Statement by East Timor Alert Network/Canada to to the United Nations Special Committee on the Situation with Regard to the Implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples

Presented by Rev. Max Surjadinata, July 1998

Mr Chairman, members of the committee, thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today.

We are meeting at a time of great change in Indonesia. There has been an opening up of political space and some increase in freedom. Not many of these changes, however, have been seen in East Timor. What has been seen there, however, is the severe impact of Indonesia's financial crisis, combined with the social and economic damage created by years of Indonesian occupation.

I would like to read some excerpts from a report by two Canadians who visited East Timor late last year.

"We witnessed many instances of poor health, including many cases of wasting, perhaps from malnutrition, perhaps worms. We were told later by foreign relief workers that TB and malaria are grave health problems in East Timor, at this time. We saw a variety of skin disorders, on people of all ages.

"We noticed the omnipresence of security forces in all the areas we visited.Compounds brimming with uniformed, often armed men with serious faces. These soldiers were obviously not of the ethnicity most of the people we saw on the street. As our trip progressed we were struck by the sheer numbers of military and police almost everywhere we went. Military vehicles, paddy wagons, trucks full of armed troops, trucks full of riot cops, one truck loaded with armed soldiers wearing balaclavas

"[A Timorese contact] impressed upon us over and over again the growing needs of the people. The delayed rains had caused a failure of the crops, and there was fear that food shortages would become more critical, especially as food prices skyrocketed due to the falling rupiah.

"We asked our friend "what can people do if they have no rice, no food?" We expected to hear about some kind of relief efforts whether from the Church, the Red Cross etc.

"Instead he told us that they chop down a particular type of indigenous tree or get a piece of wood and then he began elaborating about various cooking methods for tree bark and sap that the Timorese employ. We later learned that the food from this tree provides little nutritional value and is very energy-consuming to prepare.

"We made a short visit to an aid agency. The aid worker outlined the urgent conditions of many East Timorese -- TB,malaria, lack of medical supplies, lack of food, all compounded by the difficulty of obtaining aid from outside.

"He also told us about the violence inflicted upon students at the University of East Timor (Untim) protest last November. Many were shot, he said.

"He told us there are ongoing incidences of women being "bothered". He didn't use the word rape, but he definitely meant it. He said the only way to ensure safety from such violations is to "pay money to the Indonesian soldiers."

"The aid worker also told us that many Timorese youth are dropping out of high school. The classroom environment is oppressive -- students are taught in Bahasa Indonesia and are taught lies. Also, many students leave school early to work.

"He said that the students who stay in school are pressured to act as informers against their classmates who might be politically active.

"We asked the aid worker to outline villages that are in particular need.

They mentioned Atauro Island, Cassa and Hatuda villages in Ainaro regency; several villages in the Lospalos area are near starvation. There were more.It was clear that there is widespread hunger in East Timor."

More recent testimony suggests that conditions have only worsened. It is abundantly clear that the East Timorese are suffering severely from a combination of political repression and social mismanagement, and that conditions under the Indonesian regime of occupation cannot be expected to improve. These conditions of repression, poverty and hunger co-exist with open and frequent violations of human rights, including arbitrary arrest, torture, "disappearance" and extrajudicial execution. We will not attempt to list all the reports of these incidents over the past year but the documentation from reliable sources is extensive. We know that there has been some easing of tension since Suharto's resignation, but we are aware of at least one instance of an apparently arbitrary arrest since the change of government in Indonesia -- on June 12, Jose da Costa, also known as Mau'Huno, was arrested in Dili for no known reason. Worse, on June 16, a young man, Herman Dasdores, was shot dead by two soldiers, with apparently no provocation on his part -- he is said to have been loading firewood into his truck at the time. Mr Dasdores is a relative of Bella Galhos, one of three Timorese living in Canada. We are profoundly angered by his death, and afraid that terror tactics in East Timor could easily make a widespread return.

The changes in Indonesia have opened up many possibilities for East Timor, but so far the new Indonesian government has remained almost as inflexible as the last. The offer of "special status" has been essentially meaningless; it would be, as it is in Aceh and Yogyakarta, no more than symbolic, and a far cry from the self-determination which the East Timorese demand, and which is their right.

A peaceful demonstration of East Timorese, and some Indonesian supporters, in Jakarta, was violently broken up by security forces. This is no way to move towards a peaceful solution.

We are pleased that a few East Timorese prisoners have been released, and charges dropped against the students involved in a demonstration at the University of East Timor last November. However, many more remain in prison on political charges, some of them clearly prisoners of conscience.

The Canadian Foreign Minister, Lloyd Axworthy, has, since Suharto's resignation, called for the release of all political prisoners, including East Timorese leader Xanana Gusmao. The East Timor Alert Network joins in that call, along with many other Canadian organizations and individuals -- including the National Action Committee on the Status of Women and the Canadian Labour Congress.

Xanana Gusmao should be immediately, unconditionally released, and he should be able to take his proper place as the representative of East Timor in the UN-sponsored talks between Indonesia and Portugal.

Indonesian President Suharto visited Canada in November of 1997, six months before his resignation, and Canadians needed no introduction. Protests from coast to coast focussed primarily on the issue of East Timor, and demonstrated that Canadian awareness of and support for East Timor has grown. The Canadian Labour Congress; many of their affiliated national unions; the National Action Committee on the Status of Women; the Council of Canadians; the Canadian Federation of Students; and the New Democratic Party were among the many groups who spoke out in support of the people of East Timor.

Many Canadian organizations and individuals have also called for a free and fair referendum on the status of East Timor. There could be no better time than now, when Indonesia is trying to move towards democracy. If the new government is serious, they will also extend the basic democratic right of self-determination -- of a referendum on their own future -- to the East Timorese.

As a means of building confidence and preparing the way for such a peaceful and democratic solution, there should be immediate and extensive Indonesian troops withdrawals, and the Indonesian government should agree to an internationally supervised ceasefire, an option which many East Timorese are already supporting and putting forward.

An East Timorese who spoke to the two Canadian visitors told them, "The more they [the Indonesians] stay, the more we hate them. The civilised people of the world are on our side. We will never accept the Indonesians. We never wanted them in the first place." This man, and others like him, will continue to insist that they have the right to determine their own future.

In the name of the most basic human rights, ETAN/Canada supports the East Timorese in this demand.

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