative Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) and seven others wrote to the Chair and Ranking Member of the House Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee on restricting military assistance and other matters.
ETAN further raised in Washington the need for the Australian government to honor the national sovereignty and resource rights of East Timor by respecting international law and negotiating permanent maritime boundaries in the Timor Sea, which Australia thus far has resisted. Vast oil and natural gas resources lie in these waters.
In December, Grover Joseph Rees became the first U.S. ambassador to East Timor, a new benchmark in formal relations between the two countries. Ambassador Rees was a strong supporter of self-determination for East Timor in his previous work as a Congressional staffperson.
As the “war on terror” continues, our voices are critical in steering U.S. foreign policy in a direction respectful of human rights. Face-to-face meetings with members of Congress are the most effective way to advocate for this.
see also Legislative Action pages
Please join ETAN and IHRN June 8-10 for our Washington, D.C. Lobby Days below: