Subject: East Timor Foreign Policy in Focus Brief 


New FPIF Release: EAST TIMOR By Lynn Fredriksson

(Editor's Note: This policy brief is part of the FPIF Self-Determination project, that examines self-determination conflicts around the world) To learn more:


In the slaughter that followed East Timor's August 1999 plebiscite for independence, the U.S. and the rest of the world stood by for too long as the desperately poor country of 800,000 was nearly destroyed. According to Lynn Fredriksson writing in a just-released Foreign Policy In Focus brief, East Timor, the Indonesian military "and various militias killed over 1,500 people, razed 70 percent of East Timor's infrastructure, and displaced two-thirds of its population."

For more than 20 years the United States supported the Indonesian government's illegal occupation of East Timor, despite knowledge of Indonesia's brutal human rights record there. In early 1999, following the fall of the Suharto dictatorship, the Clinton administration's policy changed to support for independence for the East Timorese. But, says Fredriksson, coordinator of the Indonesia Human Rights Network, "The U.S. has declined to provide full support for an international human rights tribunal that would examine the abuses and killings (in East Timor)."

Moreover, Congress has been explicit about closing the military pipeline to Indonesia, but the Pentagon, perhaps reluctant to write off its 20 year, $1 billion military investment, "has persisted in advocating military assistance to Indonesia, even when this has meant exploiting loopholes in legislation enacted to end military aid," writes Fredriksson.

The United States was not alone in ignoring the vast human rights tragedy in East Timor. Even today, says Fredriksson, "the U.S. and other donor nations have been unwilling to use significant political and economic influence to further reconciliation and justice in East Timor." However the U.S. can still help bring peace and security to East Timor if it: 

  • withholds all military assistance until justice is done; 
  • promotes Indonesian judicial reform and the creation of an international tribunal; and 
  • channels sufficient aid to East Timor.

To Contact the author visit: East Timor Action Network/U.S. Website:

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