UN Decolonization Committee On East Timor
23 June 1999
Decolonization Committee Continues Consideration Of East Timor
Twenty-one Speakers Address Preparations for August Ballot on Territory's Future
The fact that East Timorese had not yet earned the right to look forward to a bright future of independence, peace and justice was due not only to the nature of the Indonesian regime, but because many Western democracies persisted in appeasing Indonesian leaders, the representative of the non- governmental organization Campaign for an Independent East Timor (South Australia) Inc. told the Special Committee on the Situation with Regard to the Implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples this morning.
As the Committee met to continue its consideration of the question of East Timor, hearing 21 more speakers, the representative said the recent regime in Indonesia had been shown to be one of the most corrupt, brutal and undemocratic in the latter half of the twentieth century. The United Nations had never recognized the illegal takeover of East Timor by Indonesia. Given that, and Indonesia's brutal record, the country should be excluded from the upcoming consultation process. Every time the world community gave that regime some credibility, it was further emboldened to think that it could get away with more outrageous behaviour.
The representative of the Catholic Institute for International Relations said there was little doubt that the Indonesian army was sponsoring East Timorese militia groups in a proxy war against pro-independence supporters. Intimidation was widespread and blatant. Reputable human rights organizations, such as Amnesty International, believed that over 300 people had died since January. Reports from reliable Catholic Church sources also told of people having their ears cut off and being forced to eat them, while others were put in bags and dropped in the ocean.
The representative of the Indonesian Human Rights Campaign said that despite the presence of the United Nations Mission in East Timor (UNAMET), the operations of the Indonesian military had created a situation in which the ballot had been rendered virtually impossible. Since January, hundreds of Timorese had been killed and more than 40,000 had fled their villages, making it impossible even to register, let alone vote. The responsibility for the Secretary-General's postponement of the ballot rested with the Indonesian armed forces.
Ponciano da Cruz Leite, speaking in a personal capacity, said the security situation in East Timor was an aspect that had been subject to a great deal of misinformation. The Commission on Peace and Stability had met and included participants representing the views of both pro- and anti- integrationists. One of the most significant achievements of the meeting was the signing of a disarmament agreement at the Indonesian Ministry of Justice.
Augusto Mendoca, also speaking in a personal capacity, said there was no doubt that the 5 May agreements would have been unattainable but for the proposals by the Indonesian Government. In line with those, Indonesia had taken significant steps to bring peace and harmony to East Timor and to establish a climate conducive to the popular consultation. Indonesia's actions were to be commended in light of the impediments along the path of implementation. It was true, however, that violent acts had been perpetrated by anti-integration groups who exerted every effort to subvert the aspirations of the East Timorese people.
Petitions were also made by the representatives of Australians for a Free East Timor, Northern Celebes Indonesia, Japan Catholic Council for Justice and Peace, Indonesian Students Association (New York City Chapter), East Timor International Support Center, British Coalition for East Timor, Solidaris Pemuda Indonesia, Swedish East Timor Committee, Agir Pour Timor, Solidarity Forum for the People of East Timor, and Pemuda-Pemudin Indonesia. Individual petitions were made by Hipolito Aparicio, Yulita Pinto, and Terezinha de Oliveira, Antono Sutandar, and Joao Pereira.
In other matters this morning the Committee adopted its provisional agenda for the day and acceded to additional requests for hearing.
The Committee will meet again at 3 p.m. to conclude its consideration of the question of East Timor.
Decolonization Committee - 2 - Press Release GA/COL/3009 5th Meeting (AM) 23 June 1999
Committee Work Programme
When the Special Committee on the Situation with Regard to the Implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples met this morning, it was scheduled to adopt its provisional agenda for the day, consider requests for hearing and continue hearing petitions on the question of East Timor.
The Committee has before it a working paper on East Timor (document A/AC.109/1999/10) which states that under Indonesian law East Timor is a province of a "first-level region" of Indonesia, with a government consisting of a "Regional Secretariat" and a "regional House of Representatives". East Timor is represented in the National House of Representatives and in the People's Consultative Assembly of Indonesia. In its resolution 32/34 of November 1977, however, the General Assembly rejected the claim that East Timor had been integrated into Indonesia, inasmuch as the people of the Territory had not been able to exercise freely their right to self- determination. (For detailed background see press release GA/COL/3008 dated 22 June).
