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UN Human Rights Commission Adjourns Till Monday

24 September 1999

Press Release




Session to Continue after Members Have Opportunity to Review Revised Text of Draft Resolution

(Reissued as Received.)

GENEVA, 24 September (United Nations Information Service) -- Members of the Commission on Human Rights listened this afternoon to emotional testimony from non-governmental organizations (NGOs) about alleged atrocities in East Timor, with the Indonesian military repeatedly blamed for allowing and even participating in a calculated campaign of violence against civilians who had voted in favour of independence for the island territory.

When its speakers’ list had been exhausted, the Commission adjourned until Monday to allow member States to review the revised text of a draft resolution on the human rights situation in East Timor.

Jose Ramos Horta, a former Nobel Peace Prize winner speaking on behalf of Worldview International, charged during the meeting that the same forces responsible for the catastrophe in East Timor were also responsible for damaging democracy in Indonesia. Mr. Ramos Horta said that in the face of what he termed war crimes and genocide, there should be no talk of compromise.

Other NGOs charged the international community with failing to act to prevent the crisis. A representative of the International Federation of Human Rights said the organization had released a report warning Governments and the international community that a premeditated campaign of ethnic cleansing was planned for East Timor, but the warnings had not been heeded -- just as such warnings had been ignored in Rwanda. Human rights NGOs should be listened to as they could serve as an alert mechanism, he said, stressing that international talk of “conflict prevention” should begin to acquire “substantial meaning”.

The society for Threatened Peoples also contended that the “bloodbath” in East Timor could have been avoided, while Human Rights Watch said there was strong evidence that the acts were part of a deliberate effort carried out by the Indonesian Army to prevent East Timor from becoming independent.


And a representative of the Catholic Institute for International Relations (Caritas) informed the meeting that the organization had just received word that the head of Caritas East Timor, Father Francisco Barreto, had been murdered, along with most of his staff.

Also addressing the Commission was the President of the National Human Rights Commission of Indonesia, who said East Timor was now headed towards independence and the remaining discussion should focus on what lay ahead. The National Commission believed it had been impossible to entirely protect human rights in East Timor, he said.

Speaking over the course of the afternoon were representatives of Association for World Education; Worldview International Foundation; International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs; Survival International; Anti-Slavery International; International Federation of Human Rights; Human Rights Watch; Medicins du Monde; Catholic Institute for International Relations; International Federation of Democratic Women; Rehabilitation International; Society for Threatened Peoples; National Human Rights Commission of Indonesia; and Finland (on behalf of the European Union).

Iraq spoke in exercise of the right of reply.

The special session of the Commission will reconvene at 3 p.m. Monday, 27 September.


DAVID LITTMAN, of Association of World Education, said the recent horrific events in East Timor could easily have been predicted and prevented. It was no longer possible to deny the heavy responsibility of Jakarta's supreme military rulers for the mass killings in East Timor by their so-called local militias. There had been -- and there was still -- a clear complicity to commit genocide. The same army killed half a million Indonesians for ethnic and political reasons in 1965-1966, then imprisoned many more. Ever since Indonesia’s illegal annexation of East Timor in 1975, it was an established fact that over 200,000 East Timorese had been killed in the ongoing genocide. But the recent debates on that subject had often ignored the essence of the matter or turned into a narrow partisan debate between the views of different States or political blocs.

Since 1995 -- at the Commission, the Subcommission and at other United Nations bodies -- the question of genocide had often been raised, stressing the need to make full use of the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide and the need for an improved early warning system. To deal with such horrendous crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, the best that had been done to date was the ad hoc International Tribunals on ex-Yugoslavia and Rwanda. But their slowness and the difficulty of dealing with ruthless leaders made their deterrent capacity small.

JOSE RAMOS HORTA, of Worldview International Foundation, said the Jewish Holocaust had taken place for the same reasons as the holocaust in his own country -- the powers that be in Europe were guided by realpolitik and pragmatism which turned Europe into a wasteland. President Habibbe should be praised for trying to break with a history of war and violence. But no one during this session had spoken about who was responsible -- the Indonesian Army.

Democracy in Indonesia was threatened by the same forces that were responsible for the atrocities in East Timor.

In the face of the war crimes and genocide in East Timor, there should be no talk of compromise. The Commission could not shirk its responsibilities; it had ignored the draft resolution of the European Commission and rejected the report of the Special Rapporteur. Members of the Commission should not be able to look themselves in the mirror at night; if they did not act appropriately, they ran the risk of being accomplices to genocide.

SARAH PRITCHARD, of International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs, said the High Commissioner for Human Rights referred in her report on the situation in East Timor to a widely accepted principle of contemporary international law and practice that wherever human rights were being grossly violated, the facts must be gathered with a view to shedding light on what had happened and with a view to bringing those responsible to justice, and that the perpetrators must be made accountable and justice rendered to the victims.

