etmnlong.gif (2291 bytes) spacer Eyewitness East Timor: ETAN Testimony submitted to Joint Congressional Hearing on East Timor

West Timor Crisis and Repatriation of Refugees
The Need for an International Tribunal and Investigations
Security & Reconciliation Issues
East Timorese NGOs and Church Groups
Overview of International Aid and Development

House-Senate Joint Asia and Pacific Subcommittee Hearing on February 10, 2000 East Timor in Transition  

Eyewitness Testimony offered by Lynn Fredriksson, Washington Representative for the East Timor Action Network and Gabriela Lopes da Cruz Pinto of East Timor

[Gabriela Lopes da Cruz Pinto and Lynn Fredriksson traveled to East Timor via Darwin, Australia from January 6 through January 26, 2000 for the purposes of assessing the current security and humanitarian situation there. Their report, available through the East Timor Action Network, presents an overview of the current situation by issue area-- focusing on the continued plight of refugees in West Timor, investigations into recent human rights violations, the mass influx of international non-governmental organizations (INGOs) and their effectiveness in addressing the ongoing humanitarian crisis, and the development of local East Timorese NGOs. The following testimony is taken in large part from this report. Contact:]

We thank Congressman Lantos and the subcommittee for allowing us this opportunity to present our understanding of East Timor in transition.

In August and September of 1999, the people of East Timor achieved a victory they had sought for 23 years-- they won their independence in a UN supervised referendum on self-determination. During that period, and the 7 months and 23 years preceding it, the people of East Timor paid a terrible price for their victory. Although we applaud the U.S. Congress and administration for taking bold action by cutting military and financial ties to Indonesia in early September to stop the Indonesian military-supported violence devastating East Timor, we only wish that action had come earlier. Because the international community waited throughout the spring, waited throughout the threats of vote period violence, and waited until after that violence had been unleashed, hundreds of thousands of East Timorese were forced from their homes, thousands were killed, and Dili and many other towns were terrorized, then razed.

From the beginning, we must argue that the U.S. has historic responsibility in the case of East Timor to follow through on commitments to assist in its full transition to independence and to see justice brought to those who violated its most fundamental human rights. In fact, the U.S. offered unquestioning military, financial and political support to Indonesia's occupation of East Timor until 1992. It was after the Santa Cruz massacre that claimed over 270 innocent lives that the U.S. Congress began banning, restricting and conditioning U.S. military assistance to Indonesia. This was, we posit, the beginning of the end of the occupation. But it would take eight long years before the U.S. would cut off ties completely, and Indonesia would allow a referendum and finally withdraw its troops. For these changes we are most grateful.

East Timor is now a land of paradox -- utterly devastated yet on the verge of independence, mourning but full of hope for the future. It is not yet time for the U.S. or the international community to draw back from involvement there; on the contrary, it is critical for both East Timor and Indonesia that we follow through on our commitments to the first new country of the millennium. East Timor is certainly politically and economically viable, but its needs will be great during its two to three years of transition to full independence. For instance, East Timor is not fully secure even now. On the West Timor side of its land border, thousands of militia members and large numbers of Indonesian military personnel are still active, organizing cross border raids, infiltrations, and, in the enclave area of Oecussi, full attacks on East Timorese land. Inside East Timor, growing street crime is often the result of lingering militia violence-- killings, beatings and robberies. This is not non-political violence.

In refugee camps in West Timor, over 100,000 of an estimated 250,000 East Timorese driven from their homes in August and September remain virtual hostages to ongoing Indonesian military-supported militia activity. Access to these camps for humanitarian relief and accompanied repatriation has not substantially improved, with reports over the last two weeks of threats and attacks against several prominent humanitarian organizations. Though an estimated 20-30,000 refugees in the camps do not wish to return to East Timor because of their militia or pro-autonomy affiliations and fears of retaliation against them, the majority are being held against their will to return. This must be addressed -- sooner rather than later. If it isn't, the reported death toll due to malnutrition and illness of 500, mostly children, will undoubtedly escalate, and the risk of further relocation to other areas of Indonesia will increase.

The U.S. Congress and administration must redouble their efforts to influence the Indonesian government to follow through on its promises to stop militia violence against the refugees, allow truly open access to international organizations, and assist in safe repatriation of some 70,000 more refugees back to East Timor. U.S. law requires no less, under the Leahy et al conditions passed in the Foreign Operations Appropriations bill of FY 2000, before the U.S. can reestablish military ties with Indonesia. This law offers the current administration the means by which to ensure not only security for East Timor and full repatriation, but also a just judicial process to try those Indonesian officers and East Timorese militia leaders accused of directing atrocities perpetrated against the people of East Timor.

