COMMISSION FOR THE RIGHTS OF THE MAUBERE
SUBMISSION TO THE
UN SPECIAL COMMITTEE ON DECOLONIZATION
New York, 5-7 July 2000
I wish to thank you for granting the CDPM – Commission
for the Rights of the Maubere People, the opportunity to address this
Committee on the question of East Timor.
One of the goals that the UN set itself to achieve
before the end of the twentieth century was the eradication of
colonialism. This objective has not yet been attained, and peoples that
are still enduring alien domination are turning in hope, once again, to
the Committee on Decolonization.
In the case of East Timor, the past year has seen major
changes after the long years of virtual isolation and international
oblivion. On 30 August 1999, the Timorese people’s 25-year-long desire
to decide their own destiny was fulfilled through a free and
internationally acceptable act of self-determination.
On 4 September, Mr. Kofi Annan announced the results of
the popular consultation: 98% of eligible registered Timorese voters had
taken part in the UN-organised ballot; 78.5% of them had opted for
independence, thus rejecting autonomy within Indonesia, in spite of
pressure and intimidation.
The announcement triggered a rampage of killing and
devastation by the occupying forces and their militias, which only ended
with the arrival of an international force. In a short time, 80% of the
territory’s infrastructures were destroyed, and an untold number of
people murdered. Subsequent delays in sending forensic specialists to
gather vital evidence have made prosecution of those responsible
With the UNTAET’s arrival in October 1999, East Timor
ceased to be a non-autonomous territory under Portuguese administration
and became a territory under a transitional UN administration.
During the transition, the UN should establish the
minimum conditions necessary in order that the Timorese may embark upon
viable and successful nationhood. With a mandate to support the transition
to self-government, UNTAET should ensure its operations are flexible and
limited in duration in accordance with the needs and aspirations of the
As they set off along the road to independence, the East
Timorese are facing major hurdles, left in the wake of recent political
developments, and are relying on the international community’s support
to overcome them. The most evident are the displacement of large sectors
of the population and the material destruction.
Between 250,000 and 280,000 Timorese – about 1/3 of
the total population - were displaced and now live in refugee camps in
Indonesia. Although 165,160 people were reported to have returned to East
Timor (UNTAET Humanitarian Pillar Situation Report, 24-29 June 2000), but
between 90,000 and 120,000 are still living in sub-human conditions in
West Timor, guarded by pro-Indonesia militias.
Many of the displaced were previously public servants in
Indonesia’s administration in East Timor. Before they leave Indonesian
territory with their families, they want assurances that their retirement
entitlements will be honoured. The existence of sizeable colonies of
exiles (15% of East Timor’s population) could constitute a destabilizing
factor in the medium and long term, so it is an issue that needs to be
addressed urgently. The international community should not only continue
its calls for the militias to be disarmed and removed from the refugee
camps, but should also make determined efforts to bring about a resolution
to the matter of entitlements, so that former employees in the Indonesian
administration may return to East Timor.
With regard to reconstruction and the UN-led transition
period, the international community has clearly shown its support by
pledging approximately US $ 522 million (Tokyo, December 1999). However,
the slow rate of disbursement of the promised funds is now undermining
UNTAET's operation and stability itself in East Timor, where about 80% of
the population is unemployed.
At least two other consequences of Indonesia’s 25-year
illegal occupation and the recent violence call for international
community attention: security and property rights issues.
1. In spite of repeated initial statements by Timorese
leaders that they had no intention of forming a national army, in view of
the violence that followed the vote for independence they were obliged to
change their position. This means that resources, which are vitally
important to improving living standards for the Timorese, will now have to
be channelled into Defence.
The security of the State of East Timor is of paramount
importance, and the international community has a duty to contribute
towards safeguarding it.
In order to prevent destabilisation attempts by the
militias and the Indonesian military associated with them, civilian and
democratic forces in Indonesia itself must be strengthened. It is these
forces that the international community ought to be supporting and not the
armed forces, as happened in the time of President Suharto. Prosecution of
those responsible for abuses in East Timor is also a key factor in
supporting change in Indonesia and stability in the region.
2. After 25 years of occupation, it is natural to see
numerous property and acquired rights-related problems arising now in East
Timor. The fact that it was an illegal occupation, never ratified by the
UN that enabled the unlawful exploitation of Timorese resources must
always be borne in mind.
That Indonesian companies, both public and private
sector, were the tools of that occupation and enjoyed the protection a
corrupt regime, must also taken into account. If there are cases in which
legitimate rights have been lost as a result of independence, then it is
up to the Indonesian government to provide compensation.
Entitlements (such as retirement benefits), lawfully
acquired by East Timorese, must be honoured by former employers (whether
companies, Indonesia’s public administration, or others) regardless of
whether the beneficiaries live in Indonesia or not. However, given
Indonesia’s current difficulties, the international community should
look into the matter and come up with proposals within a reasonable period
Assets belonging to East Timor’s heritage (archives,
objects of historical/cultural interest, etc.), that are important
components of Timorese identity, and which were removed from the territory
by the Indonesian army, must be returned to the Timorese people.
After years of hesitation, the UN has successfully
concluded the decolonisation process in East Timor. However, many other
colonized territories and their peoples are still waiting: the Western
Sahara process drags on, while for Tibet and Kurdistan the process has not
yet even begun. Other cases, such as West Papua, that were
unsatisfactorily settled in the past, now need to be reconsidered.
|Charles Scheiner National Coordinator
East Timor Action Network/US
P.O. Box 1182
White Plains, New York 10602 USA
For information on East Timor write firstname.lastname@example.org
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