MICHAEL EDE, on behalf of Australians for Free East Timor, said the process officially set in motion on 5 May with the signing of the tripartite agreements was in fact against the spirit and the letter of the law regarding the status of East Timor. The main problem was that the agreements put the Indonesian military oppressors in charge of the so-called security during the electoral process. The Portuguese said that the agreements were only "a foot in the door", yet there was no evidence of the door being pushed further open.
In January, he continued, when President B.J. Habibie agreed that East Timor could have an option for independence, the next couple of months were relatively calm, hopeful and even euphoric. Since then, human rights in East Timor had been grossly and massively abused. Militias had been set up by the Indonesian military, including their recruitment, training, arming, payment and in many cases the provision of leadership and actual murderers within the death squads. That could have been foreseen and was the result of leaving "the fox in charge of the chicken house". It was now urgent that the United Nations peacekeepers and observers be present on the ground in East Timor as soon as possible to preserve current lives and human rights, and make the process towards self-determination a feasible reality.
ROBERT MEWENGANG, speaking in his personal capacity, said the whole issue of East Timor had been subjected to inaccurate information. It was a topic of which people had very little knowledge. East Timorese and Indonesians shared a similar colonial experience. Both were colonized for centuries. At one time they were both part of one nation. Under the Portuguese, provisions for housing in East Timor had been neglected, as had health and education. East Timorese had none of the benefits that Indonesians now enjoyed. Indonesians had been requested to help them not only overcome the legacy left over from colonialism, but to promote reconciliation after the civil war.
He said that at the height of the civil war the Revolutionary Front for the Independence of East Timor (FRETELIN) had received arms from the Portuguese colonial authorities and proceeded to impose its might on the East Timorese population. That was the point at which the East Timorese decided to join their Indonesian brothers and sisters and the break-up of the East Timorese society began. Propaganda was preached against Indonesia and culminated in today's violence. The choice of wide-ranging autonomy offered today was one that was fulfilling in every aspect. The people of East Timor would have the choice to choose their own government. It was also the appropriate choice to put an end to all the suffering of the East Timorese.
JILL STERNBERG, representing the Bishop in Charge of the Japan Catholic Council for Justice and Peace, said the whole East Timor peace process had been fatally flawed by the lack of participation of the East Timorese, the party most concerned in the issue's outcome. Their cries had been ignored by the international community, with the exception of small non-governmental organizations in different parts of the world. A second defect in the peace agreement of 5 May was the decision that responsibility for security during the vote in the Territory should lie with the Indonesian Government. The consequences of that decision were all too clear. The militias escalated their violence against the simple people, confident that they would never be punished by the Indonesian military. Indeed, they continuously received the backing of the Indonesian military.
ANTONO SUTANDAR, an Indonesian physician, said that the Portuguese legacy to the people of East Timor was poverty, poor health conditions, poor education and isolation. The number of hospitals and clinics in the Territory had increased substantially since the Indonesian Government took control. The role of the medical community was essential in improving the quality of life for the people of East Timor. There had been disturbing reports that health care providers had increasingly been terrorized by the pro-independence movement. Physical conflict among factions should be discouraged and avoided, as it might cause innocent people with laudable intentions and no political stake to become victims. The East Timorese should have the right to choose their own government, as their heritage was similar to that of the Indonesian people. It should not come as a surprise that they would favour integration.
DONY WISNUWARDHANA, Indonesian Students Association, New York Chapter, said the tripartite agreements on East Timor had opened the door to a just and comprehensive settling of the East Timor Issue. Portugal had been irresponsible when it abandoned the East Timorese. The Indonesian Government had been accommodating in opening the channels of communication with the Portuguese Government. The agreements would have been successful had the Portuguese Government not changed some of the agreements reached.
In January, he added, the Indonesian Government had indicated their willingness to part with East Timor, if the results of the consultations dictated that. He did not agree with the current violence. Both people, East Timorese and Indonesians, had suffered at the hands of Portuguese colonization. He could not believe the audacity of Portugal, as they chose to divide both peoples.
FRANK FITZGERALD, East Timor International Support Center, said that on the face of it, the consultation would provide a happy ending to one of the Asia-Pacific's most tragic stories, but that was not reflected by reality. In the past few moths, and especially in the past week, the entire United Nations sponsored project had been thrown into jeopardy. A campaign of State- sponsored terror in East Timor was in full swing. There was an orchestrated effort by the Indonesian armed forces in East Timor to sabotage the possibility of a free and fair vote on 8 August.