The current U.S. State Department position indicates a general willingness to let the internal Indonesian judicial process play out, but promises that if this process proves unable to demonstrate credibility and falls short of international expectations, greater pressure will be placed on Indonesia for an international process. Although we respect the need to allow Indonesia to try its own military officers accused of human rights violations in East Timor and in areas of Indonesia itself, we also caution that the Indonesian government has yet to control its military sufficiently to prevent ongoing violations nor has there ever been accountability for human rights violations to date. This is still true in East and West Timor, as described above, as well as West Papua/Irian Jaya, Aceh, and the Malucca Islands. For this reason, we recommend that the U.S. government extend unwavering support to the UN international inquiry in preparation for the anticipated need for an international tribunal. Further, we feel the need to remind our elected officials that the international community, as with Rwanda and Bosnia, is responsible for bringing about justice for East Timor.

Additionally, it is extremely important for the United States to continue emergency assistance, as well as reconstruction and development aid to East Timor. We are pleased by the levels and focus of current U.S. assistance. But, we are also concerned that President Clinton requested only $15 million in ESF funding for FY 2001; this is $10 million short of this year's approved funding and will be insufficient to meet the wide-range of needs for reconstruction, institution-building and preparations for independence in East Timor.

It must also be acknowledged that the time for emergency assistance is not yet past. Malnutrition and disease persist at crisis levels, particularly outside the capital of Dili. The creation of jobs and job training programs is also crucial, as the majority of people are unemployed and the need for road and building construction, basic services, and program assistance is vast. The U.S. should assist the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) and international NGOs in every way possible to develop job programs immediately. The speed at which pledged donations impact projects in East Timor is also much too slow. More attention must be given to expediting the steps between promises of funding and the actual delivery of assistance.

In general, we found that institution building -- particularly in the areas of education, a health care system, financial bodies, banking and economics, small enterprise, a civilian police, an independent judiciary, press, and an overall political governing structure -- has only just begun. The very immediate need for basics like sanitation facilities, clean potable water and electricity is far from being adequately addressed, even in Dili. UNTAET, the CNRT (National Council of Timorese Resistance led by Xanana Gusmao), the National Consultative Commission (NCC), the World Bank, the International NGO forum, and the East Timorese NGO forum are all attempting to plan, consult and train for these development goals. However, coordination among them is complex at best, and requires much greater organization and greater Timorese participation. Much greater sensitivity, fair play, and more inclusive actions will be required of international NGOs.

That said, given the last 24 years of brutal Indonesian occupation and the horrendous aftermath of the overwhelming vote for independence in August, it is quite amazing to see what has already been started and accomplished. Much credit must be given to the people of Dili and other towns for their calm and hardworking commitment to rebuild their country from the bottom up. Dili is swarming with activity by day, and the vitality and hopefulness of the vast majority of those we encountered is inspiring. We believe it is now in large part up to the international community to sustain funding and a range of other relief and development assistance -- and to do so with the utmost expeditiousness and sensitivity -- over the next two to three years before East Timor reaches full independence. Toward that end we offer additional observations and analysis.

West Timor Crisis and Repatriation of Refugees 
There are still an estimated 100,000 refugees trapped in camps around Kupang, Atambua, Atapupu, Kefamenanu (Kefa) and other areas. The conditions under which they are held is horrendous with little to no medical care, ongoing threats and intimidation by TNI-supported militias, and high levels of malnutrition. Those in Kupang now have access to the "mercy ship," which is transporting some 400 or more refugees with their belongings and animals back to Dili by sea approximately twice a week. Those further inland in West Timor and those along the East/West border have fewer opportunities. There are now attempts being made to route the mercy ship to Atapupu as well. This would be important. During our assessment, the only land route open was between Atambua and Batugade. Only 100-200 refugees are being transported by truck via this route each day, excluding weekends. All other land routes were closed at the time of our assessment, and spontaneous returns were down to almost zero, in part because of a new agreement cutting off further cross-border commerce, making everyone crossing on foot or in private vehicles suspect. Batugade, on the border, with its processing center for returning refugees, is a sad place still under an occupation of sorts. All but deserted, each day it hosts convoys carrying small numbers of refugees, sick and hungry, from camps around Atambua.

The reasons why so many East Timorese have not yet been able to return home are many. The primary ones remain militia propaganda, intimidation, threats and violence. Secondary but not insignificant others include fears of retaliation toward former militia members, family members of militia members who offered them support, pro-autonomy supporters, and former civil servants. Some appear to be waiting for greater reconstruction and social services to be reestablished in East Timor as well; they've lost all they have and fear for their subsistence. Remarkably few acts of retaliation have occurred to date, but militia members are clearly being identified and singled out for verbal harassment at times in East Timor. Militia propaganda and rumors spread in the camps are false and misleading, both targeting anti-independence populations and targeting the majority who are pro-independence.

