Vol. 7, No. 3
September 11 Aftermath Brings Shifts
September 11 Aftermath Brings Shifts in Washington
by Karen Orenstein
Just as the people of East Timor were peacefully awaiting the results
of their historic first election for a Constituent Assembly, members of
the United States Senate and House were returning from their August recess
to finish the 2001 congressional session. Passage of appropriations and
authorization bills was high on their agenda. Then hijacked planes hit the
Pentagon and World Trade Center on September 11 and everything changed.
In a bid to gain Indonesian support, Bush maintained a scheduled meeting with Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputr on September 19. The White House announced the U.S. would lift the embargo on commercial sales of non-lethal defense articles and expand contact between the U.S. and Indonesian militaries. These commitments, while incremental changes reflecting prior Bush administration policies, are nonetheless very disturbing. They were freely given without any commitment from Megawati to attend to rights abuses of the military and police — serious issues she is unlikely to address without substantial international pressure given her reportedly close ties to the armed forces.
As of this writing, the Foreign Operations Appropriation bill, the only bill to contain restrictions on relations with the Indonesian military, has not yet passed. The bill’s “Leahy conditions” restrict International Military Education and Training and Foreign Military Financing programs for the Indonesian military contingent on resolution of refugee, security and justice issues in East Timor and Indonesia. None of these very reasonable conditions have been met. While some in the administration — particularly the Pentagon — would like a free hand to fully engage with the TNI, the chances of successful renewal of the conditions are good. Congratulations to ETAN and IHRN activists who kept up pressure to maintain these protections! Many members of Congress joined ETAN and IHRN in opposing closer military ties, as evident from letters, statements and provisions in the appropriations bill. However, it is important to keep up this pressure in the months ahead.
The Foreign Operations Appropriations bills in both the House and Senate provide $25 million in U.S. assistance for civil society in East Timor. The Senate version contains strong report language expressing disappointment with the Indonesian government’s failure “to prosecute and punish military officers and militia leaders responsible for planning and carrying out atrocities in East Timor” and the September 2000 murder of UN refugee workers. It also expresses support for the new country of East Timor, condemns the refugee crisis in West Timor, and expresses concern over the increase of HIV/AIDS infection and the rise of prostitution.
Despite the objections of ETAN and IHRN, this year’s bills include language allowing for U.S. military training of some Indonesian civilians under the Expanded International Military Education and Training program.
The Senate has yet to pass its version of the Foreign Relations Authorization Act. Like the House bill passed in May, it is expected to authorize the appropriation of $25 million in assistance. The bill will likely include an amendment offered by Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) covering many aspects of U.S. relations with East Timor, including the establishment of official diplomatic ties, trade relations, and security assistance. Final passage of the appropriations and authorization acts has been delayed as a result of September 11 and consequent U.S. actions.
Other challenges to U.S.-East Timor relations include the blocking of administration requests to establish a fully-accredited U.S. diplomatic facility in Dili by Senators Judd Gregg (R-NH) and Ernest Hollings (D-SC), ranking member and chair, respectively, of the Commerce, Justice, State, and Judiciary Appropriations Subcommittee. After pressure from friends of East Timor in Congress, they finally agreed to excise damaging and inaccurate language they had originally inserted in the Commerce, Justice, State, and Judiciary Appropriations bill. On the positive side, holds by Hollings and Gregg on funds to pay for the United States’ share of funding for the UN peacekeeping mission in East Timor for Fiscal Year 2001 were lifted. Administration-wide problems, however, still exist with funding for post-independence UN assistance to East Timor. The Bush administration remains reluctant to fully fund the civilian component of the UN’s post-independence peacekeeping mission. At the initiative of Tony Hall (D-OH), members of Congress wrote the administration in late October urging it to agree to the UN and East Timor’s request to pay for needed civilian advisors to the young government from assessed contributions and to adequately fund the Serious Crimes Unit.
Concurrent congressional resolutions calling for “the establishment of an international war crimes tribunal to prosecute crimes against humanity” carried out by the Indonesian military in East Timor, H. Con. Res. 60 and S. Con. Res. 9, continued to gain support. H. Con. Res. 60 is now up to 59 co-sponsors, and S. Con. Res. 9 is up to 11. While this commendable progress is the direct result of constituent pressure, we desperately need to get more Republicans on both bills, especially the Senate version. These resolutions will carry over into 2002.
In a press conference organized by ETAN on September 6, several senators and representatives stressed the necessity of an international tribunal on East Timor and addressed the ongoing East Timorese refugee crisis.
Pressure for an international tribunal on East Timor is particularly important now as the Megawati administration attempts to pacify the international community with a revised version of the decree establishing an Indonesian ad hoc human rights court on East Timor. The changes actually make it even more unlikely that high-ranking military will be tried for their crimes. The decree limits the court’s jurisdiction to crimes committed in April and September of 1999 and in just three of the thirteen districts of East Timor. This excludes many atrocities, including the mass displacement and deportation of three-fourths of East Timor’s population and the high-level coordination of the scorched earth campaign by Indonesian security forces and political leaders. It also excludes all cases of the extensive use of violence against East Timorese women.
In June, the Senate passed Senate Resolution 91 introduced by Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) “condemning the murder of a United States citizen and other civilians, and expressing the sense of the Senate regarding the failure of the Indonesian judicial system to hold accountable those responsible for the killings.” The resolution further recommends that the Bush administration consider judicial reform and accountability when determining bilateral and multilateral financial assistance for Indonesia.
Also this summer, under the leadership of Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY), 44 representatives wrote Secretary of State Powell urging him not to give credibility to the June registration of refugees and requesting that he address worsening humanitarian conditions, widespread violence against women, and the forced separation of children from their parents by militia-run organizations. The Senate, led by Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI), sent a similar letter with 17 co-signers. In late summer, 22 representatives joined Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) in a letter to Megawati conveying strong congressional concern about respect for human rights, military reform, and accountability for human rights violations in her new administration.
Staff members of Reps. Cynthia McKinney (D-GA) and Jim Leach (R-IA) visited East Timor and Indonesia in early July. Their visit led to a letter by Reps. Henry Hyde (R-IL), Leach, McKinney, Chris Smith (R-NJ) and Tom Lantos (D-CA) to then-President Wahid and Major General Willem da Costa concerning the safety of 1250 East Timorese refugees who requested repatriation during the refugee registration in early June. Rep. Tony Hall also visited East Timor after decades of strong support. Upon his return to Washington, DC, he encouraged both the U.S. and the UN to make a long-term commitment to East Timor.
In early November, eight members of Congress wrote the U.S. representative to the Consultative Group on Indonesia (its international donors) to emphasize resolution of human rights and refugee issues in any pledges of non-humanitarian assistance.
Congressional, administration, and other governments’ reactions to
the September 11 attacks present a serious risk of compromise on the
rights of East Timorese, Indonesians, and others throughout the world. As
U.S. government and media attention shifts further away from East Timor
and human rights in general, we must be as vigilant as ever to ensure that
years of human rights work are not lost, but maintained and strengthened.
The long duration of East Timor’s refugee crisis and lack of justice for
the East Timorese people warn us against complacency. Keep those visits,
phone calls, faxes, e-mails and letters to Congress and the administration
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