|PETITION TO THE UNITED NATIONS DECOLONISATION COMMITTEE - ON THE ISSUE OF EAST TIMOR.
For hearing 1998.
PETITION FROM THE AUSTRALIAN COALITION FOR EAST TIMOR -'ACET'
The points raised in this petition will be brief and address these general issues:
- 1. EAST TIMOR'S CONTINUING HISTORY OF COLONISATION AND OCCUPATION.
- 2. THERE HAS BEEN NO GENUINE ACT OF SELF DETERMINATION.
- 3. WHAT DO THE EAST TIMORESE PEOPLE REALLY WANT?
- 4. THE INCREASING WORLD AWARENESS OF THE INJUSTICE OF EAST TIMOR.
- 5. THE AUSTRALIAN GOVERNMENT ACCEPTS THAT THE EAST TIMORESE HAVE A CONTINUING RIGHT TO
- 6. THE NEED FOR THE UN TO BE EFFECTIVE.
- 7. THE WORSENING SITUATION 'ON THE GROUND' IN EAST TIMOR - INDONESIA'S FAILING
1. EAST TIMOR'S CONTINUING HISTORY OF COLONISATION AND OCCUPATION. East Timor was
colonised for over 400 years by Portugal. It was next occupied by Australian troops during
WW2 in December 1941. Subsequently it underwent a brutal and destructive occupation by
20,000 troops of the Japanese Imperial Army. After the war Portugal retook control from
1945 until mid 1975. Indonesia took over after a series of secret intrusions and
manipulations from early to late 1975, invaded East Timor on 7th December 1975 and has
maintained an extremely oppressive military presence ever since.
All these countries have occupied East Timor and committed crimes against the Timorese
people in their own land . However nearly all Timorese who experienced the Japanese and
Indonesian occupations consider that they were much worse than the Portuguese period.
Those who remember both occupations say that the time under Indonesia has been the worst
for the people.
It is generally agreed that under Indonesian military occupation about 250,000 people
have died and every known form of human rights abuse has occurred . The population has
died from armed attack including bombing with explosive and napalm bombs, starvation
created partially as a result of state policy, and massacres, rape and torture of the
population. The word genocide has been widely used to describe the impact of the
Indonesian occupation in which about one third of the population have died. In this regard
armed attacks have been supplemented by a programme of transmigration and enforced birth
control of local women. These programmes have the effect of diluting the remaining
population of East Timorese in their own country.
During this time, Indonesia has ignored a total of 10 resolutions from the UN Security
Council and General Assembly as well as repeated requests to open the territory to
scrutiny by independent human rights monitoring groups.
2. THERE HAS BEEN NO GENUINE ACT OF SELF DETERMINATION. The UN Charter makes it clear
that the Timorese people have the right to self determination . This right is so
fundamental to the concepts of international law that it is described as
"inalienable". This has not yet been exercised. The International Court of
Justice at the Hague reaffirmed in 1995 that the Timorese people have an ,as yet
undischarged, right to self determination.
Indonesia has tried to claim that an "act of self determination" occurred in
early 1976 shortly after the invasion and military takeover. The Catholic Institute for
International Relations in the UK describes the fraudulent vote thus in a booklet they
published : " Following the invasion, on 31 May 1976 Indonesia appointed the
so-called Timorese People's Assembly. After meeting for two hours in Dili under military
supervision, this body approved a petition for the integration of East Timor into the
Indonesian state. This charade has never been internationally recognised. The United
Nations considers the 'People's Assembly' to have been an unrepresentative body acting
Personal testimonies also indicate that this was an invalid act conducted under duress.
For example we have been able to speak to a 'participant' in this act (who now lives in
Darwin, Australia) who described being forced by heavily armed Indonesian soldiers into a
jeep and taken to a hall in Dili (the capital) where he and about 100 other terrified
individuals were required to 'vote' to integrate with Indonesia .This vote of a tiny group
of people under duress could never constitute a valid act and has not been accepted by the
United Nations or any reputable authority.
Other East Timorese living in Australia have pointed out that no genuine act of self
determination could possibly have occurred at this time. José Gusmao - a Timorese living
in exile in Australia - has commented : " How could the people have possibly voted
for integration with Indonesia. At least two thirds of the people of East Timor, including
myself and my wife, had already fled to the mountains to escape the Indonesian army. How
could the population have voted in this case?"
It is clear to us that NO genuine act of self determination has occurred in East Timor,
despite Indonesia's protestations.
3. WHAT DO THE EAST TIMORESE PEOPLE REALLY WANT? - INTEGRATION WITH INDONESIA ? SELF
DETERMINATION ? INDEPENDENCE ? The opinion of our organisation (and I believe all
organisations who deal regularly with the East Timor issue in Australia) is that the vast
majority of the East Timorese people have an unequivocal wish to exercise their right to
self-determination and that the clear majority would opt for independence.
This opinion is consistent with substantial feedback from East Timorese and foreign
visitors to East Timor, and from feedback from the East Timorese exile community in
Australia, which is about 20,000 people.
