Subject: CONG: Senator Torricelli on ET's independence

EAST TIMOR'S INDEPENDENCE -- (Senate - May 22, 2002)


Mr. TORRICELLI. Mr President, I would like to extend my warmest welcome to the newest democracy to join the family of nations. This week, after a long and arduous struggle, the nation of East Timor officially celebrated it independence from Indonesia.

This has been a long and hard fought process for the people of East Timor . For 300 years, they were a colony of Portugal. Then upon the end of colonial rule in 1975, and a brief period of independence, East Timor was annexed to Indonesia.

In August of 1999, the people of East Timor voted in favor of independence from Indonesia. This historic moment regrettably set off a tragic wave of violence that left much of the country in devastation. While the people of East Timor have come a great distance since that moment, there is still much rebuilding and healing to do.

In January of 2000, the United Nations International Commission of Inquiry into East Timor concluded that the terror, destruction and displacement of people that occurred would not have been possible without the involvement of the Indonesian military during August of 2002. During that same period, some 250,000 East Timorese fled to West Timor , while there are still 55,000 refuges who have not been repatriated.

For the people of East Timor to move forward and have positive relations with their Indonesian neighbors, it is vital that these findings be investigated and those who are found guilty of committing crimes against humanity be brought to justice. The Indonesian government has taken an important step in this matter by establishing an ad hoc Human Rights Court for East Timor , however, this court has its own short-comings. By limiting the scope of inquires to atrocities alleged after the August referendum, it has effectively blocked the prosecution of high-level military officials who are believed to have masterminded the violence. Without the ability to investigate and bring to justice those involved in human rights abuses throughout East Timor's time as part of Indonesia, those who have suffered will be unable to move forward in their lives.

While we cannot forget the injustices of the past, this week is also a time to look forward. East Timor has the opportunity to build a vibrant and prosperous nation. The task of developing a thriving democracy is an ongoing process. It requires a respect for the rule of law and the ability to share differing opinions. I am confidant that the people of East Timor will met these challenges as they have the others before them; and they have taken a positive step by voting to sign the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights as their legislature's first act.

While many of these steps the people of East Timor must take for themselves, the United States and our fellow democracies will still play a vital role in the hopes of East Timorese. Given the level of destruction, it is important that the United States and other nations continue foreign aid in an effort to enable the East Timorese to provide vital services such as education, shelter, and healthcare to their people. Also, the established democracies of the world can provide valuable insight into the running of democratic institutions as the government of East Timor undertakes the responsibilities of full sovereignty. These and other forms of aid will play a vital role in the ability of East Timor to mature as an established nation.

Lastly, this momentous occasion would not have been possible without the perserverance of the people of East Timor and supportive non-governmental organizations such as the East Timor Action Network, and I commend them on their efforts. The people of East Timor have endured much to gain their freedom, and I wish them the best in their newfound independence.

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