UN Press Release July 2, 1998 afternoon hearing on East Timor


Hearing of Petitioners Concluded; Most Say Large Majority of People in Territory Favour Independence

As the Special Committee on the Situation with regard to the Implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples concluded its hearing of petitions on the question of East Timor this afternoon, it was told that serious issues remained about whether the spirit of reform sweeping Indonesia would include a willingness to take a fresh look at the Territory.

Christopher Smith, Chairman of the Subcommittee on International Operations and Human Rights of the Committee on International Relations of the United States House of Representatives, in a statement presented on his behalf, said that while it was not necessary to decide in advance what was appropriate for the Territory, it was important that the decision be taken by the East Timorese through a fair and transparent process. If the vast majority were happy being part of Indonesia, then officials of that country had nothing to fear. On the other hand, if the majority still opposed Indonesian rule, then there was little to be gained by Indonesia's continued military presence.

Eliot Hoffman, of the Australian Coalition for East Timor, said that most reports from Timorese people visiting Australia had put support for independence as high as 95 to 99 per cent of the population. To deny the people an act of self-determination was to subjugate and repress their legitimate aspirations. If the Indonesian Government believed its own claims that the majority of East Timorese supported integration with Indonesia, it would be keen to demonstrate that to the world through a prompt referendum.

Constancio Dias Pinto, of the National Resistance of East Timorese Students, said that more than 250,000 people had been killed as a direct result of Indonesia's invasion. After 23 years of illegal occupation, the Indonesian Government argued that the Timorese were happy because infrastructure had been developed. If that was true, the people of Poland and Austria would have accepted Nazi Germany's annexation because of the roads that had been built.

Frank Fitzgerald, of the East Timor-Ireland Solidarity Campaign, called on the Indonesian Government to become the new republic which respected the wishes of its neighbours and its own citizens; cherished the rule of law; sought compromise; and listened to voices of an imperfect world that called for justice and peace. It must honour the voices calling for the Timorese to be a part of the solution.

The Committee also heard statements from the representatives of Brazil and Portugal, as well as petitions from a Member of Parliament of the Communist Party of Portugal; representatives of Human Rights Watch/Asia; the Catholic Institute for International Relations; the Japanese Catholic Council for Justice and Peace; the Dean of the Faculty of Agriculture, University of East Timor; and the representatives of Forum Nusantara, the Indonesian Students Association, and the East Timor International Support Centre of Darwin, Australia.

Also this afternoon, the representatives of Indonesia and Portugal spoke in exercise of the right of reply.

The Committee will meet again on Monday to begin consideration of the questions of the Falkland Islands (Malvinas) and New Caledonia.

Committee Work Programme

The Special Committee on the Situation with regard to the Implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples met this afternoon to conclude its hearing of petitioners on the question of East Timor. Before the Committee were two Secretariat working papers on East Timor (documents A/AC.109/2111 and Add.1).

BRUNO RODRIGUEZ PARILLA (Cuba), Acting Chairman, said that before continuing the hearings on the question of East Timor, the representative of Brazil would make a statement on behalf of the Community of Portuguese- Speaking Countries.



CELSO AMORIM (Brazil) referred to the adoption of the Final Declaration of the Council of Ministers of the Community held in Salvador, in Brazil's Bahia State, on 18 July 1997, which had been circulated as document A/51/954. Paragraph 8 of that Declaration, which welcomed the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Bishop Ximenes Belo and Jose Ramos-Horta, reaffirmed the support of the Community countries for the self-determination of the Timorese people. It defended an internationally acceptable solution to the question of East Timor, in full respect for the legitimate rights and aspirations of its population and in conformity with international law.

He said that President Fernando Henrique Cardoso of Brazil recently sent a message to Indonesia's President Habibie acknowledging the important steps he had taken to reduce tensions in his country, and expressing confidence in the positive impact such measures could have on the Timor issue. On the same occasion, President Cardoso had supported the resumption of negotiations between Portugal and Indonesia under the auspices of the Secretary-General, while manifesting keen interest in the fate of the people to whom Brazil remained strongly linked.

