Spring 1998
Congress Bars Use of U.S. Weapons in East Timor

Indonesian Military Training Continues Despite Ban

Constâncio Pinto Joins ETAN Staff

APECT III Meets in Bangkok

ETAN Hosts Activist Training Conferences

José Ramos-Horta Inspires St. Louis Activists

Massachusetts East Timor Bill Update

Member News

Indonesia - On the verge of change?

Torture and Fear of Torture Actualized

Postcard from Timor

Review- Women’s Rights in East Timor

U.S. Should Help East Timor

Youth Resistance in East Timor

Estafeta -
Spring 1998
Spring 1997

ETAN Economic Campaign
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS: ETAN’s Selective Purchasing and Divestment Campaign

Even before Indonesia’s current economic/political crisis, ETAN identified the economic aspects of the US-Indonesia relationship as one of the most important and sensitive elements in Washington’s support for Suharto. We are developing a national campaign around state and local legislation to limit taxpayer money going to companies which support the Jakarta regime’s continuing brutal occupation of East Timor. A bill has already been introduced in Massachusetts, and several more are expected in the next few weeks. This fall, we hope to have such legislation under consideration in cities and states across the US. Please read over the following articles, and think about what you can do in your own community. If you want to join ETAN’s Economic Campaign Task Force to further develop the campaign, contact Mulaika Hijjas, 397 Cabot Mail Centre, Cambridge, MA 02138; 617-493-6135.

QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS: ETAN’s Selective Purchasing and Divestment Campaign
by Simon Doolittle

1. What would these ETAN-initiated selective purchasing and divestment bills do?

These bills are intended for use at the city and state level. At minimum, they would restrict the city or state from doing business with companies that fall into the following three categories:

(a) Companies doing business directly with the Indonesian dictatorship.

(b) Companies selling arms to the regime.

(c) Companies drilling for oil in the East Timorese part of the Timor Gap under illegal agreements signed with the Indonesian dictatorship (according to international law and 10 United Nations resolutions, Indonesia has no legal jurisdiction over East Timor or its oil).

These bills would also restrict the state or city from investing funds in the above companies or doing business with banks which have outstanding loans used to finance the activities listed above.

2. How exactly will these bills help?

These bills confront the Indonesian regime in the language it understands best: money. Large corporations, including many based in the US, provide the economic support the Suharto regime needs to maintain its hold on Indonesia and East Timor.

A small circle of wealthy elites connected to the Indonesian dictator Suharto and his family controls a vast portion of the country’s wealth.

Historically, the incredible wealth and natural resources controlled by the Suharto family has translated into overwhelming military, political, and diplomatic support for the regime from countries like the United States.

Attacking these economic ties is one of the most powerful tactics available to fight for human rights and self-determination for East Timor. Selective purchasing and divestment bills are the first step in that battle.

3. Can one city or state have an impact?

YES! Similar local initiatives were very effective against apartheid in South Africa. In the 80s, twenty-five states and 150 cities passed South Africa sanctions bills. This was part of the popular groundswell of conscience which eventually lead to federal action and contributed significantly to the downfall of apartheid. It’s true, one city or state alone cannot force a change in Indonesia’s deadly practices in East Timor. But a nationwide coordinated effort, like the one ETAN is undertaking, can be very effective.

4. Shouldn’t international issues be left to the federal government?

A similar initiative for East Timor will never begin at the federal level because the US government is concerned with maintaining corporate interests in Indonesia. Five American presidents and their administrations have refused to take a stand on East Timor, and only recently has Congress taken action. State and city action is necessary to provide the momentum, which may force the federal government to respond (as it did with apartheid).

5. Won’t this bill be bad for the city or state?

All of the bills have clauses stating that if there are no other options available or the restrictions cause an undue financial burden the state may do business with companies falling into the proscribed categories. Further, although the bills deny state contracts for some companies, they do not restrict these companies from conducting private business in the city or state.

6. Won’t these bills hurt the people of East Timor?

Very few (if any) of the companies affected by the legislation benefit the East Timorese people through their business dealings with the Indonesian government. And the other two categories of targeted corporations – those stealing Timorese oil or supplying occupation forces with weaponry – contribute greatly to the suffering of the East Timorese people.

7. Right now the Indonesian people are suffering from an economic crisis. Wouldn’t these bills "kick them while they’re down"?

These bills are highly unlikely to damage Indonesia economically. Instead, they would pressure companies to push the Indonesian government to end its brutal occupation of East Timor. A strong message will be sent by local governments which refuse to support the Indonesian dictatorship. The economic interests of most companies in Indonesia are so great that they are very unlikely to completely withdraw from the country. But the Indonesian regime is extremely sensitive to messages it receives from both business partners and city or state governments. Members of the regime have begun to ask whether the occupation of East Timor is worth the costs.

Because the current economic crisis has put so much pressure on Indonesian officials, now is the perfect time to send this important message. In addition, the narrow focus of these legislative initiatives (see the list in question #1) ensures that any economic impact on average Indonesians would be minimal to nonexistent. Even if some companies eventually stop doing business with Indonesia (which, as mentioned above, is an unlikely possibility), the focus of the bills on a select few categories of companies means that this campaign will primarily be felt by the ruling elites.

