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Sample Letters to the Editor

revised August 2002

Below are sample letters to the editor.  If you have some direct experience (e.g. you were an observer in East Timor last year), mention this in the letter and add a relevant anecdote to personalize it. Re-write them to fit the style (especially length requirements) of the newspaper you are sending it to. Remember that local papers are more likely to print letters from local people. Be sure to put "For Publication" at the top of your letter and remember to include a contact number with your letter. Let us know if your letter is published.

Letter 1 (General)
Letter 2 (Human Rights focus)
Letter 3 (Military Ties focus)

General Letter

Dear Editor,

Three years ago, in a UN-supervised referendum, the East Timorese people voted overwhelmingly to throw off more than two decades of Indonesian rule. They now have the independence denied them under the U.S.-backed Indonesian military occupation. But up to 50,000 East Timorese driven into West Timor by the Indonesian military and its militias remain stranded in refugee camps. The militias, continue to intimidate the refugees, must be disarmed and removed from the West Timor camps. And since it is clear that Indonesian courts are incapable of calling to task that country's military officers, an international tribunal must try those responsible for East Timor's destruction. Only then will the East Timorese achieve the peace and security they have suffered so long to realize.


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Letter 2 (Human Rights)

see also sample letters on announcement of initial verdicts by Indonesia's ad hoc court on East Timor.

To the Editor

On August 30,1999,  the people of East Timor voted overwhelmingly for an end to 24 years of illegal Indonesian military occupation. That same military went on to exact brutal vengeance in the weeks following the U.N.-supervised referendum. According to the U.N., over two-thirds of East Timor was destroyed and over one-thousand were killed.

The East Timorese, Indonesian government, and the international community all agree that those responsible for human rights violations during and after last year's independence vote should be tried. But who should try them?

Indonesian claims that it can do the job are dubious. Trials taking place in Jakarta are seriously flawed. The courts mandate is extremely limited and the defendant list does not go very far up the powerful Indonesian military's chain of command.

The horrific abuses committed in East Timor certainly qualify as crimes against humanity. U.N. investigators proposed a joint Indonesian, East Timorese and international tribunal under UN auspices. The U.S. government should actively support this recommendation as the only option to guarantee that justice is served.


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Letter 3 (Military Ties)

To the Editor

On December 7, 1975, just hours after President Gerald Ford and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger met with Indonesia's dictator General Suharto, Indonesia invaded its smaller neighbor East Timor. According to human rights groups, over 200,000 East Timorese - one-third of the population - were killed. Throughout this vicious occupation, the U.S. supplied weapons and training.

On August 30, 1999, the East Timorese ended that occupation by overwhelmingly choosing independence in a U.N.-supervised vote. The Indonesian military and its militias responded with a rampage that destroyed 70% of the country's infrastructure and killed more than 1000 civilians. Under intense popular and congressional pressure, the Clinton administration suspended long-standing military ties with Indonesia. Soon after, an international peacekeeping force was deployed, and East Timor is now on its way to independence.

Congress has placed conditions on restoring those military ties, among them security for East Timor, credible prosecutions of those responsible for serious human rights abuses in East Timor and Indonesia. These conditions have yet to be met.

On his recent trip to Indonesia, Secretary of State Powell offered military training to Indonesia. Such military ties do not encourage reform, they signal approval for a still delinquent military.

The Indonesian military and its paramilitary proxies terrorize the Molucca Islands, West Papua, Aceh and other regions much as they once did East Timor. The U.S. should not train or arm forces that remains almost completely unaccountable to civilian leadership. By withholding military and political support in 1975, the U.S. could have prevented what happened to East Timor. Neither Congress nor the administration resume military ties until the Indonesian military fully respects civilian rule and is held accountable for its human rights abuses should military ties be restored.


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