During today's discussions, the Brazilian delegation wished to continue placing emphasis on the new opportunities for peace and understanding which had come into being in recent weeks, he said. Many hurdles must still be overcome, and Brazil would remain attentive regarding such aspects as the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms in East Timor. The liberation of additional political prisoners, in particular, would continue to be eagerly awaited. At the same time, Brazil could not fail to deplore repressive acts which had tarnished the positive trend of the past few weeks.

As conditions continued to improve for a fruitful dialogue -- which must necessarily involve representatives of the people of East Timor -- the Community would be ready to contribute in the furthering of the aforementioned objectives.

JOAO CORREGEDOR DA FONSECA, of the Parliamentary Group of the Portuguese Communist Party, said that after 1974 decolonization, together with democracy and development, constituted the three "Ds" in the new democratic Portugal. Throughout 1975, the former colonies of Angola, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique and Sao Tome and Principe gained full independence. That was not the case with East Timor, where the decolonization process was interrupted by Indonesia's invasion in December 1975. Since then, the people of East Timor had been defenceless victims of the Indonesian army, which assassinated over a third of the population and maintained ongoing violence against a peaceful nation that sought its legitimate right to freely choose its destiny.

He said Portugal has never had, nor does it now have, any territorial interest in East Timor. Its sole aim was to conclude the decolonization process in the Territory, and create the necessary conditions for self- determination and independence to which the East Timorese aspired. A fair solution to that situation had to consider the withdrawal of the invading forces, the defence of the right to self-determination and independence, the demand for the unconditional release of Xanana Gusmao and all political prisoners, and the preservation of the cultural and religious identity of East Timor. He defended the efforts being undertaken by the United Nations to resolve the question and cautioned against Indonesia's most recent proposals which would essentially block any negotiations.

TOM KELLOG, of Human Rights Watch, said free elections had never taken place in East Timor, and it was not clear what the outcome would be if political parties representing different views on East Timor's political future were established, with their members able to campaign without intimidation from Government or guerrillas.

He disagreed with Indonesian Foreign Minister Ali Alatas, who had stated that if a referendum were held, it would only divide the East Timorese people between pro-integration and anti-integration forces. It was difficult to understand how the East Timorese people could be any more divided than under the policies pursued by the Suharto Government of creating paramilitary groups, anti-independence organizations and internal surveillance networks that led to serious human rights violations and served to pit East Timorese against each other. Regrettably, those practices continued even after Suharto's downfall.

In the first few weeks of his administration, President Habibie had announced the release of several well-known political prisoners, he said. On human rights grounds, and in the interests of resolving the political issues that underlay the human rights problems, the releases of East Timorese political prisoners must continue. The release of Xanana Gusmao was key in that regard, but the Indonesian Foreign Minister had stated publicly that he was a "hardened criminal" and would be released only in the context of an overall political settlement.

The Indonesian army's policy of trying to weaken support for the independence movement by organizing pro-government paramilitary units and gangs of East Timorese and youth from Indonesia had not changed since the fall of Suharto, he said, and it continued to exacerbate the human rights situation. That was not to suggest that the independence supporters were wholly peaceful themselves, or that no genuinely held feelings of opposition to the independence movement existed. However, there was a clear pattern of government-organized opposition to the anti-integrationists that had only served to heighten the political conflict.

President Habibie had pledged to gradually reduce the Indonesian troop presence in East Timor. That reduction was key to reducing human rights violations as well. The Indonesian Government had made some welcome gestures in the last few weeks, and it should be encouraged to go further.

Sister MARY TERESA PLANTE, of the Catholic Institute for International Relations, said it was hoped that statements by the Indonesian Government regarding ratification of the United Nations Convention on Torture were evidence of a commitment to human rights standards. It was hoped, therefore, that frequent reports of torture in East Timor and Indonesia would soon belong to the past, that arbitrary killings would cease, and that Indonesia would no longer hesitate to invite the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture to visit East Timor, as promised in the Consensus Statement at the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in 1996.

For the majority of East Timorese, the "autonomy" suggested by President Habibie was no solution, she said. On the contrary, it would merely perpetuate human rights abuses and underdevelopment. Sound development policies were dependent on peace and human rights, which would not be achieved while the army of occupation remained and the people were not free to determine their future.

