Presentation to the U.N. decolonization committee  July 1, 1998


Mr. Chairman, distinguished members of the Committee, my name is Matthew Traub, and I am here today on behalf of United States Congresswoman Nita M. Lowey, who represents the 18th Congressional District of New York.

I want to first apologize that Congresswoman Lowey was not able to appear today in person, and to express her gratitude to you for allowing me to testify in her stead.

Congresswoman Lowey was first elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1988, and has served on the House Appropriations Committee and that Committee's Foreign Operations Subcommittee since 1993. She has been actively engaged in the effort to end the Indonesian occupation of East Timor since being elected to Congress.

On behalf of Congresswoman Lowey, I want to thank this Committee for its work to bring the principles of democracy and self-rule to the people of the world. This Committee has the responsibility to implement the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples. In that capacity, you have one of the most important, hopeful, and solemn jobs in the world. To give people the right to determine their political future is a gift beyond that for which most of us could ever hope to be responsible. I thank you for the work you do.

As you know, the Declaration states that "immediate steps shall be taken... to transfer all powers to the people of those territories [remaining under colonial rule], without any conditions or reservations, in accordance with their freely expressed will and desire."

But the people of East Timor have lived for 22 years under a repressive regime that has ignored this principle and other fundamental principles of democracy, human rights, and international law. The situation in East Timor is unacceptable, and it is long past time that these immediate steps shall be taken."

Although the media has reported several recent statements by Indonesian President B. J. Habibie indicating his willingness to discuss some level of autonomy for East Timor, President Habibie's short tenure in office has been marked by about-faces, ambiguous policy pronouncements, and allusions to positive change unaccompanied by action.

President Habibie has discussed releasing political prisoners, but has only released a few of the several hundred East Timorese being held in Indonesian jails, military bases, and police stations. And he has refused thus far to release Xanana Gusmao, the leader of the East Timorese resistance unless the international community accepts Indonesia's illegal control of East Timor. This, too, is unacceptable.

And perhaps most troubling of all, in recent days Indonesian authorities seem to be reversing their short-lived tolerance of free speech in East Timor in favor of a return to military repression and violence against East Timorese protestors.

Mr. Chairman, we cannot allow ourselves to be duped by softened words and ambiguous tones coming out of Jakarta. They have in the past, and will in the future, only lead to a reversion to repression and violence against the people of East Timor. To effect real and lasting change, we must demand selfdetermination for the people of East Timor through an internationally supervised referendum.

The United States Foreign Aid bill for the current fiscal year included several provisions relating to East Timor. It contained an unprecedented requirement that any sale of weapons from the United States to Indonesia must include the stated expectation that the weapons will not be used in East Timor. But there was also a provision in the bill supporting "international efforts to find a just and viable solution to the problems in East Timor." Thus, the Congress of the United States supports the efforts of this Committee.

In addition, Congresswoman Lowey has introduced a resolution in the House of Representatives, and a similar resolution has been introduced in the United States Senate by Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, in support of an internationally supervised referendum to determine the political status of East Timor.

This resolution, House Concurrent Resolution 258, currently has 55 cosponsors, including Democratic and Republican members of the House International Relations Committee and the House Appropriations Committee. In fact, the four original sponsors of the resolution are members of both parties and both committees.

H.Con.Res. 258 states very clearly and forcefully that after 22 years of illegal occupation by Indonesia, 200,000 murdered or starved East Timorese, eight United Nations General Assembly and two United Nations Security Council resolutions, the 1991 Dili massacre that claimed the lives of hundreds of innocent demonstrators, and the awarding of the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize to Bishop Belo and José Ramos-Horta, it is time for a change in East Timor. It is time for the people of East Timor to determine their political future.

Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee, Congresswoman Lowey, along with many other members of the United States House of Representatives and the United States Senate, has devoted an enormous amount of her time and energy in Congress to the cause of East Timor. She believes very strongly that the United States and the international community has a right and a responsibility to demand that Indonesia end its occupation of East Timor and give the people of East Timor the inalienable right of selfdetermination.

She stands ready to assist you in any way possible to achieve this most critical goal.

Thank you for the work you are doing in this regard, and thank you for the opportunity to be heard today.

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