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Action to Reunite E Timor Children with Families

Groups Urge Indonesian Action to Reunite E Timorese Children with Their Families

For Immediate Release


Organizations Worldwide Urge Indonesian Action to Reunite East Timorese Children with Their Families

Groups Urge Indonesian President to Display “Political Will” to Free Children from Militia-Affiliated Institutions

February 20, 20003 - Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) from around the world today urged Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri to step up efforts to reunify East Timorese children with their families. Thousands of East Timorese children were originally separated from their families during 1999’s devastation of their country; many were taken to orphanages and other institutions throughout Indonesia.

Representatives of 66 NGOs based in 16 countries sent a letter to President Megawati Sukarnoputri expressing dismay at “the slow pace of your government’s efforts to achieve reunification.”

The full text of the letter and a list of signers can be found at http://www.etan.org/news/2003a/01chlett.htm.

While praising the Indonesian government’s recent initiatives on the issue, the NGOs stressed the seriousness of the situation by stating, “The coercive separations of East Timorese children, the failure to honor the requests of parents for reunification, and the lack of prompt government action in these cases are in clear violation” of Indonesia’s obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Indonesia ratified the Convention in 1990.

Many of the children were taken from East Timor and refugee camps in West Timor by foundations run by pro-Indonesian East Timorese and sent to orphanages and other institutions throughout Indonesia around the time of East Timor’s 1999 vote for independence. Observers have concluded that the foundations are brainwashing the children about current conditions in East Timor and the country’s history and future as part of a possible plan to re-integrate the now-independent East Timor into Indonesia.

“The East Timorese children’s ‘caretakers’ have repeatedly denied parents’ requests for the return of their children. They have aggressively thwarted the UNHCR’s [UN High Commission for Refugees] and the International Rescue Committee’s reunification efforts, at times making direct physical threats against agency staff,” stated the NGOs.

At least 600 East Timorese children remain in Indonesian institutions.

The East Timor Action Network/U.S. coordinated the NGO statement. Signatories included the Association of Law, Human Rights and Justice in East Timor (HAK), Kontras (Commission for Disappearances and Victims of Violence in Indonesia, Pax Christi USA and the U.S. Committee for Refugees.

In addition to President Megawati, copies of the letter were sent to United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers, the East Timor Red Cross Society, Jesuit Refugee Service and U.S. officials.

The East Timor Action Network/U.S. supports human dignity for the people of East Timor by advocating for democracy, sustainable development, social, legal and economic justice, and human rights, including women's rights. For more information, see ETAN's web site at http://www.etan.org.

--30--

Letter text:

20 February 2003

President Megawati Sukarnoputri Istana Negara Jakarta, Indonesia

Dear President Megawati Sukarnoputri:

We are deeply troubled by the continued separation of East Timorese children from their families, primarily during and after the 1999 referendum period by the Hati Foundation, Lemorai Foundation, Yayasan Tunas Kalimantan, and others. There are at least 600 ongoing cases of separated children outside of East Timor.

We are heartened that the Indonesian government is working more closely with the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) on this issue, and applaud the appointment of regional coordinators from the Indonesian civil service to facilitate the reunification of the children with their families. However, we are dismayed by the slow pace of your government's efforts to achieve reunification, the success of some foundations' obstruction of reunification attempts, and the failure to hold foundation leaders responsible for the children's plight, including Octavio Soares and Hasan Basri, accountable to the rule-of-law for their violation of basic human and children's rights.

As you know, many children were taken from their parents under horrendous circumstances. Foundation representatives approached East Timorese families while hostile military and militia members controlled the West Timor refugee camps. At that time, disinformation campaigns about conditions in East Timor were rampant, health and sanitation severely compromised, and educational prospects for children dim. Children taken by Mr. Soares, Mr. Basri, Yayasan Tunas Kalimantan, and others were sent to orphanages and other institutions throughout Indonesia.

Many observers have concluded that the foundations are brainwashing these children about conditions in East Timor and the country's history and future. Indeed, the Hati Foundation states on their website that one of their goals is, "sustaining the existence of well-schooled East Timorese in [t]he frame of Indonesia Unity (NKRI)." The East Timorese children's "caretakers" have repeatedly denied parents' requests for the return of their children. They have aggressively thwarted the UNHCR's and the International Rescue Committee's reunification efforts, at times making direct physical threats against agency staff.

Indonesia ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1990, and is thus legally obliged to ensure that, "In all actions concerning children…the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration (Article 3)." The "rights and duties of parents (Article 5)," must be respected, as well as the right of the child "to know and be cared for by his or her parents (Article 7)." According to Article 9, the government shall "ensure that a child shall not be separated from his or her parents against their will, except when competent authorities subject to judicial review determine…such separation is necessary for the best interests of the child." Article 11 states that, "State Parties shall take measures to combat the illicit transfer and non-return of children abroad." The coercive separations of East Timorese children, the failure to honor the requests of parents for reunification, and the lack of prompt government action in these cases are in clear violation of the Convention.While we applaud your attendance at East Timor's independence festivities and look forward to a relationship between East Timor and Indonesia that respects the sovereignty and rights of both countries, we urge you to act expeditiously to end this indefensible practice once and for all.

We firmly believe that reunification of these children with their families could be readily expedited should the Indonesian government choose to do so; it is a question of political will that only Indonesian authorities can answer. Therefore, we call on the government of Indonesia to immediately prioritize the reunification of East Timorese children in Indonesia with their families. We strongly urge your government to:

* Provide strong support to UNHCR and other relevant agencies in all efforts to identify separated children, establish contact with their families, and ascertain - according to internationally-recognized legal standards - whether parents have consented and continue to consent to the separation of their children. Such support should include prompt, commensurate government responses to obstructive actions by Hati and Lemorai Foundations and others. Full access to records, individuals, and institutions involved is also vital;

* Supply sufficient resources to Indonesian civil servants engaged in this work with UNHCR and other agencies;

* Ensure the safety of international and Indonesian staff working on this issue, as well as East Timorese family members traveling to Indonesia to visit their children; Hold Hati Foundation, Lemorai Foundation, Yayasan Tunas Kalimantan, as well as other individuals and implicated organizations, accountable to the rule-of-law;

* Ensure that there are no further attempts to separate East Timorese children from their families.

We thank you for your urgent consideration of and actions taken to end this long-standing travesty. We look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

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John M. Miller Internet: john@etan.org

Media & Outreach Coordinator East Timor Action Network: 12 Years for Self-Determination & Justice

48 Duffield St., Brooklyn, NY 11201 USA Phone: (718)596-7668 Fax: (718)222-4097 Mobile phone: (917)690-4391 Web site: http://www.etan.org

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Contact: Karen Orenstein, +1-202-544-6911, karen@etan.org John M. Miller, +1-718-596-7668, +1-917-690-4391 john@etan.org


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