She said that East Timorese had so far been prevented from discussing political questions, even those within the ambit of the Intra-Timorese Dialogue, which had no status vis-à-vis the official negotiations between Portugal and Indonesia under United Nations auspices. That prohibition should be lifted.

Sister MARY TERESA PLANTE, speaking for the Japanese Catholic Council for Justice and Peace, said that the Council recognized in the reform introduced by President Habibie the power of truth and justice nurtured in the people of Indonesia, and of his restraint under a government that had ignored international standards. It asked him to apply the same good judgement and mode of action to the resolution of the East Timorese question.

She called for the implementation of the United Nations resolutions of 1975 and 1976 demanding the immediate withdrawal of Indonesian troops from East Timor and those calling for the self-determination of the Territory, passed by the General Assembly on eight occasions.

The report that "Indonesia's President today offered to release imprisoned East Timor rebel leader Jose Xanana Gusmao in return for world recognition of Indonesian sovereignty over the disputed territory", was abusive language, she said. The Council strongly called for the release of Xanana Gusmao, whose presence was indispensable for the solution of the problem and the release of all other political prisoners. Of special concern was the safety of Avelino da Silva and the five others who had sought refuge in the Australian Embassy.

FILOMENO DE JESUS HORNAY, Dean of the Faculty of Agriculture at the University of East Timor, told the members of the Special Committee not to allow themselves to be deceived by the non-governmental organizations (NGOs), former members of the Revolutionary Front for the Independence of East Timor (FRETILIN), and the former colonial Power as they continued the campaign to divide the East Timorese people. The people of the Territory took pride in the fact that they had managed to decolonize themselves after being abandoned by a ruthless colonial regime. East Timorese were also proud of the fact that they would not allow themselves to be dictated to by FRETILIN, despite killings and other violent actions by that entity. Independence through integration with Indonesia was a choice they had made willingly. Today, the issue of East Timor was once more being used as a political agenda by Ramos Horta and his supporters.

He said accusations that nearly 200,000 East Timorese were killed by Indonesia were false. The figure was simply used as propaganda tool to discredit that country. The fact that it was said over and over again did not make it true. However, the thousands of people who had fled the rule of FRETILIN into the mountains and were never seen again was not taken into consideration. In addition, thousands more ran away to Australia, Portugal and other parts of the world. Those were the recorded facts. The National Council for the East Timorese Resistance did not have the right to be involved in the dialogue under the auspices of the United Nations because they did not represent the majority of East Timorese. The world was not aware that there was a silent majority in East Timor that wanted to maintain a peaceful and stable East Timor and did not incite violence to make their wishes known.

He said the referendum was an impossibility. East Timorese had already made a choice to become independent in 1976, when the majority chose self- determination through integration with Indonesia. The referendum, therefore, was not a final objective. The goal was to build a more prosperous and peaceful East Timor. It was now an opportune moment for all East Timorese to be reconciled, to put aside differences and seize the momentum offered by the current reform climate of Indonesia.

SOERNARTO ATMODJO, of Forum Nusantara, said the question of East Timor had long been the subject of a campaign of misinformation by the ousted members of the FRETILIN, as well as groups that had no knowledge of Indonesia and East Timor. That was reflected in the allegations contained in their testimony, which was part of an overall and well-planned strategy to mislead the members of the Special Committee.

He said certain facts had to be considered. Portugal's act of abandonment in 1975 deprived her of rights of claim to the territory. The people in East Timor had advanced as a part of Indonesia. As far as human rights were concerned, it was unfortunate that we lived in an imperfect world where there were human rights violations -- committed by all countries. There had been preposterous allegations about genocide in Indonesia. The Government of Indonesia and its armed forces were not in the business of genocide.

He appealed to the Committee to hear "the resounding call of the East Timorese people" that they had already exercised their right to self- determination and independence, in their aspirations to be Indonesian citizens.

ELIOT HOFFMAN, of the Australian Coalition for East Timor, said that in spite of difficulties in surveying opinions of East Timorese people in their occupied homeland, most reports from Timorese able to visit Australia had put support for independence as high as 95 to 99 per cent of the population. To deny the people an act of self-determination was to subjugate and repress their legitimate aspirations. If the Indonesian Government believed its own claims that the majority of East Timorese supported integration with Indonesia, it would be keen to demonstrate that to the world through a prompt referendum.

