Subject: CONG: Sen. Feingold (D-WI) on East Timor

EAST TIMOR (Senate - November 19, 1999)

[Page: S15081] GPO's PDF

Mr. FEINGOLD. Mr. President, I want to say a few words about a piece of legislation that is not moving this year. I want to speak about it because it deals with an extremely important topic, one that has not received the attention and commitment that it deserves from this body.

That topic is the appropriate state of U.S.-Indonesian relations today.

Mr. President, I introduced S. 1568, the East Timor Self-Determination Act of 1999, on September 8--well over two months ago. That legislation, which passed the Foreign Relations Committee on September 27 by an overwhelming vote of 17-1, was cosponsored by the Chairman of that Committee as well as many other Members of the Senate.

I took that action, in cooperation with my colleagues, because events in East and West Timor demanded it.

On August 30, well over 99% of registered voters in East Timor courageously came to the polls to express their will regarding the political status of that territory.

More than 78% of those voters marked their ballot in favor of independence.

But weeks of violence immediately followed the vote, as the Indonesian military--a military that our country has long supported--colluded with militia groups in waging a scorched earth campaign against the East Timorese people and their democratic aspirations throughout the territory.

Hundreds of thousands of people were forced to flee, and many were killed.

But for the East Timorese run out of their homes in the fray, the nightmare did not end there.

There seems to be a perception out there that all is well in Indonesia today, and that the East Timor crisis is over. Unfortunately, that is simply not true.

Last week, the Associated Press reported on the public comments of the spokesperson for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. The spokesman said that many East Timorese are being forced at gunpoint to remain in camps that lack food, sanitation and medical care. He said, and this is a direct quote, that `the moment an East Timorese expresses a desire to leave the camps and go home their life is in danger.' And the UNHCR spokesperson noted, in last week's AP report, that many relief organizations have received reports of refugees being raped and beaten by militiamen.

Mr. President, to this day, militia members harass and intimidate East Timorese in West Timor's refugee camps. Only about 56,000 refugees have returned home to East Timor . Approximately two hundred thousand remain, in many cases against their will, in the refugee camps of West Timor .

To this day, humanitarian organizations do not have the access that they need to all of the refugee camps to which East Timorese fled.

Throughout all of this pain, throughout the destruction of lives and property, throughout this brutal retaliation for courageous acts of democratic expression, this Senate has been silent. We have had no floor debate and no vote. My original bill, despite being voted out of committee with only one dissenting vote, has languished on the calendar for weeks.

In response to that silence, Mr. President, I negotiated an arrangement to introduce an amendment to the bankruptcy bill addressing this issue. Squeezing this important topic into the middle of a debate on an unrelated bill was certainly not the most desirable approach, but I was determined to pursue this legislation.

The amendment I had planned to offer was considerably different from my original bill. I made significant alterations to it in order to respond to changing events and the concerns of other Senators and the Administration.

Mr. President, I wanted to pursue this legislation to encourage democracy and accountability in Indonesia, and to hold out clear incentives for a policy of accountability and cooperation. And I wanted to hold this Administration to its word, ensuring that passing political whims do not soften America's rejection of the kind of methods that the Indonesian military used in East Timor .

The amendment would have reached out to the Indonesian government, celebrating its democratic transition and recognizing its economic needs, while keeping the pressure on elements in Indonesia that are moving in the opposite direction--elements moving away from democracy, reform, and accountability and moving toward repression, violence, and impunity.

With its clear message and incentives, this amendment would have set the stage for a responsible and strong partnership between the U.S. and Indonesia.

Mr. President, it concerns me that the Administration has behaved as though they wish this legislation would just go away, although it is a codification of their own policy.

The Administration has told me that they desire more flexibility--particularly with regard to licensing defense related articles for export to Indonesia--than this amendment would allow.

Despite the fact that I worked closely and carefully with the State Department to develop a reasonable list of conditions that must be met in order to re-establish military and security relations, in the end, the Administration did not want to be pinned down to any standards at all.

Mr. President, I will speak frankly. The Administration's unwillingness to commit to a responsible policy and to a solid series of prerequisites for resuming military and security ties concerns me, and convinces me that vigilance will be necessary in the months ahead.

And so Mr. President, while I foresee no opportunity to move this legislation this year, I want to remind this Senate and this Administration that my amendment will remain in order when we return to the bankruptcy bill, and I am prepared to take up this issue again in January, or at any other time the circumstances warrant it.

I will continue to be certain that this Senate has a voice in the future of U.S.-Indonesian relations. I will continue to push for accountability for the abuses perpetrated by the Indonesian military and militia groups. And I will continue to insist that U.S. engagement with the Indonesian military is contingent upon an end to the harassment and intimidation of East Timorese refugees with impunity.

I pledge to my colleagues and to this Administration that I will monitor this matter, and monitor it closely in the weeks and months ahead. I will stand by, ready with several versions of my legislation, should the Indonesian military fail to take the steps toward reform and accountability that are absolutely essential prerequisites to a military and security relationship with the United States.

And make no mistake, I will come to the floor again and again should this Administration appear ready to engage with and support an Indonesian military that has not seriously lived up to its own commitment to respect the rights of ordinary East Timorese civilians who seek only to live their lives in peace and security.

Mr. President, I yield the floor.

[Page: S15082] GPO's PDF

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