Within East Timor, in town after town, we visited with people who named large numbers still missing from their villages, their families. While in Ainaro, we were brought to the church school and immediately surrounded by families who insisted on reciting lists of names of their relatives still missing in West Timor.

Regarding those who were forcibly removed from Timor Island altogether, there is currently little hard data and few estimates. Many people have already returned from various parts of Indonesia, but the number, names, and whereabouts of those taken from East Timor by boat and plane but not taken to West Timor are not yet determined. To our knowledge, to date there has been no systematic international effort by any NGO or the UN to establish who is still missing and to gain free access to Indonesia to locate and return those individuals and families safely.

The Need for an International Tribunal and Investigations 
As we traveled throughout the western half of East Timor through Ainaro, Suai, Same, Viqueque, Baucau, Dili, Liquica and Batugade, we interviewed CNRT leaders and representatives, East Timorese NGO representatives, international NGO officials, and others about the reconciliation process, the UN and Indonesian commissions of inquiry and their investigations, and the potential for Indonesian trials and/or an international tribunal. Without exception, each individual and group called for an international tribunal.

Each believes it to be critical to the internal East Timorese reconciliation process. For the most part those we interviewed stressed the need to prosecute Indonesian generals and other TNI officers as well as East Timorese militia leaders, but not average militia members whom they wished to be reintegrated into families and communities. They believe that Indonesian trials will be a travesty of justice, and that the world is responsible (particularly because of the UN referendum) for a fair set of independent trials. Neither UN nor Indonesian investigators had reached many of the more rural areas for testimonies or forensic testing. And the terrible destruction, such as what we witnessed at massacre sites, still represents open wounds.

In Suai we were taken through the Cathedral and church where hundreds were killed along with their priests Frs. Hilario and Francisco in September. Forensics tents still stand nearby. In Liquica, we walked over the courtyard where TNI led militias to kill dozens of refugees seeking shelter in Fr. Rafael's church and residence. In Dili, we went to Manuel Carrascalao's home, where Aitarak attacked, killing his son and dozens of others before the vote. One after another we witnessed the reasons why there must be a valid and successful trial for crimes against humanity.

Near Ainaro, we heard of a place called "Jakarta," a ravine used as a killing field, where from 1981 some 300 people were killed and buried, including two on September 4 of last year. Stories in Ainaro include the burning of bodies on a spit, the cutting off of limbs, disemboweling of pregnant women and the disappearing of children. These are not unique.

Security & Reconciliation Issues 
Security issues in East Timor involve border security, recent attacks on Oecussi (East Timor's enclave territory within West Timor), infiltration by TNI, continuing militia activity, civil security, crime and civilian police training, InterFET (and now peacekeeping operations), and other political issues. They also involve local East Timorese projects promoting nonviolence, reconciliation, and conflict resolution.

Generally, we observed that East Timor is not yet secured against militia and TNI threats, and its enclave of Oecussi (Ambeno) is still regularly under attack (a violation of sovereignty). In Dili particularly, politically and economically motivated crime as well as random acts of aggression are becoming common. People are afraid to go out at night.

The general destruction remains, in places, almost beyond belief, street after street either burned to the ground or flanked by empty concrete shells of buildings. Massive cleanup has been done, but not yet reconstruction. This is true of many other towns we visited as well. Young people are unemployed and in great need. We were told by several sources about fire engines filled with petrol spraying house after house in Dili, one by one. The house were then lit and burned down; we witnessed the evidence as we drove through the dark streets.

More hopeful: there are NGOs, youth groups and many educated individuals who are investing their time and energy in conflict resolution programs, education and workshops. Development of a judicial system and the training of civilian police are just underway.

There is great concern about Jordanian forces in Oecussi, about their relationship with former Indonesian General Prabowo, in exile in Jordan. As of the time of our assessment, there were only 10 civilian police in Oecussi, 2 trucks, a radio and a satellite phone there.

Nobel Laureate Jose Ramos-Horta described Oecussi as a priority concern. TNI continues to support the militias there. TNI is conducting exercises on the border, and there were fears that this would increase after Ramadan. In Suai there are fears of border attacks. A suspected Kopassus intelligence officer was recently arrested in Suai and brought to InterFET and UNTAET. There is little doubt, say informed sources, that Kopassus is inside the border areas, collecting information and attempting to destabilize the situation.