He said that exploitation of oil in the "Timor Gap" would effectively commence soon, with oil flowing in late 1998. The "immoral" Timor Gap Treaty would soon allow a proportion of profits to be distributed to the Government of Indonesia and to Australia, its main backer in the occupation of East Timor. The Timorese people -- the rightful owners -- would receive little or nothing. The failure of such institutions as the United Nations to be effective over the years had allowed that unjust exploitation to go ahead. That injustice could be resolved only by granting the East Timorese people their inalienable right to self-determination. The ownership and rights over resources could then be legitimately resolved.

FRANK FITZGERALD, of the East Timor-Ireland Solidarity Campaign, said that there were many who, by inducement, threat, or personal gain, would speak of roads and schools built and of telephone lines established. They would attempt, in some way, to legitimize the terrible suffering that had been inflicted on the East Timorese. They would also attempt to legitimize a callous disregard for international law and say that the majority of Timorese were reconciled to the integration of East Timor into Indonesia. They had the right to be heard, but also the obligation to be challenged. At this point in time, however, the hand of friendship must be held out to those who served their Indonesian overlords, and the Indonesian military itself.

He said Indonesia was now at the crossroads. His Campaign called on its Government to become the new republic which respected the wishes of its neighbours and its own citizens; which cherished and held dear the rule of law; which sought compromise rather than confrontation; and which listened to voices from all over "this imperfect world of ours" that called for justice and peace. It needed to become a republic that wanted neither victor nor vanquished, but one which before it could take its rightful place among the nations of the world, needed to send clear and unequivocal signals that it heeded the voices calling for an end to violence. Also, it must honour the voices that called for the Timorese to be a part of the solution. The people of Timor should not sit while other nations decided their future.

AHMAD Z. HADI WAYARABI, of the Indonesian Students' Association, said there were two sides to every story, and that open and constructive dialogue was useful in clarifying and resolving any issue. His Association was committed to promoting and protecting human rights and even more so in light of the reform process which had just begun in Indonesia. It was not constructive for Indonesians and East Timorese to bear the brunt of a barrage of criticisms. Indonesia was a multi-ethnic country that tried to ensure that none of its citizens were favoured over others and, as a result, it continued to work on creating a conducive attitude for the promotion of human rights.

He said it should be noted that a few years ago a National Commission on Human Rights was established in Jakarta which had now spread to other provinces including East Timor. That Commission had been praised by international organizations. His Association was also very enthusiastic over the National Action Plan on Human Rights that was launched recently in line with relevant Vienna standards. Indonesia had been the target of unfair censure and publicity. That country, with its heritage of Dutch colonialism, and East Timor, with its history of Portuguese colonialism, both fully understood the meaning of human rights. Indonesia was East Timor and East Timor was Indonesia.

In a statement read on his behalf by Grover Joseph Rees, CHRISTOPHER SMITH, of the Subcommittee on International Operations and Human Rights of the Committee on International Relations, United States House of Representatives, said this was a moment of great opportunity in Indonesia. For the first time in many years, it appeared that there was a real chance for a speedy and peaceful transition to government of, by, and for the people. Unfortunately, serious questions remained about whether the spirit of reform that was sweeping Indonesia would include a willingness on the part of high government officials to take a fresh look at the question of East Timor.

It was not necessary to decide in advance whether independence, integration or some intermediate status was the appropriate resolution of the question of East Timor, he said. What was most important was that the decision be taken by the people of East Timor themselves, under a process which everyone -- Indonesia, the United Nations and other concerned international observers, and East Timorese of all persuasions -- regarded as fair and transparent. If, as some Indonesian officials maintained, the vast majority of East Timorese were happy being part of Indonesia, then those officials had nothing to fear from a process designed to test that sentiment. If, on the other hand, the majority of East Timorese still opposed Indonesian rule, then Indonesia had little to gain by continuing its military presence there.