Recently the different Timorese political groups in the diaspora have met in Lisbon and
united into the CNRT (the National Council of Timorese Resistance) with a common agreed
agenda to support self determination for East Timor. This has been coincident with a
series of meetings in Dili, East Timor involving community leaders, businessmen, students
and members of the public which have shown an overwhelming support for independence . They
are clearly dissatisfied with the current situation and wish to exercise their right to
In spite of difficulties in surveying opinions of East Timorese people in their
occupied home land there is a great deal of consistency in impressions reported by
returning visitors - that the percentage of people supporting independence is "over
90%" . Most recent reports from Timorese able to visit Australia have put support for
independence as high as 95% to 99% of the population. To deny these people an act of self
determination is to subjugate and repress their legitimate aspirations.
We believe that Indonesian intelligence also confirms a high degree of support for
independence in East Timor and that this is why Indonesia has so far refused to resolve
the issue of East Timor through an open referendum.
Surely if Indonesia believes its own claims (that the majority of the population of
East Timor support integration with Indonesia) they would be keen to demonstrate that to
the world (and close the issue) through a prompt referendum?
4. THE INCREASING WORLD AWARENESS OF THE INJUSTICE OF EAST TIMOR. Our organisation
believes that the just cause of the East Timorese people is being increasingly recognised
in international arenas - some recent examples:
* the winning of the Nobel Peace Prize by Bishop Carlos Ximenes Belo and Mr. José
* the initial statements by new UN Secretary General Mr. Kofi Annan such as that
"I will look at the situation of East Timor very critically and see if there is
something I can do to help the process forward"
* increased recognition and assistance to the East Timorese people from the Vatican
exemplified by the appointment of a second East Timorese bishop, Bishop Nascimento
* the statement by the Pope that "the Holy See together with the international
community, hopes that a prompt and truly just, globally and internationally accepted
solution will be found for the painful question of East Timor"
* the strong resolution adopted about human rights in Indonesia at the UNHRC meeting in
Geneva in 1997
* resolutions recently adopted by the European Union parliament,
* increased signs of interest and understanding about East Timor from within the US
* increasing signs of awareness of the issue and support for a just solution from
governments in Europe, Africa and Latin America (notably Brazil),
* the fact that Portugal won many more votes than Australia and was able to secure a
seat on the UN Security Council,
* the involvement of Nelson Mandela in seeking the release of the jailed East Timorese
leader Xanana Gusmao to enable him to participate in a dialogue to resolve the issue.
* the recent calls for the release of Xanana Gusmao or Timorese political prisoners by
Derek Fatchett (Foreign Minister of the Government of the United Kingdom),Alexander Downer
(Foreign Minister of the Australian Government), Chris Smith (Chairman of the House
Sub-Committee on Human Rights of the US Congress), Jacques Chirac (President of the French
Republic) and Kofi Annan (Secretary General of the United Nations) amongst others.
We believe these are all signs of an increasing world understanding of the fundamental
miscarriage of justice that has occurred in East Timor and an increased willingness to do
something about the problem. We ask the UN Decolonisation Committee to respond to these
changing circumstances and take effective action.
5. THE AUSTRALIAN GOVERNMENT ACCEPTS THAT THE EAST TIMORESE HAVE A CONTINUING RIGHT TO
The UN Decolonisation Committee may be aware that Australia is one of the few nations
to have given formal recognition to Indonesia's annexation of East Timor. We believe that
recognition is illegal and immoral and is not supported by the majority of the Australian
A public opinion poll conducted in 1995 in Australia showed that about 68 % of the
population wanted the Australian government to take stronger action over the East Timor
issue and 35% of the population felt that this stronger action should be taken even to the
detriment of Australian relations with Indonesia - which the Australian Government views
Therefore the former position taken by the Australian Government on this issue is not
reflective of the attitude of the majority of the Australian people . We also know that
many members of the government including politicians and bureaucrats are uncomfortable
with the official position and recognise that it is hypocritical, immoral and at odds with
However this position has also undergone some revision and redefinition over the last
few years. In 1995 (during the case at the International Court of Justice between Portugal
and Australia concerning the 'Timor Gap Treaty') the then Australian Foreign Minister
Gareth Evans clarified the Australian position.
He said that Australia recognised that Indonesia currently has sovereignty over East
Timor, but that the East Timorese people still have a right to self determination.
Evans said that this position was analogous to the view Australia had taken of
Portugal's previous position - that " Portugal had sovereignty over East Timor but
that the Timorese people continued to have an undischarged right to self
determination". So the Australian government now recognises the continuing rights of
the East Timorese people to self determination. This position has been confirmed in recent
communications with the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs.
Recently the Australian Prime Minister ,John Howard confirmed that Australia is now
encouraging self determination in East Timor. According to a report on the Australian
Broadcasting Corporation on 25/5/98:
'Mr. Howard says it is time for Indonesia to consider the East Timorese people's
demands for self determination. "We want movement by the Indonesians in relation to
East Timor and it remains now a major irritant to the rest of the world and legitimately
so" he said.