The targeted nature of these bills prevents them from resulting in the extreme destruction and civilian suffering that all out American embargoes or sanctions entail.

For more information contact: Kristin Sundell at 617-441-5043.


Adapted from "Selective Purchasing Laws: A How-to Guide" by Simon Billenness, Franklin Research and Development

How do these laws make a difference?

Selective purchasing and divestment bills are one of the best ways we can act locally for the people of East Timor. These bills cut the lines of economic support to the Suharto regime while educating local legislators about East Timor. They provide an excellent opportunity for much-needed press coverage on the issue. Selective purchasing laws can cumulatively cause companies to lose billions of dollars in sales, eventually leading them to withdraw their support for the murderous Suharto regime.


A selective purchasing campaign requires a significant commitment of time. A campaign at the city level requires more than 6 months of hard work. Statewide legislation takes longer than a year. A campaign will include educating and organizing state and city legislators, their aides, and their staff as well as building political support for the legislation. However, keep in mind that simply getting a selective purchasing and divestment measure introduced and scheduling a public hearing for the bill can be enormously effective, even if the bill itself never passes. These initial steps can be achieved quite easily with the help and support of a friendly state or city legislator. ETAN National will gladly help to organize and provide people to testify at a public hearing. For more information, contact Kristin Sundell.

Learn the "System"

The first step is to learn both the process and politics of the city council or the state legislature. You will need to know what steps a piece of legislation must go through before becoming law. More importantly, you need a thorough understanding of the political make-up of the council. What are their politics and how do they work together? Who are your natural supporters and who might oppose the legislation?

Find Allies & Build A Coalition

You will need to seek out resource people to help you get the information you need. Have divestment or selective purchasing bills been introduced on other issues in your state or city (i.e. South Africa, Burma, or Nigeria)? If so, talk to the folks who worked on these bills.

You will also want to talk with potential organizational allies (i.e. labor rights activists, church organizations, folks working for democracy in Indonesia, groups with a broad human rights focus). Some of these activists will also have experience with state/city politics in your area. You will need to use your best judgement to put together a bill which is both enforceable and has broad-based support in your area. Bills will vary from state to state and city to city, but as a general rule bills should not target all corporations doing business in Indonesia. We suggest that bills focus on specific categories of corporations:

1) Corporations involved in manufacturing and selling weapons to Indonesia.

2) Corporations drilling for oil in the Timor Gap.

3) Corporations doing business with the Suharto dictatorship

These bills should not be linked to or reference bills pertaining to Burma. Instead, bills may be based on and make reference to divestment and selective purchasing laws which were passed on South Africa. This is a far stronger comparison as it links the Indonesia bills to a completed and successful campaign rather than to an unfinished and ongoing struggle.

Find a Sponsor

Once you understand the procedures and personalities that make up your city council or state legislature, you need to pick a sponsor or sponsors for the bill. It is better to choose a legislator who is moderate or a consensus builder. Since the issue of human rights in East Timor cuts across political and party lines, work to attract varied, bipartisan sponsors.

Work with Staff

Unless you win over the city or state staff responsible for purchasing, the law may not be implemented properly. Meet with the appropriate staff people and explain the importance of Indonesia/East Timor selective purchasing laws. Work with the staff to ensure that the bill will be both effective and relatively easy for them to implement when it becomes law. Research the impact of the law in your state/city. Reference the list of corporations impacted by the sample legislation (contact ETAN/US for a copy of the list). Ask the city/state purchasing staff for a report on the dollar amount of contracts that the city/state currently has with the targeted companies. You will want to concentrate your energies on educating yourselves about corporations that your particular city/state does a lot of business with or corporations that have their headquarters or factories located in your city/state.

Writing Legislation

Insist on a binding ordinance that requires the city or state to avoid buying from the targeted corporations. Try not to settle for a non-binding resolution. To prevent adverse impact on the city or state, you may want to include procedures that allow the city/state to waive the purchasing restrictions if it cannot find an alternative vendor without incurring a "substantial" financial burden. ETAN will have a "model bill" you can start with.

Build Support

Passing legislation is a continual struggle. Your most important task after getting the measure introduced is to generate a constant stream of support for it. Ask your sponsors to send regular "dear colleague" letters to the other city council members, providing information and asking for their support. Obtain letters of support from local, national and international organizations (such as Human Rights Watch, Peace Action, and organizations of Timorese living in exile). You should also generate a steady flow of letters from local organizations.

Most importantly, encourage as many people as possible to write and call their local city council member or state legislator. Sometimes it just takes one letter from a constituent to make a difference.

Make Connections

Coordinate your work on selective purchasing and divestment with lobbying your US Congressional delegation. Ask people to write both their city/state legislators and their national Representative and Senators. Ask friendly national legislators for letters in support of your city or state-level bill. Conduct demonstrations outside nearby corporate headquarters, factories, or gas stations on the eve of important votes or hearings.

Introducing and passing selective purchasing bills is one of the most important things we can do to build on our successful efforts to stop US weapons sales and military assistance to Indonesia. Not only will it strike fear into the corporations providing economic support to a genocidal regime (and into their patrons in Jakarta), it also provides a valuable opportunity to energize your local chapter, involve new activists, and build coalitions with human rights, environmental, religious, and labor organizations. Good luck!