He said the Government of Indonesia could take two steps immediately that would pave the way for a negotiating process animated by mutual understanding and a desire for peace and conciliation. First, it should heed the call for substantial demilitarization of East Timor. Second, it should extend its recent and most welcome decision to free 16 East Timorese political prisoners, including all those connected with pro-independence activities, and including Xanana Gusmao.

JOHN MILLER, of the East Timor International Support Centre of Darwin, Australia, said that while it was true that East Timor was not a rich country, it did have sufficient resources to be viable and self-reliant. The most notable resources were oil and gas, but there was also a coffee crop, sandalwood, marble and some reserves of silver and manganese. Tourism and fishing could be developed further.

Another matter of concern was East Timor's human resources, he said. The Indonesian education system seemed to have been of poor quality and encouraged a "rote learning" approach. The occupation had made free speech and discussion difficult, repressing individual thinking and initiative. Technical education was generally poor -- although there were now growing numbers of Timorese with the professional training that would be needed in an independent country.

Against that was the capacity and tenacity the Timorese had shown to survive in conditions of hardship and adversity and to find solutions that worked, he said. There was little doubt that over time and with some help, the Timorese population would develop the skills to be effectively self- reliant. East Timor currently drew quite a high level of international interest and support. Relatively small inputs from some governments and non-governmental organizations around the world could raise the level of skills and capacity in a relatively short time and with a relatively small investment.

CONSTANCIO DIAS PINTO, of the National Resistance of East Timorese Students RENETIL, said that in 1975, at the age of 12 years, as a result of the brutal Indonesian invasion of East Timor, he fled into the mountains with his parents. In 1979, after three years in the jungle where he was an eyewitness to thousands of killings by Indonesia, he was arrested and sent to a concentration camp. In 1991, he was rearrested by the Indonesian security forces and sent to prison where he was beaten continually over a period of 17 hours. The torture was beyond human understanding. In November 1991, he escaped from jail and subsequently helped to organize the peaceful demonstration on 12 November 1991, in Dili, East Timor. Unfortunately, at least 271 people were massacred by the Indonesian soldiers that day. Seven years had elapsed and the perpetrators had still not been held accountable.

He said before the Indonesian invasion, the population of East Timor was 750,000 people. Unfortunately, over 250,000 people had been killed as a direct result of the invasion. If the genocide in East Timor was compared to that of Nazi Germany, Pol Pot's Cambodia, Bosnia or Rwanda, it would be one of the worst in the twentieth century. The question of East Timor was one of violation of the fundamental right to self-determination by the people of East Timor. It was unquestionable that Indonesia's invasion of the Territory was a violation of international law. After 23 years of illegal occupation, the Indonesian Government argued that the people of East Timor were happy because infrastructures such as hospitals and roads had been developed. If that were true, the people of Poland and Austria would have accepted the annexation by Nazi Germany because of the roads that had been built for them.

He said his organization welcomed the President of Indonesia's offer of a special status for East Timor and the reduction of the military presence in the Territory. The RENETIL reiterated that any political solution for the question should be discussed with the National Council for East Timorese Assistance (CNRT) and should be the result of the freely-expressed wishes of the East Timorese through a democratic process that was impartially conducted and based on universal adult suffrage. His organization also urged the United Nations to: establish a human rights office in East Timor; establish a fact-finding mission to investigate the killings; request the withdrawal of the Indonesian military from the Territory; request the unconditional release of Xanana Gusmao and all political prisoners; and call for the participation of the CNRT in the dialogue under the auspices of the United Nations.

FERNANDO NEVES (Portugal) said Indonesia had played an important role in the Special Committee, and therefore had particular responsibilities towards the Charter, the United Nations, and all the new nations that had attained independence since the adoption of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples. Regrettably, Indonesia still occupied East Timor, illegally and by force.

He said Indonesia had, in fact, recognized the right of the East Timorese to self-determination. That could only mean that Indonesia considered East Timor was different from any part of its territory and had all the prerequisites for self-determination -- that it had a specific national, historical and cultural background.

