Catholic Institute for International Relations’ Statement to the United Nations Special Committee on the Situation with regard to the Implementation of the Declaration of the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples.

New York, June 1998

Mr Chairman and Honourable members,

The Catholic Institute of International Relations (CIIR) welcomes the opportunity to address this committee on the subject of East Timor at a time when hopes are high that movement towards decolonisation might finally be achieved. CIIR has monitored the situation inside East Timor for over two decades, and has visited East Timor regularly since 1990. We are involved in coordination of a large network of Christian organisations and churches which relate to the churches in East Timor, and support development work inside East Timor as well as advocacy at an international level.

As a new chapter opens for Indonesia, it is our hope that President Habibie’s government will be willing and able to tune in to the expressed aspirations of the majority of the East Timorese people, who have in recent weeks very clearly demonstrated their aspirations to the world, both in Indonesia and in East Timor. We remind those present of UN resolution no. 37/30 of 1982, which calls on this committee actively to assist the UN Secretary-General with a view to realising self-determination in East Timor, and of UN Security Council resolutions 384 and 389, which provide additional background to the right to self-determination.

The East Timorese people are entitled to basic human rights, including freedom of expression, and we therefore condemn the violence which was used to break up peaceful demonstrations by East Timorese in Jakarta in June.

The present moment offers the government of Indonesia the chance to demonstrate a commitment to human rights standards. It is to be hoped that statements it has made regarding the ratification of the UN Convention on Torture are evidence of such a commitment. We hope therefore that the frequent reports of torture in East Timor and Indonesia will soon belong to the past, and that arbitrary killings such as the one this month of Herman das Dores Soares will cease. We trust that, given the new commitment to an end to torture, Indonesia will not hesitate any further in inviting the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture to visit East Timor, as promised in the Consensus statement at the UN Commission on Human Rights in 1996.

We urge Indonesia to release all East Timorese political prisoners. Although sixteen East Timorese prisoners have been released, which we welcome, we note that there are many hundreds more languishing in Indonesian prisons for expressing of their political beliefs. We appeal to the Indonesian authorities to release these prisoners too.

We particularly appeal to the Government of Indonesia to release Xanana Gusmao, respected leader of the East Timorese resistance. Xanana Gusmao is central to a negotiated peace with Indonesia. He should be freed to take his place at the negotiating table as soon as possible.

Recent history in our own islands has shown us how, with a will to succeed, and with determined leadership, the people of Northern Ireland, were able to vote for peace. East Timorese people crave the democratic space to do the same. We appeal to the Government of Indonesia to begin working towards organising, in the next few years an internationally supervised referendum in which East Timorese people can be consulted legitimately about their future. Once achieved, East Timor will be able to begin to reconstruct.

We call on world powers, particularly the United States, the European Union and Japan to acknowledge the legitimate aspirations of the East Timorese, and to find ways of helping them to achieve them. For the majority of East Timorese the ‘autonomy’ suggested up to now by President Habibie is no solution. On the contrary, it is a situation which will merely perpetuate human rights abuse and underdevelopment. East Timor’s problems cannot be addressed piecemeal. Sound development policies are dependent on peace and human rights. Peace and human rights will not be achieved while the army of occupation remains, and the people are not free to determine their future.

We would urge the international community not to support ‘solutions’ that are not solutions at all. We appeal to all governments to abide by UN resolutions. We call on the European Union to abide by the Common Position on East Timor as agreed in 1996.

We would call attention to recent statements made by Bishop Belo of Dili that have highlighted the need for the East Timorese eventually to be consulted directly regarding integration with or independence from Indonesia. He also called for demilitarisation of East Timor, and for Xanana Gusmao to be released in order to facilitate peace talks. The Bishop has called for the peace talks, notably the All Intra-East Timorese Dialogue to be made more inclusive, bringing in a wider cross-section of interlocutors from outside East Timor, as well as pro- and anti-integration forces inside. There should be dialogue between Indonesians and East Timorese. East Timorese have so far been prevented from discussing political questions even within the ambit of the All Inclusive intra-East Timorese Dialogue, which has no status vis-a-vis the official negotiations between Portugal and Indonesia under UN auspices. This prohibition should be lifted. We appeal to the government of Indonesia to pay greater attention to the views expressed by the leader of the East Timorese Catholic church. Bishop Belo is a central partner in any collaboration which will bring about a peaceful settlement in East Timor.

Mr Chairman, committee members, ladies and gentlemen, Peace is possible in East Timor, and 1998 brings with it greater potential than many years in the past. With a little more determined and carefully coordinated action, well-targeted pressure and good will such a goal may yet be achieved, bringing to an end the killings, torture, rape and disappearances. It is time for peace and justice for East Timor. Let us not delay any longer.

CIIR London, England

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