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Australian Aid should support Timor-Leste Not Oz

La'o Hamutuk, East Timor Institute for Reconstruction Monitoring and
Analysis
Media release 6 October 2005

Australian Aid should support Timor-Leste, not Australia's political interests

La'o Hamutuk condemned the recent decision by the Australian government to revoke an AusAID commitment to a Timor-Leste non-governmental organization (NGO), because the NGO, Forum Tau Matan (FTM), expressed political views Australia disagrees with.

"This arbitrary, punitive action belies AusAID's mission to support Timor-Leste's economic and legal development and contradicts the right to free speech, protected in both Australia and Timor-Leste," said Santina Soares of La'o Hamutuk, a Timor-Leste NGO.

"La'o Hamutuk calls on Australian citizens and government officials to demand that their government administer their aid program without political interference," said Soares. "Grants should be awarded according to need and merit, not based on the public statements of the project's manager. We urge AusAID to publicly assure current and potential grant recipients in Timor-Leste that they can exercise freedom of speech without being punished."

"AusAID states that major aim of its aid to Timor-Leste is to build a legal and judicial system which supports law and order. Australia's refusal to follow international legal principles in the Timor Sea negotiations is a mockery of law and order," said Santina Soares. "Their theft of Timor-Leste's rightful maritime petroleum resources, including more than one billion U.S. dollars from the Laminaria-Corallina oil field, makes it impossible for Timor-Leste to deliver basic services to its people and is far larger than the US$300 million AusAID has contributed since 1999."

AusAid's website says another goal of their support is to bolster the government's ability to budget for and deliver basic services. AusAID also claims to support a police service with full respect for human rights and to build capacity of oversight institutions in the justice sector. Forum Tau Matan shares these goals.

Background

Last December, AusAID promised an A$65,000 human rights grant to a prison monitoring and legal rights project administered by Forum Tau Matan (FTM), an East Timorese NGO. The award was delayed due to logistical problems within the Australian bureaucracy. In the interim, Canberra learned that FTM had joined eight other NGOs the previous September to ask Australia to respect Timor-Leste's sovereignty and negotiate a fair and legal maritime boundary.

On 7 June 2005, AusAID informed FTM director Joao Pequino that the money would not be forthcoming because "we have been reviewing the ways in which we engage with NGOs in different sectors." At the end of July, AusAID's Counsellor (Development Cooperation) informed FTM that the real reason the grant was cancelled was that FTM had signed the press release "East Timor Civil Society demands a Fair Resolution of Maritime Boundaries." AusAID has since paid FTM about 10% of the grant amount in compensation for AusAID deciding to break its commitment.

In the past, FTM has received support from the United Nations (UNMISET Human Rights Unit), Ireland Aid, and Caritas Australia.

AusAID is currently soliciting applicants for this year's Human Rights Small Grants. The application deadline is 7 October 2005.

La'o Hamutuk, the East Timor Institute for Reconstruction Monitoring and Analysis, was founded in 2000 to research, educate and advocate regarding international institutions in East Timor, including foreign aid programs. To maintain its objectivity and ability to speak out, La'o Hamutuk does not accept funding from AusAID or the other institutions it monitors.

This press release, plus supporting documents and information as well as a Bahasa Indonesia version, is at www.laohamutuk.org/reports/AusAID/FTM.html

Contact: Santina Soares or Alex Grainger, Tel. +670 3325013, email: info@laohamutuk.org


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