Bishop Basilio Nascimento told us: "The situation without law and order and discipline can deteriorate." Problems with crime are a reoccurring concern. The Bishop also had concerns about the period (we're now in) of transition to peacekeepers and about the absence of an effective legal system.

The training of civilian police began in November. They will soon focus on recruiting East Timorese, working with UN peacekeepers, UN police, and CNRT. They plan to publicize the names of those considered prior to their inclusion in trainings, to allow time for concerns about individual candidates to be assessed. Current projected recruitment is 40-400, hopefully increasing to 1000-3000 later. There is no plan for a military in East Timor.

Several groups are working together with the legal aid organization Yayasan HAK to launch a campaign to spread information about reconciliation to the youth. During the incident at the Mosque in Dili in October, when people were trying to force Muslims out, they managed to stop the violence. Bishop Belo was asked to help, as were some commanders from Falintil as well. The East Timor Human Rights Commission has been taking testimonies on human rights violations, and working on reconciliation since before UNTAET arrived. Jose Ramos-Horta is planning to open a Peace and Mediation. In June he plans to open a diplomatic school. Scholarships for East Timorese students are much needed.

East Timorese NGOs and Church Groups 
Some of the greatest moments of our assessment mission were found in our meetings with local East Timorese NGOs, most notably the women's organizations, ETWAVE and Fokupers, the legal aid foundation Yayasan HAK, and the development agency ETADEP. All of these groups, and others, are well established, widely respected organizations based on principles of human rights and social service. Each of them offered to us either full proposals or general ideas about how we can best support their work. (These are available separately.)

Overview of International Aid and Development 
Programs It is difficult to summarize the work, coordination and effectiveness of the over 50 international NGOs that have established themselves in Dili in the last 4-5 months, and of UNTAET, the administering agency for East Timor for the next 2-3 years. Overall, we found the officials and workers we encountered in OCHA, IOM, UNHCR, ICRC, Catholic Relief Services, Jesuit Refugee Services, Timor Aid, and other institutions, very competent and very hard working. Yet, there are several key problems that they have yet to overcome:

  • lack of adequate funding and material resources 
  • disparity of incomes between expatriate and Timorese workers 
  • general labor conditions for Timorese workers 
  • general lack of inclusion of and consultation with Timorese NGOs, individuals and CNRT (less so in the last instance) 
  • the veritable absence of established humanitarian programs in rural towns outside of Dili.

The last Saturday of our assessment, there was a protest near the UN after 10,000 people showed up with applications for two hundred available jobs. Someone had erected razor wire around the area; when the crowd got hot and unruly a lot of people were injured.

These concerns were raised to us consistently at most of our meetings, and we observed many of them ourselves throughout our trip. We feel obliged to label the current situation an ongoing humanitarian crisis of food distribution, medical care, and shelter in East Timor, primarily outside of Dili.

In conclusion, we would like to offer a number of formal recommendations to members of Congress and the U.S. administration as to how to best assist East Timor in transition.

In regard to the ongoing and very troubling refugee crisis, we strongly advise the reestablishment of rigorous efforts to open access to camps in West Timor, and to freely and safely repatriate the tens of thousands of East Timorese refugees in West Timor and untold numbers off island.

To represent the will of without exception every East Timorese we spoke with, an international tribunal to try Indonesian military officers and East Timorese militia leaders is critical to the internal reconciliation and healing of East Timor. An Indonesian judicial process should be encouraged, but support for preparations for an international process should be actively continued.

East Timor is not yet secure from border attack, infiltration, Indonesian military violence in Oecussi, and the large numbers of TNI troops amassed in West Timor. These issues, as well as the two above (and concerns about security from human rights violations against Indonesian provinces, including Aceh, the Malucca Islands, West Papua, South Sulawesi, and Java) require that the U.S. maintain its ban on military assistance to Indonesia for the foreseeable future.

We were most impressed by the level of professionalism, respect and effectiveness so many of the East Timorese NGOs have achieved despite extremely challenging circumstances and very few resources. We request continued and increased U.S. support for their projects, as well as for government building in East Timor.

Overall we found the East Timorese political and NGO leaders and workers frustrated by multiple problems involving the large number of international groups operating in Dili. UNTAET is an impressive undertaking operating with inadequate resources and personnel, and we met many hard working and dedicated INGO workers providing critical services. Yet lack of coordination and sorely inadequate inclusion of East Timorese labor and advisers are continuing problems. Job training and employment opportunities (with decent salaries) for East Timorese workers should become immediate priorities. Toward that end, sustaining current levels of U.S. financial assistance is extremely important.

We thank you for your past and continuing support for the realization of peace, justice and independence in East Timor. We look forward to working with you in the future.

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