He said the Indonesian military elite hoped to deny the East Timorese people their chance of independence and enforce the possibility of continuing integration with Indonesia through terror and intimidation. Their violence was largely one-sided -- carried out by an armed force with overwhelming military superiority against a largely unarmed population. The East Timorese Resistance Forces (FALINTIL), under instructions from their leader Xanana Gusmao, were avoiding confrontation in order to avoid a further escalation in violence.
He said the United Nations was thinking of postponing the 8 August consultation by three weeks because of ongoing uncertainties and political instability. Some of the factors contributing to the instability were sabotage by the Indonesian armed forces, terror waged by militias sponsored by the Indonesian army, repression, disruption of transport and communication, obstruction of independent observers, counterfeiting of money, and electoral fraud.
GERRY REGAN, on behalf of the British Coalition for East Timor, said numerous aspects of the current situation in the Territory, and numerous actions by the Indonesian authorities, were such as to prevent a free and fair consultation and, therefore, obstructed the possibility of self-determination for the East Timorese people. The Coalition called on the United Nations to take steps to remedy the situation and ensure a free and fair consultation.
In particular, he continued, the United Nations, Indonesia, Portugal and other relevant nations must seek to achieve: the complete disarming of paramilitary groups in East Timor, in accordance with the 5 May agreement; the ending of all participation by Indonesian Government officials (including police and army personnel) in the campaign supporting the autonomy proposal, in accordance of the 5 May agreement; the dismissal of Eurico Guterres and all other members of the paramilitary groups from the civil defence force; the immediate release of Xanana Gusmao and other East Timorese political prisoners, and access to Indonesia for Mr. Gusmao and for Jose Ramos Horta to participate in campaigning prior to the ballot; and the deployment of an armed United Nations peacekeeping force in East Timor to take over security.
STEVEN WAISAPI, on behalf of Solidaris Pemuda Indonesia, said that it had often been the practice of certain quarters to mislead the international community regarding the situation on the ground. Violence in East Timor, as some would have the world believe, was carried out only by pro-integration groups. There were two sides to every situation, including the case of East Timor, and often it was the civilians who bore the brunt of the consequences. The anti-integration elements were not exempt from responsibility for the violence. The anti-integration supporters had attempted to register East Timorese people to their cause by making all kinds of promises to them if they supported independence. Extortion tactics were also rife in the Territory.
After decades of colonial occupation, civil war and subjection to the brutalities of the pro-independence groups, the people of East Timor deserved to have the peace and prosperity that was rightfully theirs, he said. They deserved to live in peace and harmony with their Indonesian brothers, for they belonged to one nation, and should remain united under the unitary Republic of Indonesia. They should not be deprived of their destiny and their inalienable rights to remain integrated with Indonesia.
LEE MASON, Campaign for an independent East Timor (South Australia) Inc., said after years of courageous struggle against the brutal and oppressive regime, the East Timorese had earned the right to be able to look forward to a bright future of independence, peace and justice. The fact they could not had come about not only because of the nature of the Indonesian regime, but because many western democracies had persisted in appeasing Indonesian leaders. That appeasement had occurred even though the Suharto/Habibie regime had shown itself to be one of the most corrupt, brutal and undemocratic regimes in the latter half of the twentieth century.
She said the United Nations had never recognized the illegal takeover of East Timor by Indonesia. Given that, and Indonesia's brutal record, the country should be excluded from the process. The United Nations and the world community should also be pressuring it to remove all its troops from East Timor. The question being put to the East Timorese was determined by Indonesia and Portugal. Representatives of East Timor were not given an opportunity to have a say about the actual wording of the question. The presence of the Indonesian military in the Territory was illegal. Every time the world community gave that regime some credibility, it further emboldened it to think that it could get away with more outrageous behaviour.
She said there had been a number of sightings of Indonesian army officers training and coordinating the activities of the militias. It must also be remembered that former President Suharto owned about 40 per cent of East Timor and the military owned East Timor's oil and export industries. It appeared that the generals and many other cronies still wanted to profit out of that situation and would do almost anything to hold onto the Territory. Many democratic western Governments had spoken out in favour of human rights in East Timor, but their actions indicated that they were not sincere. The United Kingdom, the United States and Australia continued to arm, provide military equipment and generally cooperate militarily with the Indonesian dictatorship. The United Kingdom recently sent Hawk attack aircraft to Indonesia and intended to supply more.
SONYA OSTORM, Swedish East Timor Committee, said that in Sweden the solidarity work for East Timor had intensified during the past few years. Five of the seven parties represented in Parliament opposed arms exports to Indonesia. Given the recent developments in the Territory, she highlighted the call for: the immediate disarmament of the paramilitary groups in East Timor; the immediate withdrawal of Indonesian troops from the territory and the dispatch of more United Nations personnel to monitor the withdrawal and protect the civilian population; and the immediate and unconditional release of Xanana Gusmao and all other political prisoners from East Timor. She stressed that the ballot on self-determination for East Timor must be held in a free atmosphere.
