International coordinator (New York)
Press Liason (New York)
[Note: The International Federation for East Timor Observer Project (IFET-OP) is composed of trained volunteers from a variety of countries throughout the world. IFET-OP opened its office in Dili on June 22, and now has a five observers in East Timor, with dozens more due to arrive in the next few weeks. By mid-August, IFET-OP intends to have teams of observers in each of East Timor's 13 districts. IFET-OP is accredited by UNAMET as a non-partisan observer mission. As such, IFET-OP will carefully monitor the human rights situation as it relates to the UNAMET-run consultation process, voter registration, political campaigning, and the actual vote. IFET-OP will produce reports, including a final one evaluating the entire consultation process.]
Dili, East Timor - Tens of thousands of East Timorese successfully registered to vote in the upcoming "popular consultation" during the first week (July 16-22) of voter registration. Would-be voters are flocking to the registration sites established by the United Nations Assistance Mission in East Timor (UNAMET), a clear demonstration of the resolve of the East Timorese people to decide the political status of the former Portuguese colony in a peaceful and democratic manner.
But there are areas of the territory where an atmosphere of intimidation and violence persists, preventing perhaps tens of thousands of people from participating in the consultation process. As such, it calls into question the commitment of the Indonesian authorities to provide the security needed to ensure a free and fair process as agreed upon in the May 5 accord signed by the Indonesian and Portuguese governments at the United Nations in New York. Given such factors, IFET-OP recommends that UNAMET take certain steps to redress registration problems flowing from the situation of insecurity associated with the consultation process.
This report is based on registration observation and field visits in the districts of Dili, Manatuto, Bobonaro, and Liquica during the first week of voter registration. It is also based on discussions with UNAMET officials and staff, and with representatives from a number of international, Indonesian, and East Timorese non-governmental organizations.
Our major preoccupations concern the continued presence of paramilitary groups in many areas of the territory. The most obvious manifestation of the paramilitary groups and the associated violence is the presence of tens of thousands of refugees, or internally-displaced persons. Another major concern is the persistence of intimidation of would-be voters in certain areas. A lesser, but still significant, concern is logistical, and relates to the actual registration process conducted by UNAMET.
Article 3 of the May 5 accord between the Indonesian and Portuguese governments assigns responsibility to Indonesia "for maintaining peace and security in East Timor" so that the consultation process is "fair and peaceful." Nevertheless, the Indonesian government has not yet taken the steps needed to allow the refugees to return to their home villages.
Many of the internal refugees have lost their identification and eligibility documents because of the paramilitary violence. While UNAMET registration procedures allow for such persons to present an affidavit signed by a local religious or Indonesian government official, there is often poor access to religious officials in rural areas. This necessitates recourse to local government officials. IFET-OP observers have received reports of one area in Liquica with a large number of internal refugees, where a local administrator is refusing to provide affidavits to certify the identity and eligibility of potential voters.
There is also the matter that UNAMET procedures require that individuals register and vote at the same site. Such a requirement is very reasonable. For internal refugees, however, it has the effect of compelling them to stay in the resettlement areas until the vote takes place. Or, at the very least, if the refugees are allowed to go home, it forces them to negotiate long distances (and potential paramilitary roadblocks) on voting day.
The pressing problems of intimidation of potential registrants/voters,
and of internal refugees, cannot be resolved unless the Indonesian government
takes immediate and effective steps to disarm and disband the paramilitary
groups, in fulfillment of its obligations under the May 5 accord.
Although there are supposed to be two UNAMET District Electoral Officers (DEOs) at each of the 200 UNAMET registration sites, for example, IFET-OP observers have visited three sites (out of 16 visited) where there has been only one DEO. At two of these sites, the lack of sufficient staffing was due to illness. Reportedly, UNAMET has no substitute personnel. Given the large numbers of people each site is responsible for registering (upwards of 3,000) over a 20-day period (four of which are half-days), such staffing problemsóeven if they exist for a brief period of timeócan seriously limit registration possibilities in specific locales. That said, even if there were full staffing of all registration sites, it is difficult to imagine that UNAMET will be able accommodate all would-be registrants given the time-intensive nature of the registration process and the length of its duration.
Problems of insufficient staffing could be especially pressing in areas where there are a high number of internal refugees. IFET-OP volunteers visited a registration site in Liquica that was overwhelmed by refugees from outlying villages. It was clear that UNAMET personnel needed more resources to accommodate the numbers of would-be registrants.
Along a similar vein, it appears that there is not a sufficient number of registration sites. While this is not a problem in and around major population centers, IFET-OP volunteers have received a number of reports of people having to walk a day or more from more remote areas to reach a registration site. For the elderly or the infirm, such distance makes voter registration very difficult. The lack of a sufficient number of UNAMET registration sites in rural areas also possibly facilitates the interests of parties attempting to intimidate potential registrants.
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