"It would obviously be to the increased reputation of the Indonesian Government
and it would obviously be well received if there were movements in that direction in East
So the Australian government acknowledges that no genuine act of self determination has
occurred and now accepts that the East Timorese people continue to have this right. The
Australian government position has now moved to a position supporting self determination
in East Timor.
6. THE NEED FOR THE UN TO BE EFFECTIVE. East Timor's decolonisation has been an issue
at the UN since 1960 (when it was considered a territory under Portugal's administration).
Instead of being able to go through a process of decolonisation and self determination it
has fallen into the control of a new coloniser - Indonesia. Since 1975 it has been under
the control of an exceptionally oppressive military occupation.
For the last 37 years, the UN has been considering the issue of the decolonisation of
East Timor. It is our opinion that the people desperately wish for self determination (and
almost certainly would choose independence). The UN Charter makes it clear that the East
Timorese people have the right to self determination- and yet lack of genuine will has
meant that this act has not occurred so far.
Therefore we ask the UN Decolonisation Committee to send a strong and unequivocal
message that international law must be respected in the case of East Timor and that a free
act of self determination must occur in the near future.
7. THE WORSENING SITUATION 'ON THE GROUND' IN EAST TIMOR - INDONESIA'S FAILING
Indonesia's dubious claim that the East Timorese have benefited from 'development'
under Indonesian occupation is now becoming even more untenable. Currently massive
inflation as a result of Indonesia's economic crisis is putting many basic commodities,
including food, out of the reach of most Timorese people.
In addition a combination of poor rains as a result of the 'El Nino' effect and
disruption of food production caused by Timorese still being forced off their land in some
regions to make way for Indonesia migrants has created an overall food shortage. This is
causing severe shortages in some areas and outright famine in pockets which is almost
certain to get much worse in the next months , as the 'dry' season continues. The food
supply problem is exacerbated by failures of distribution of some food aid that has
arrived (some sent as aid has reportedly been allowed to spoil) and obstacles imposed by
the Indonesian military who control the province. This obstruction is detrimental to the
effective functioning of NGO and Church organisations who would be willing to do more in
East Timor if they could operate more freely. The net effect of the Indonesian military
presence is to hinder both internal East Timorese endeavours and external Government, NGO
and Church assistance towards food supply and health care in East Timor making these much
less effective .
Credible reports indicate that the already poor health situation (consistently
extremely bad, even by Third World standards) is worsening precipitously mainly due to the
worsening nutrition level of the population. Diseases such as TB (where malnutrition is a
key factor) are reportedly reaching epidemic proportions.
Meanwhile the military presence was actually increased in East Timor by more than 5,000
extra troops in early 1998 , presumably to suppress any reaction by the people to these
worsening conditions. This resulted in an even more repressive environment in which severe
human rights violations were frequent. The combination of above factors as well as the
ongoing migration from Indonesia and the enforced contraception that has occurred in East
Timor have caused a number of credible observers to suggest that Indonesia still sees the
genocide of the East Timorese people as a solution for this troubled province.
Exploitation of oil in the 'Timor Gap' (between Australia and East Timor) will
effectively commence soon - with oil flowing in late 1998. This immoral treaty (the 'Timor
Gap Treaty') will soon allow a proportion of profits to be distributed to the Government
of Indonesia and its main backer in this occupation - Australia. The Timorese people - the
rightful owners - will receive little or nothing. The failure of institutions such as the
United Nations to be effective over the years has allowed this unjust exploitation to go
ahead. This will effectively mean that East Timorese resources are being stolen by the
occupying country, at a time when the economic circumstances in the territory are at their
most desperate. This injustice can only be resolved by granting the East Timorese people
their 'inalienable right to self determination'. Then the ownership and rights over
resources can be legitimately resolved.
Therefore the continuing Indonesian occupation of East Timor is not only unpopular as
well as immoral and illegal - it is an occupation that is directly and severely hindering
the well-being of the people of East Timor. The serious health and food supply problems
may soon threaten the lives of much of the East Timorese population. Indonesia's
decreasing ability to help at all with the needs of the Timorese people means that it is
more important than ever that foreign NGOs should be able to operate there and therefore
the UN should put strong pressure on Indonesia to allow them to do so freely.
If the UN fails to take effective steps and fails to push effectively for a prompt
resolution of this issue, it should share in responsibility for the outcome.
THE AUSTRALIAN COALITION FOR EAST TIMOR -'ACET'. June, 98.
ACET is the Australian Coalition of East Timor solidarity groups . These groups are:
The 'Australia East Timor Association' in New South Wales East Timor Justice Lobby, NSW
Lismore Friends of East Timor, NSW Campaign for an Independent East Timor, Canberra, ACT
Australia East Timor Association, Victoria , (including branches in Melbourne, Geelong,
Central Victoria, Warrnambool and Mildura) Australians For a Free East Timor, Victoria
Campaign for an Independent East Timor, South Australia Friends of East Timor, Western
Australia Australians For a Free East Timor, Darwin, Northern Territory Friends of East
Timor, Alice Springs, Northern Territory
Return to UN Petitions list