BEN WAINFELD, on behalf of Indonesian Human Rights Campaign (TAPOL), said that despite the presence of the United Nations Mission in East Timor (UNAMET), the Territory was still under military occupation. The operations of the Indonesian military had created a situation in which the ballot had been rendered virtually impossible. The responsibility of the Secretary- General's postponement of the ballot rested with the Indonesian armed forces. UNAMET officials themselves had discovered militia groups being directed by the Indonesian military.
Since January, he said, several hundred Timorese had been killed and more than 40,000 people had fled their villages, making it impossible even to register, let alone vote. The fact that the military territorial structure in East Timor was still intact meant that the Territory continued to be under military occupation. Besides functioning as a shadow structure alongside the civil administration, the oppressive presence of numerous military posts bore down heavily on the East Timorese, destroying their sense of freedom.
He said that under the 5 May accords, security for the popular consultation was the responsibility of the police force. That would not work, as that force was not neutral. Despite the separation of the police from the military, the army and police were under the command of the Department of Defence, while the Minister of Defence and military commander-in-chief were one and the same person. Events of the past few months justified the fears that no good would come of that arrangement. Atrocities by militia groups, with the open support of commanding officers in Liquisa, Maliana, Ermera and Suai, had been documented, but none of the officers had been dismissed or brought to justice.
HIPOLITO PARICIO, a high school teacher in the East Timor capital of Dili, said the security situation in the Territory had justifiably evoked concern. The Government of Indonesia had established a Commission of Peace and Stability to ensure the surrender of arms and an end to acts of violence. It would also ensure compliance with a call for participation in the registration of voters prior to the popular consultation. The Indonesian Government had also established a task force to oversee implementation of the 5 May agreements. In addition, the bishops of East Timor were planning a meeting to bring about reconciliation of the various factions in the Territory. Nobody could underestimate the importance of those measures. As a result of those and other initiatives, the security situation in East Timor had improved greatly, a condition that would facilitate the implementation of the 5 May agreements.
AUGUSTO MENDOCA, an East Timorese student in the United States, said there was no doubt that the 5 May agreements would have been unattainable, but for the proposals put forward by the Indonesian Government. In line with those agreements, Indonesia had taken significant steps to bring peace and harmony to East Timor and to establish a climate conducive to the popular consultation. Indonesia's actions were to be commended in light of the many impediments along the path of implementation. It was true that violent acts had been perpetrated by anti-integration groups and they exerted every effort to subvert the aspirations of the East Timorese people.
Despite the obstructive methods, he said, the Indonesian Government had brought acts of violence under control. Isolated acts of violence had been carried out, but they could not be depicted as a dire situation. No open clashes had taken place, due to the firm action and control of the security forces, which had been effective in curtailing any such action even before it was carried out.
JOAO PERREIRA, speaking in his personal capacity, said the tripartite agreements were a significant development that had been welcomed by the people of East Timor. The issue of the Territory had been on the agenda of the Committee for too many years. However, self-determination had taken place in East Timor many years ago. Nevertheless, the Indonesian Government must be lauded for its overtures to the Portuguese Government. The special autonomy reflected the flexibility of that Government. He said the choice of special autonomy for East Timor would finally end the conflict in the Territory. "We cannot forget the efforts of the Indonesian Government in developing every facet of East Timorese life". The East Timorese have always had the right to elect their constitutional government, including local government. Funds were always made available by the Indonesian Government as well. Great strides were also made in the economic sphere. "We East Timorese hold fast with the view that our future is intertwined with that of Indonesia".
POINCIANO DA CRUZ LEITE, speaking in a personal capacity, said the security situation in East Timor was an aspect that had been subject to a great deal of misinformation. There were many false reports circulating that the situation on the ground was not conducive to the holding of the popular consultation. That was simply not the case. The Commission on Peace and Stability had become fully operational. It had in attendance participants that represented views from pro-integration, as well anti-integration. One of the most significant achievements of the meeting was the signing of the disarmament agreement at the Indonesian Ministry of Justice.
The agreement emphasized many issues, chief among them the call to the followers of rival groups to lay down their arms and cease carrying out violent acts, as well as calling upon all followers to participate in the voter registration period until the holding of the popular consultation. The cumulation of such efforts and others had succeeded in improving the security situation. He also requested that UNAMET carry out its mandate in a fair and impartial manner. There had already been actions by certain individuals of the United Nations with certain predetermined views. Those views were being relayed into the field.