However, he went on, while the United Nations continued to consider that the East Timorese had not exercised their right to self-determination, as set out in the Charter and relevant United Nations resolutions, Indonesia argued that they had. Indonesia's position was based on the fiction that the request of a mock assembly of 37 hand-picked individuals, who in 1976 pledged for the integration of the Territory into the Republic of Indonesia, was a legitimate form of ascertaining the will of the people of East Timor. The opinion of 37 non-elected East Timorese could not account for the will of an entire nation.

Jakarta had tried to use the forceful implementation of Indonesian general elections in East Timor as evidence that the people had chosen to participate in Indonesian political life. But recent developments in Indonesia left no room for doubt about the lack of freedom and the unfairness of those elections, and showed that their results did not reflect the aspirations of Indonesians, let alone those of the people of East Timor, who had been intimidated into voting.

He said he had just learnt that the Indonesian delegation had circulated a confidential letter of the Secretary-General's Personal Representative for East Timor. That was a blatant violation of the confidentiality of the tripartite talks and a total lack of disrespect for the Secretary-General and his Personal Representative.


Right of Reply

TITO DOS SANTOS BAPTISTA (Indonesia), in right of reply, said that the 20-year-old accusation from Portugal about being denied its rights to exert its power in East Timor was unsubstantiated propaganda that an affront to all who had waged a struggle against colonialism. His delegation expressed deep regret at the misleading repetitions and rhetoric of the present forum. The former colonial Power should assume the proper guilt for its irresponsibility in the decolonization of East Timor and also acknowledge its ineptitude in the decolonization of all its other colonial Territories.

He said it was well known that Portugal's irresponsible abandonment of East Timor had resulted in misery, poverty and a civil war. The Revolutionary Front for the Independence of East Timor (FRETILIN), aided and abetted by Portugal for the last 20 years, was responsible for that civil war. When that group found that they could not achieve their ends they declared independence. That met with resistance and they then fled into exile. To date, they had obstructed every aspect of the decolonization of East Timor and rejected all peaceful means to acquire power.

He said that in the past the Indonesian Government had invited Portugal to return to East Timor to solve issues between the warring parties, but that country had never responded. The United Nations participation in such issues, while preferable, was not mandatory. It was obvious, however, that the United Nations had been prevented from participating by Portugal's manoeuvering.

The Special Committee was not the appropriate forum to discuss human rights, he added, but it should be said that, in the present climate of reform, the promotion of human rights in Indonesia and East Timor had never been applied with more sincerity and dedication. He asked Portugal and Sao Tome and Principe to "refrain from their self-righteous posturing" and look at their own human rights records.

Indonesia believed that one of the fundamental tenets of human rights was the protection of human life, he continued. However, his country was no different from any other when confronted with terrorism, as was the case in East Timor. He recommended that the Special Committee remove the question of East Timor from its agenda -- it was there only because of the manipulation of a former colonial Power. The Committee needed to accept the East Timor reality in all its aspects.

Mr. NEVES (Portugal) expressed regret that the Indonesian representative had referred to the former colonization of five sovereign countries in terms that were not very respectful. His country had supported the Convention of the East Timorese in the Diaspora and he suspected that the occupying forces supported those Timorese who advocated integration with Indonesia. Portugal's right to support that Convention was stipulated in the tripartite talks.

MARTY MULIANA NATALEGAWA (Indonesia) said that, unlike some countries, when faced with challenges, threats or innuendo, Indonesia did not pack its bags and leave. Instead it faced the challenge head-on.

He said his delegation had learnt of the reported circulation of a confidential document this morning in the same manner as the representative of Portugal. His delegation had been in touch with the capital on that issue and could vouch that the matter was receiving the serious attention it deserved. The delegation of Portugal should have taken the same restrained and prudent approach as his own delegation on the matter, rather than raising it in an open forum and putting a negative political interpretation on it. Delegations should refrain from raising sensitive matters in order to score cheap political points. He said that Indonesia's principled opposition to the Special Committee's consideration of the East Timor question did not infer any disrespect for the Committee's competence or the good work it had done.

Mr. NEVES (Portugal) said that the circulation of the letter was a serious breach of trust and of the rules of the tripartite talks. The Personal Representative's letter, transmitted on the fax paper of the Indonesian Foreign Ministry, had been circulated in the conference room, in the press and in East Timor as a United Nations proposal.

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