Subject: CNS: Pressure will bring Timorese refugees home, says former JRS head

Pressure will bring Timorese refugees home, says former JRS head

By Stephen Steele Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The international community must pressure Indonesia to ensure the safe return of East Timorese refugees, said the former head of Jesuit Refugee Service.

About 80,000 East Timorese refugees remain in squalid camps in neighboring Indonesia, with the overwhelming majority wanting to return to their homeland, said Jesuit Father Mark Raper at Georgetown University May 3.

Father Raper, Georgetown's visiting Jesuit chair for the spring semester, said the camps in Indonesia's West Timor are under the control of the militia groups that were largely responsible for the violence surrounding the 1999 U.N.-sponsored referendum in East Timor.

``The Indonesia government is in crisis and unable to give instructions to its military to control the militias,'' Father Raper said during a speech at the Bunn Intercultural Center.

``The allies of Indonesia can help by direct contact with the Indonesian government or its military, imploring them to take that control,'' he said.

Further complicating matters is the lack of an adequate judicial system in East Timor and Indonesia to try those responsible for the 1999 violence, he said.

``There is no process of accountability for the perpetrators of the violence, and in those camps are many militias,'' he said.

``Without the help of the international community, these camps will not be liberated from the control of the militias,'' he said.

Jesuit Refugee Service announced May 2 that it was temporarily suspending programs in one of the larger camps in Kupang, West Timor, following a number of violent incidents, Father Raper told Catholic News Service.

The agency had been providing supplementary food aid and medical services in the Noelbaki camp, where about 700 refugees reside, Father Raper said.

Jesuit Refugee Service is the only humanitarian agency currently providing emergency aid in the West Timor camps, he said.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees suspended operations in West Timor in September following the murder of three of its workers. Six men convicted of murdering the workers -- one each from the United States, Croatia and Ethiopia -- were sentenced May 3 to 10-20 years in prison by an Indonesian court.

``The UNHCR is still grieving the loss of its three workers. It won't return without a guarantee of safety for its workers,'' Father Raper said.

``It is important that justice be done and that crimes against humanity be identified,'' he said.

Father Raper said accountability for these crimes will come through the insistence ``that this is a serious issue in the eyes of the Western world,'' he said.

The priest said the major crimes were committed in the events surrounding the 1999 referendum and ``the killings of the UNHCR workers were a consequence of inaction on the part of the Indonesian military.''

Father Raper, an Australian, was first in East Timor one month prior to Indonesia's December 1975 invasion of the island. He was working with a team of Jesuits distributing aid.

East Timor, a former Portuguese colony, was in the throes of a humanitarian crisis following the decolonization of Portugal, he said.

During his speech, he said the 1975 invasion was allowed to occur with the tacit approval of the United States and Australia.

``The East Timorese people were my first teachers in the field of humanitarian aid. And my first lesson began with that bad smell produced by the false dichotomy ... between principle and pragmatism,'' he said.

``Being pragmatic does not exclude being principled, righteous and respectful of human rights,'' he added.

Foreign policy based solely on pragmatism makes for poor governance, he said.

The priest said the unexpected decision of former Indonesian President B.J. Habibie to call for an East Timorese vote on independence saved Australia and the United States ``from its mistaken pragmatism.''

The decision ``gave the Timorese their first opportunity ever, other than by militant or passive resistance, to make their own choice,'' he said.

May Menu
World Leaders Contact List
Human Rights Violations in East Timor
Main Postings Menu

Note: For those who would like to fax "the powers that be" - CallCenter is a Native 32-bit Voice Telephony software application integrated with fax and data communications... and it's free of charge! Download from