|PETITION OF THE ASIA-PACIFIC COALITION FOR EAST TIMOR
(APCET) AT THE UNITED NATIONS’ DECOLONIZATION COMMITTEE
By Gus Miclat, Coordinator
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 email@example.com
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