By Gus Miclat, Coordinator - APCET

Honorable Chairperson, distinguished members of the C- 24,

Thank you for allowing us anew to petition your august committee on the question of East Timor—perhaps, and hopefully–for the last time. We came here last year believing that the de-colonization process of East Timor was just about completed. We petitioned the C-24 with guarded feelings of hope and wonder as the historic referendum was well on its way despite the pitfalls presented by forces that wanted to derail if not, scuttle the inevitable process.

It is an ironic testament to the perceived success of the UN-brokered process that the number of petitioners this year has drastically dwindled. The historicity of this year seem to have been lost on some of our former fellow petitioners. Now, you can look forward to be disentangled earlier from listening to a parade of petitions that may have one way or another impacted on the historic process of the de-colonization of East Timor.

We are however here not only because of the epochal character of this penultimate year of the C-24, but more so because there are urgent concerns that need to be raised despite East Timor’s nominal independence.

We all know what transpired after the August 30, 1999 referendum. A new nation is being born. Amidst all the challenges and birth pains attending this delivery. It was almost aborted if not for the crucial international attention and pressure that led the UN Security Council to mandate an international peacemaking force to contain the ruthless violence that attended the momentous vote for independence by the East Timorese people.

We do not wish to dwell too much on the horrible atrocities and violence that accompanied this birthing process. We all know what happened. Some even want to forget that terrible chapter of this nation’s nativity. But the East Timorese people do not want to forget. They may be able to only after they are able to forgive. And often, forgiveness comes only after justice is served. The international community does not also want to let this pass. And APCET intends to likewise take this righteous road.

There are still about 120,000 refugees scattered inside Indonesia, the bulk of them in West Timor. They have been virtually forgotten and abandoned by the world. It is a shame that we allow this to happen, to even countenance it. It is an aberration for us to turn away or downgrade our attention from this hideous situation in the guise of attending to more pressing matters inside East Timor or other flashpoints in the world. The people of East Timor will never have lasting peace if about 15% of its entire people are still essentially imprisoned in hostile camps inside Indonesia. Self-determination will only be complete if these refugees are given a free and fearless choice of returning to their land.

The UN, which is now the virtual government there, should unremittingly employ all means at its disposal to return this new batch of diaspora to their land. This committee can well make the proper and strongest representations within the UN system to ensure this as it has done so remarkably in the past.

Still the UN is not only being challenged by this task. It too has to ensure that justice is served against those who masterminded and executed the wanton violence in East Timor in the last 24 years of illegal occupation by Indonesia and more so before, during and after the referendum.

Calls for an international tribunal to determine the crimes engendered in East Timor should be pursued with vigor lest the authors of these misdeeds escape scot-free and twit their noses against humanity.

It is important that justice is served and administered resolutely not only to fling a warning to holdover and would-be tyrants on this planet, but to specially balm the scarred souls of the East Timorese people.

Again, the UN should lead this effort lest it is perceived anew with dragging its foot and squandering whatever prestige it has left. The UN can take its cue from the ceaseless calls from international civil society groups on this matter and even perhaps work with them to see this through. It would be an embarrassing blow to this world body if a people’s tribunal instead responds to this call.

Indeed, the UN is now the virtual government in East Timor. Perhaps for the next 2 - 3 years. This transition is very crucial, to say the least. It is the phase of forging a foundation for the actual governance of the country by the East Timorese themselves.

Calls by the East Timorese for their actual participation even in this transitory phase of governance is thus well justified. For how can one eventually govern an entity that it still has to discover?

We thus applaud moves by the UN administration in East Timor to fast track the "Timorization" of the transitory civil service. This is a positive move and can even be furthered by ensuring the participation of women and other groups and sectors aside from the ascendant parties already in place. Participation should also mean that decision-making and resources are decentralized to urban and rural areas outside Dili. This, to reflect regional differences in needs, resources and perspectives.

The UN may also want to evolve a process wherein East Timorese political leaders like Xanana Gusmão and Jose Ramos Horta exercise or share executive fiat with the UN over the affairs of their country during the transition phase. The UN should creatively explore these options and not be tied down by existing but limited mandates. If at all, then it should try to rework the mandates, or at least initiate the process to do so.

