Vol. 8, No. 1
East Timor Achieves Hard-won Nationhood
Changes and Challenges in Washington
Changes and Challenges in Washington
by Karen Orenstein
Since the last issue of Estafeta, the rightward political shift in Washington has made ETAN’s work more difficult. We have been kept busy fending off Pentagon attempts to restore full-blown engagement with the Indonesian military (TNI) despite its egregious human rights record and failure to hold any senior military or government personnel accountable for the 1999 scorched-earth campaign in East Timor. At the same time, with assistance from economic justice-focused NGOs and in coordination with the joint East Timorese/international monitoring project La’o Hamutuk, ETAN launched the International Campaign for a Debt- and Structural Adjustment-Free East Timor. As this article goes to press, battles rage on both fronts.
The jubilation surrounding East Timor’s independence could be short-lived. The nascent East Timorese government — tasked with a massive reconstruction effort — is facing a substantial shortfall in its already-lean budget over the first three years of independence. While financing gap estimates are far less than the Bush Administration spends on one F-22 fighter plane, for a small country like East Timor, this shortfall could stand in the way of the country’s determination to use future revenues for healthcare, education, and other vital services rather than paying off debt to wealthy states and institutions.
On May 14 and 15, donor countries and international financial institutions will gather in East Timor for a pledging conference to solicit grants to cover the financing gap. The East Timorese government has joined with civil society in making poverty alleviation its highest priority. Top officials have publicly affirmed their commitment to avoid the debt trap, instituting a “no loans” policy. Donors are expected to provide funds needed for the first year of independence, but assistance for the following two years could well be insufficient. Without concerted international solidarity pressure, East Timor may have no choice but to resort to loans given on the terms of the World Bank and other international financial institutions.
Any contributions, whether from the U.S. or other donors, must not be
tied to crippling “structural adjustment” policies. Though the
conditions may be called something else, there are strong indications that
such onerous attacks on social spending will be applied to monies for East
In addition to working domestically with the grassroots networks of activist organizations Jubilee USA and 50 Years Is Enough, ETAN has initiated campaigns in other countries, focusing particularly on large donors to East Timor. Letters signed by a range of non-governmental organizations (NGO) have also been sent to Secretary of State Colin Powell, as well as to Appropriations Committee members in both chambers of Congress.
Many other economic dangers await East Timor. One setback has already
occurred. Because donor countries do not commonly give money directly to
other governments, a facility has been established to oversee
contributions to East Timor’s budget. Despite the objections of many in
East Timor, the World Bank is expected to manage the facility. With this
initial compromise of financial independence, the chipping-away at East
Timor’s sovereignty has already begun.
International solidarity is crucial if East Timor is to be free of the shackles of economic colonialism which have crippled too many poor nations. Activists in the U.S. and other countries must push their governments not to inflict the crushing burdens of debt and “fiscal austerity” on East Timor. In addition to covering the financing gap, the U.S. and other donors need to give enough assistance directed at appropriate recipients in East Timor to ensure a decent standard of living until the nation becomes self-sufficient. Given the complicity of most donor countries in Indonesia’s war on East Timor, this is the least they can do.
The 2001 State Department’s Country Report on Human Rights Practices describes “shooting of civilians, torture, rape, beatings and other abuse, and arbitrary detention,” carried out by the Indonesian security forces, and notes that the Government rarely holds the military or police accountable for committing extrajudicial killings or using excessive force.”
Despite this egregious record, the Pentagon is pushing hard to remove all obstacles to full engagement with the TNI. Should it succeed, carefully considered International Military Education and Training (IMET) and Foreign Military Financing (FMF) restrictions in the Foreign Operations Appropriations Act legislated in response to the TNI’s incriminating acts would be nullified. IMET and FMF restrictions, and the “Leahy” conditions which must be met before they are lifted, were imposed in response to the 1999 scorched earth campaign in East Timor. None of the seven conditions, which include safe passage for all forcibly-displaced refugees in West Timor who wish to return home and serious trials of military officers responsible for the destruction of East Timor, have been met. Overriding those conditions would violate congressional intent, and U.S. leverage has to encourage civilian control of the military, accountability for past human rights violations in East Timor and Indonesia, and respect for basic human rights standards would be lost with nothing gained.
The Pentagon argues that relations between U.S. and Indonesian militaries are needed for military reform and to keep open channels of influence.
But recent history proves otherwise. Since September 1999, when broad restrictions on military ties were imposed, the Administration has lifted the embargo on commercial sales of non-lethal defense articles and increased bilateral contacts between the militaries. For its part, Congress agreed to reinstate “Expanded” IMET for 2002. These initiatives have produced neither TNI reforms nor lessening of mlitary repression.
With the assistance of Senators Daniel Inouye (D-HI) and Ted Stevens (R-AK), Commander In Chief of the Pacific Asia Command Admiral Dennis Blair secured a last-minute addition to the FY02 Defense Department Appropriations Act (HR 3338, provision 8125) providing $17.9 million to establish a Regional Defense Counter-terrorism Fellowship Program. There are no restrictions on which countries can participate in the program, which has an unknown curriculum. The FY02 Emergency Supplemental Appropriations request calls for an additional $8 million for “training of civilian and military personnel in support of humanitarian and peacekeeping activities in Indonesia,” $8 million to “vet, train, and equip a counter-terrorism unit,” and potentially millions more for defense articles, services, training, and other aid from large pools of money for unspecified countries, including $100 million “to support foreign nations.”
Provision 8125 was an end-run around Foreign Operations Appropriations IMET restrictions. The Supplemental Appropriations requests go a step further. Not only could the TNI have access to prestigious U.S. military training without congressional oversight, equipment may also be made available. Bill language providing for defense articles and services to unspecified countries could be used to supply banned FMF. Many of the supplementals’ funds “may be made available notwithstanding any other provision of law.”
To allow the Pentagon to ignore existing Foreign Operations
Appropriations restrictions in the FY02 Emergency Supplemental
Appropriations request would offer a U.S. seal of approval to a military
that continues to terrorize civilians throughout Indonesia and strongly
Finally, ETAN worked with the offices of Representatives Christopher Smith (R-NJ), Jim McGovern (D-MA), Patrick Kennedy (D-RI), Frank and others, and Senators Lincoln Chafee (R-RI) and Feingold on a resolution congratulating the courageous people of East Timor on their independence and calling on the administration to take action to ensure justice and post-independence U.S. support for East Timor.
The IMET and FMF restrictions for the TNI must be respected and renewed in FY03. The TNI should not receive training under the Regional Defense Counter-terrorism Fellowship Program. Other funds appropriated through the supplemental request should not be used to train the TNI in any form or provide the military with undefined defense articles and services. Foreign policy formulation should be returned to the authority of congressional Foreign/International Relations Committees, the Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittees, and the State Department, where it has traditionally resided. The U.S. must not assist the TNI in further acts of murder, torture and rape in Indonesia. We must continue to convey these messages to our elected representatives to prevent more such crimes from being committed in our name.
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