YULITA PINTO, a Dili high school teacher, said that for the majority of the East Timorese people, the Indonesian Government's autonomy proposal was the best solution to the situation in the Territory. It reflected a sincere desire to seek a just solution, while taking into consideration the historical, geographical and cultural factors of East Timor society. In supplementing the 5 May agreements, the government had taken certain actions, including the establishment of task forces to carry out specific duties and initiatives. The Government had expressed its willingness to cooperate fully in effectively fulfilling its mandate.
Although the situation in East Timor was calm and peaceful, she said, there had been incidents where teachers had been intimidated into leaving. That had caused a vacuum, at a time when education was crucial for the Territory's development efforts. False information being disseminated and should be rejected. The people of East Timor wished to begin new chapter, in which they would be able to coexist harmoniously with their Indonesian brothers.
TEREZINHA DE OLIVEIRA, a Dili resident, said the people of East Timor understood only too well the impact of colonization and occupation, but looked upon it as part of history, following integration with Indonesia. After colonial rule, a majority of the East Timorese people had opted for integration with Indonesia, while a minority had chosen independence. It was that same division that now separated the people of East Timor. By putting forward a proposal for wide-ranging autonomy, the Indonesian Government had tried to encompass the views of both opposing factions.
In carrying out its responsibilities under the 5 May agreements, she said, the Government had taken concrete steps. In recent days, the situation on the ground had improved considerably, with few incidents of violence. Credit for that was due to the Government. In the meantime, both the pro- and anti-integration factions had participated in the Commission for Peace and Stability, agreeing to lay down their arms, cease hostilities and maintain law and order.
NADINE FARID, Agir pour Timor, said the referendum, which might be postponed, was an important stage for the East Timorese people. Her organization supported the actions of the Secretary-General, as well as the actions of UNAMET in the field up to now. There were serious uncertainties that prevailed in relation to the integrity of the future ballot. The Indonesian army dominated and its pro-Indonesian police terrorized civilians for the purpose of ensuring East Timor's integration into Indonesia. There was a large increase in the police force and the presence of the Indonesian armed forces had not been reduced. Her organization and a number of other French non-governmental organizations were participating in sending a number of international observers to monitor the process.
DAN FIETKIEWICZ, Catholic Institute for International Relations, said the past few months had highlighted the degree to which Indonesia's military establishment was opposed to change. The costs continued to be borne by the East Timorese, in terms of blood and lives and incalculable sadness and grief. In contrast to the pledges made in the 5 May agreement, reports from the Catholic Church over the past six months had indicated an appalling deterioration in security. There was little doubt that the Indonesian army was sponsoring East Timorese militia groups in a proxy war against pro- independence supporters. Intimidation was widespread and blatant. Reputable human rights organizations, such as Amnesty International, believed that over 300 people had died since January of this year.
An attack on a church in Liquica this April left more than 40 dead, he said. At least 12 died in Dili as a result of attacks by the militia group Aitarak on 17 and 18 April. The leaders of the militia groups responsible for those outrages had been allowed by the Indonesian authorities to behave with total impunity. Reports from reliable Catholic Church sources told of people having their ears cut off and being forced to eat them, while others were put in bags and dropped in the ocean. Incredible though all of this sounded, "all our experience of the last 23 years must lead us to the conclusion that they are very likely to be true".
He said East Timorese leaders "tell us over and over again that they are capable of resolving their differences, if only the Indonesian army would stop sowing division and hatred". The military must now withdraw from East Timor and stop arming, paying and training militias, so that the popular consultation can move forward in peace. He urged the Committee to send its own mission to East Timor to observe the political process at first hand.
ELIOT HOFFMAN, on behalf of Solidarity Forum for the People of East Timor (FORTILOS), said that considering the violent actions of pro-integration militias, the Forum had concluded that they did not represent the voice of the Indonesian people. The pro-integration militias were nothing more than the continuation of the crimes committed by the regime of former President Suharto. If that type of repression were allowed to continue, the process of reform and democratization in all of Indonesia would be threatened.
He said that the brutal pro-integration militias, using the symbols of the Indonesian nation and speaking on behalf of the Indonesian people, were an insult to those people. As Indonesian citizens, the Forum objected to the waste of the State's money on the violence and brutality in East Timor by the pro-integration militias and the Indonesian security forces. That v