These are the more urgent concerns that APCET is anxious about. But there are others, nitty-gritty stuff that also need to be comprehensively addressed by the UN while it administers this newest country in the world.

The UN, in consultation or ideally in equal partnership with the East Timorese, should for example accost the emerging dual economy in the country and the social cost that it is harvesting.

In East Timor today, most expatriates live a bountiful life, zooming through the streets of Dili with their gleaming white Rovers or 4-wheel drives, as they live in hotels and dine in mostly foreign-owned and very profitable cafes and even quaint restaurants transformed from burnt-out houses. They receive their wages in dollars while most of the population do not have jobs, walk to their destinations or cram a few dilapidated public vans and cabs, eat barely three square meals a day, if at all. An ordinary meal consisting of rice and fish with some veggies cost us almost the same amount we pay for a decent lunch in New York. Car rentals and hotel rates are at least $100 a day.

This situation is clearly marginalising the local population. And this is compounded by what they perceive to be a large disparity between administrative and developmental budgets of the UN and other expatriate presence there. It also appears that development proposals are predominantly urban biased when rural development and agriculture should be stressed.

Indeed, the humanitarian crisis may have been addressed, albeit in varying degrees. Still, assistance should not be abated even as support for long-term development should be pursued in earnest.

The UN also possesses an enviable standing to accompany East Timor’s entry to the world of nations in a debt-free state if only to redeem the failure of the international community in the last 24 years to lend succor to the nation. This world body can provide the lead and framework in requiring all development assistance be given in the form of grants rather than loans. These assistance should likewise be enough and coordinated to build on a coherent model and a strategic development vision.

The UN can also see to it that statutes be in place that will prioritize human rights, justice, peace building and reconciliation within East Timorese society and that any development assistance should hinge on addressing these requirements. For there can never be sustainable development if there is no lasting peace.

Civil society should likewise be encouraged and supported. The need for local NGOs, and community structures is important in animating the entire process of building a nation and of accompanying, complementing and fiscalizing the ascendant indigenous government. To ensure democracy, pluralism and the empowerment of people in their locales are essential. The UN can again ensure this during its transitory presence.

Women and children’s needs and perspectives should likewise be a priority. Gender based inequalities and their root causes must be challenged through appropriate institutional means. Genuine empowerment and development cannot be achieved in a society that may have attained political liberation but continues to be dominated by one gender. Again, the UN is in the best position to address this anomaly while it may still have the mandate, goodwill and space to do so. We are glad that a gender unit is in place at the UN system in East Timor to hopefully respond to this challenge.

Children have also been one of the most vulnerable and battered sector in the country. On the eve of the UN Decade of Non-Violence for the Children of the World, this committee may as well not only help eradicate colonialism in its penultimate year, but can also perhaps help usher in the conditions for a glorious future for the children of this newborn nation. The rights of hundreds, if not, thousands of East Timorese orphans and traumatized children have been severely undermined and these must be urgently considered.

Decades of neglect and wayward development have also harshly damaged and constrained the rich and diverse natural environment of East Timor. The UN should develop and support programs with enforceable mechanisms for the conservation and protection of natural resources, and include strategies for environmental and occupational health. Sustainable economic recovery requires the conservation of natural resources. The environment should always be regarded as a stakeholder on its own.

The end of the era of colonialism may well be the beginning of a new epoch of peace and justice in this world. And the birth of Timor Lorosae is a fitting inauguration of this time. The UN and this committee must be saluted for championing the cause of East Timor relative to its parameters. It should not however squander an opportunity to accompany East Timor to its rightful place in the community of nations, with its dignity intact, its people empowered, and its future promising.

This committee can exit in glorious fashion just like the fireworks of last night in this city by rightfully and forcefully addressing the concerns of the free people of Timor Lorosae.

Thank you very much.

Charles Scheiner National Coordinator
East Timor Action Network/US
P.O. Box 1182
White Plains, New York 10602 USA
For information on East Timor write

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