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Subject: ICRC statement Date: Fri, 04 Dec 1998 17:27:15 -0600
From: john roosa <>

Below is ICRC's press release of November 26 concerning the Alas incidents.

In reading it, I think we need to remember that ICRC is a humanitarian organization whose only duty is to provide humanitarian relief. It is not a human rights organization that conducts fact-finding tours and writes up detailed reports. Whatever ICRC says is not a substitute for statements from the National Commission on Human Rights, Yayasan Hak, or the Peace and Justice Commission. The ICRC statement is written only to report on "local needs for humanitarian aid." It is not meant to be an authoritative statement on the human rights conditions in Alas and incidents that occurred there.

That said, the ICRC is, I think, not being sufficiently clear about this difference in the statement below -- note the first paragraph: a delegate was sent to simply "gather information." In the past, the ICRC has rarely issued statements about particular events in East Timor. The ICRC is opening itself to being misconstrued as a human rights organization in being so explicit and detailed about the Alas incidents without any accompanying disavowal about the limitations of its role.

So, for instance, ICRC reports that its representative had unimpeded access and was able to converse freely with the inhabitants. What it does not say is that the ICRC, as a humanitarian organization, can not and does not, report on the substance of those conversations. Given that, there is little reason for ABRI to interfere with its work. Human rights organizations, as we have seen, have been impeded and physically threatened by ABRI during their attempts at investigating the situation.

Moreover, the ICRC representative's manner of reporting is highly suspect. S/he reports that houses had been destroyed, 143 civilians had taken refuge in a school and many more civilians had either taken refuge in a church or fled to neighboring villages. Then s/he also reports that "no life threatening situation was observed." What on earth is this supposed to mean? Obviously, at least 150 people were so fearful for their lives that they abandoned their homes and huddled together in public buildings. What has to exist for there to be a "life-threatening situation"? ABRI soldiers standing right under the ICRC representative's nose, pointing their guns at the civilians and proclaiming their intention to shoot?

ICRC is performing essential work in East Timor but if it is going to pretend, even in a subtle way, that it is a fact-finding organization, then it is going to be subject to misuse by the Indonesian government (which has been frequently quoting the statement below) and criticisms from those who are concerned to know precisely what the facts are.

26 November 1998

Press Release 98/40

East Timor: ICRC assessing situation in Alas area

Geneva (ICRC) - Concerned about widespread allegations in recent days of massacres near the town of Alas on the south side of East Timor, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) dispatched a delegate from its office in Dili on 22 November to gather information about the situation in Alas and surrounding villages.

The delegate was able to confirm that four persons had been killed in separate incidents. These occurred in the course of military operations following an attack on an Indonesian military post in Alas on 9 November, in which three soldiers of the Indonesian army and a civilian were killed, and thirteen soldiers taken prisoner (11 of whom were subsequently released). However, he was unable to confirm that massacres had been committed. The ICRC has so far been able to visit 13 persons detained in connection with those incidents in police stations in Same and Dili.

Following the attack, an ICRC delegate had visited Alas from 16 to 20 November. He was able to speak freely with the inhabitants and had unimpeded access to all areas.

As part of the ICRC's usual activities in East Timor, the delegate assessed local needs for humanitarian aid. At the same time, the ICRC office in Dili contacted the Indonesian military commander there to offer its services regarding the captured soldiers and express its concern about the possibility of a further deterioration in the situation. The ICRC's regional delegation in Jakarta made a similar approach to the authorities in the Indonesian capital.

At the time of the initial visit to Alas, the situation there was very tense and many civilians were sheltering in a school as the Indonesian army carried out an operation nearby. The delegate observed that houses and personal property had been destroyed.

On the second visit to Alas, the delegate noted that tension had eased but many people were still sheltering in neighbouring villages or sleeping in churches. They were being assisted by local authorities and church organizations. Though some material and medical problems remain to be solved at the school, where the ICRC found 143 persons, no life-threatening situation was observed.

The ICRC will continue to assess and endeavour to meet the need for humanitarian aid and will carry on its visits to persons arrested in connection with the situation in East Timor.

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