In its deliberations on responses to crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes which had been committed in East Timor, it was essential that this special session recall the international context in which such crimes had been committed. The situation in East Timor was different from other notable recent efforts to secure accountability for gross violations of human rights and international humanitarian law. In those cases, such as Cambodia, Rwanda and Sierra Leone, gross violations had occurred in the context of internal armed conflict or civil war. By contrast, recent events in East Timor had not been the expression of long-standing differences between East Timorese but symptomatic of a consistent pattern of violence following the invasion and illegal occupation of East Timor since 1975. An independent, impartial and effective tribunal which abided by international standards and best practice must be established to put an end to the cycle of violence and impunity that had characterized the occupation of East Timor. Such a tribunal was essential to begin the process of restoring respect for human rights, making reparations to victims and bringing perpetrators to account.

CHRISTIAN RANHEIM, of Survival International, said the massive violence and displacement in East Timor was entirely expected and avoidable.

Warnings were sent to the United Nations Mission in East Timor (UNAMET) stating that the East Timorese people were worried about retaliation and a militia-instigated bloodbath; widespread reports of arms shipments were also passed along. In a letter to the Secretary-General, Survival International recommended that the militias should be immediately disarmed and disbanded and that Indonesian military personnel should be withdrawn from East Timor.

EDWIN KEIJZER, of Anti-Slavery International, said in the two weeks since UNAMET had been forced to withdraw from East Timor, unimaginable horrors had occurred. The Indonesian military had executed a well-planned campaign to kill and kidnap the majority of the East Timorese population. Hundreds of thousands of forcibly displaced people were held hostage in militia-controlled concentration camps in West Timor and elsewhere, while the Indonesian Government promulgated plans to make their dislocation permanent.

Anti-Slavery International joined the call for an international commission of inquiry to investigate crimes against humanity committed in East Timor and Indonesia, and to hold those directly responsible accountable. It endorsed the

need for Special Rapporteurs to be given immediate and complete access to East Timor and displaced East Timorese people, and to report on their findings. But while justice was important, it was even more pressing to prevent further crimes from being committed. The United Nations should ensure that the perpetrators did not escape with impunity. Although thousands of East Timorese people had been killed over the last few weeks, hundreds of thousands remained alive. The Commission was urged to do the utmost to preserve not only their right to survive, but also their right to live without coercion, fear or repression.

ANICETO GUTERRES, of International Federation of Human Rights, said that six months ago the organization, together with Yaysan Hak, had released a report condemning "the double mindedness of Indonesian authorities" and expressing deep concern about a possible deterioration of the situation in East Timor. This was at a time when the international community was praising the changes in Indonesia. It was plain that the Government's vision was false, particularly in terms of political prisoners and the training of militias. The organization had repeatedly warned concerned Governments and international agencies about an impending, premeditated campaign of ethnic cleansing, yet the call was not heeded -- just as warnings had gone unheeded in Rwanda.

An international commission of inquiry should be set up for East Timor under the auspices of the Security Council. The findings should serve as a basis for prosecuting, at the international level, human rights violations and crimes against humanity. There was a need for the voice of international civil society. Human rights NGOs should be listened to, as they could serve as an alert mechanism. Conflict prevention should begin to acquire substantial meaning.

JOANNA WESCHLER, of Human Rights Watch, said there was a strong indication that crimes against humanity had been committed in East Timor. Human Rights Watch urged the Commission to set up a formal commission of experts, composed of expert investigators and given the mandate and resources to conduct a thorough investigation. Such a body was urgently needed to clarify the facts. Important questions remained unanswered. It was not known how many people had been killed in East Timor. What was known, however, made it imperative that there be a detailed investigation to develop a full account of what had taken place.

The perpetrators of the violence should be held accountable and that accountability should extend to the most senior ranks of the Indonesian armed forces. This was no spontaneous eruption of anger by the losers of the August 30 referendum. Rather, there was strong evidence to suggest that it was part of a deliberate Indonesian Army strategy to prevent East Timor from becoming independent. On 15 September, the Security Council, appalled by the worsening situation, had condemned the violence perpetrated in East Timor since the referendum and had demanded that those responsible for such acts be brought to justice.

GRACIELA ROBERT, of Medecins du Monde, said the organization had been providing medical assistance in East Timor since last March. The organization was particularly concerned about the plight of displaced people and refugees. Those responsible for the violence should be brought to justice; that was indispensable to allow future peace and reconciliation.

JOSE LUIS GUTTERES, of the Catholic Institute for International Relations (Caritas), said Caritas had just been informed by Caritas Australia of the murder of the head of Caritas East Timor, Father Francisco Barreto, and most of his staff. Caritas had sent two United Nations-accredited observer missions to East Timor in July and August 1999. Those observers were in Dili and Liquica on ballot day, and maintained a presence in East Timor until the announcement of the result the following weekend. The ballot was conducted in as free and fair a manner as possible given the violence and intimidation against the pro-independence supporters by the militias in the period preceding August 30. The observers noted that Indonesian authorities only appeared to act on the outrages that had been perpetrated when consistent international pressure was brought to bear.

The serious situation of internally displaced persons in East Timor and refugees in West Timor should be addressed as a matter of the utmost urgency by the international community. Not only should full access be granted to humanitarian organizations, so that immediate health and nutritional needs were addressed, but human rights organizations should be permitted to search for the missing, and to document all violations. The electoral rolls compiled by UNAMET for the East Timorese ballot should be used to establish lists of the missing. The East Timorese peace process was still moving ahead in spite of the difficult circumstances. It was doing so in conjunction with detailed planning for the transition. These processes should be given every support by the international community, but the East Timorese should themselves have the lead role.

AIDA AVELLA, of International Federation of Democratic Women, said what had happened in East Timor before and after the popular consultation was a tragedy. The international community had already been put on notice, since many promises to the international community on the situation in East Timor had gone unfulfilled. All of the atrocities going on there were planned acts. This situation could not be ignored or written off as a series of isolated cases.

Women had had to suffer degrading inhumane treatment, but they also had had to endure pain suffered when they saw husbands and sons murdered. In the last few days they had been seen running with their children, looking for safe refuge. Investigators should start work there as soon as possible, and the findings should be reported to the next Commission. Action should be swift. Lives could have been saved if the international community had acted as soon as the results of the referendum were known.

ORAN DOYLE, of Rehabilitation International, said it was vital for the Commission to do whatever it could to protect the people of East Timor from the coordinated and orchestrated attack carried out by the Indonesian military.

There should be a commission of inquiry leading to the establishment of an international war crimes tribunal. All militias should be disarmed and those operating in East and West Timor should be arrested. Humanitarian assistance was vital and a humanitarian corridor from Kupang and Atambua in West Timor into East Timor should be set up. This would guarantee refugees safe passage.

ERIN BREEZE, of Society for Threatened Peoples, said even after the arrival of the International Force in East Timor (INTERFET), the genocide continued. On 21 September in Baucau, five East Timorese were shot by soldiers. At the same time, pro-Indonesian militia members killed a Dutch journalist on the outskirts of Dili, and other journalists were violently attacked. On 18

September, soldiers opened fire on refugees who had sought safety in front of the village church in Dare. A woman was shot in the head and killed while saying her prayers. The list of acts of violence committed by the Indonesian Army and their associates in the militias grew endlessly.

There was overwhelming evidence that the Indonesian Army had been cooperating closely with the militias, and the Indonesian Government should accept joint responsibility for the crimes committed by the militias. In view of the ongoing reality of genocide in East Timor, the Society for Threatened Peoples appealed to the Commission to set up without delay a war crimes tribunal with a view to bringing those responsible for the genocide to account.

MARZUKI DARUSMAN, President of the National Human Rights Commission of Indonesia, said East Timor was now headed towards Statehood; the remaining discussion should focus on what lay ahead in the future. The National Commission believed it had been impossible to entirely protect human rights in East Timor. The National Commission endorsed the arguments for assessing the human rights situation in a way that described the reality in East Timor. Apart from the severe massive social disruptions, the most realistic and truthful way to do that was to view the situation as a contention between parties which, by definition, created a source of human rights violations. The human rights situation in East Timor had led to a gradual breakdown of law and order.

There was a great deal of sympathy for the great suffering in East Timor. But social, political and economic factors must be considered so that justice was met on the ground. East Timor would continue to be an area of social upheaval for some time. The conditions there following the ballot required a period of consultation, study and investigation. If preliminary findings proved that the cases related to human rights were terrible violations, justice must be carried out within the framework of existing law. During its inquiry into the events that had occurred in East Timor, the National Commission was open to discussion with the Commission on Human Rights.

PEKKA HUHTANIEMI (Finland), speaking on behalf of the European Union, said there had been intensive talks throughout the day in order to increase and enlarge the common ground to find, if possible, a consensual outcome for the special session. There were still a number of difficulties, a number of gaps, that need to be bridged. They surrounded an investigative mechanism, and more time would be necessary to work this out. Something useful could be reported back around 6:30 p.m.

Work had continued to be done on the draft resolution submitted by the European Union. The co-sponsors had further developed their positions, and had come up with a revised text. This text had been typed and was now available, and all member States should have received it. It had become evident that many colleagues felt that more time was needed to reflect on this new version, and the European Union recommended that the Commission reconvene on Monday after delegations had had an opportunity to review the text.

Right of reply

SAAD HUSSAIN (Iraq), in a right of reply, said the delegation apologized for this request, but it was forced to defend itself against an attack from a certain NGO. The session was supposed to focus on a very specific matter, and not on anything outside that matter. The Secretariat should see to it that it

did not happen again. If the NGO in question were really concerned with problems of genocide, why not talk about the genocide suffered by the Iraqi people because of the blockade imposed by the Americans and the British? There had been over 2 million victims, 1 million of whom were children.

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