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May 2001

Current Status
Forum of NGOs for Humanitarian issues in West Timor statement on refugee registration

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East Timorese Refugees and the Need for Justice

More than one-tenth of the population of East Timor - 80,000 to 100,000 people - has been virtual hostages in squalid refugee camps in West Timor (Indonesia) for nearly two years. Repatriation has slowed to a trickle, due to the failure of the international community to act, combined with intransigence by the Indonesian military and government. Although East Timor is now free of Indonesian troops, the refugees across the border live under daily militia-imposed terror.

The situation of the East Timorese refugees is critical. Jesuit Refugee Service, the only international organization with a regular presence in the West Timor camps, observes drastically worsening conditions, including critical food shortages and spreading epidemics. The Centre for Internally Displaced People's Services, an Indonesian humanitarian agency in West Timor, reports as many as five deaths per day among refugee children. Violence against refugee and West Timorese women, including sexual slavery to militia leaders, has also been documented. Allegations of bias, poor communications, and insufficient security measures surround the Indonesian government's plans for a massive one-day refugee registration on June 6, 2001. In addition, refugees who do not return to East Timor by June 20th will be unable to vote in elections determining the structure of East Timor's independent government.

The East Timor Action Network (ETAN) is gravely concerned for the human and political rights of the East Timorese refugees. ETAN has written this briefing paper to complement the United States tour we are organizing for the West Timor-based General Secretary of the Centre for Internally Displaced People's Services (CIS), Winston Neil Rondo.

On August 30, 1999, the East Timorese people voted overwhelmingly for independence from Indonesia in a United Nations (U.N.)-supervised referendum, ending 24 years of brutal, illegal Indonesian military occupation. Immediately following the ballot, the military (TNI) and its militias conducted a scorched earth campaign, forcing 300,000 East Timorese to flee into the mountains and moving more than 260,000 people across the border into West Timor, often at gunpoint. In addition to displacing 70% of East Timor's population, the TNI and its militias destroyed three-fourths of the buildings and most of the country's infrastructure. Currently, East Timor is under a transitional U.N. administration, with full independence scheduled for early 2002.

Overwhelming evidence proves the TNI formed, funded, armed, and directed the militias from early 1999 in an attempt to derail the referendum. Militia violence - including the April 1999 massacres of at least 50 in the Liquica church and at least 12 in the Dili home of independence leader Manuel Carrascalao - allowed TNI to terrorize the country but claim innocence. This policy existed before and continued following the agreement signed by the U.N. and the governments of Indonesia and Portugal on May 5, 1999, which entrusted security in East Timor during the referendum process to Indonesia. In response to the post-ballot destruction, an international force was deployed in East Timor, prompting most militias and all Indonesian troops to withdraw into West Timor.

On September 6, 2000, militias murdered three international workers with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) in a refugee camp near Atambua, West Timor; it remains the worst attack ever on the UNHCR. Following the killings, all international aid workers were evacuated from West Timor. There remains almost no international presence in the refugee camps. The U.N. Security Council called for "immediate and effective action" to end the refugee crisis, but a Security Council delegation to West and East Timor two months later witnessed continued intimidation and misinformation by the militias and found the refugees' condition to be "truly depressing." Since then, little has been done to enable refugees to decide freely whether to return to East Timor or to settle in Indonesia, and the situation continues to deteriorate. Hunger and poor health conditions are widespread problems in the refugee camps, and tensions are increasing between the refugees and some West Timorese communities.

One of the main obstacles to resolving the refugee crisis is the continued presence of armed militia in many West Timor camps. CIS and other observers have noted military recruitment and training of militias, and militia intimidation of refugees wishing to return to East Timor. The international community and Indonesian authorities have been unwilling or unable to disarm the militias and arrest those guilty of serious crimes, including murder and rape, in East and West Timor. Although the Indonesian government has repeatedly promised to disarm the militias, their ineffective attempts are largely seen as a token gesture to pacify the international community. The militias continue to foment an atmosphere of fear among the refugees, holding them hostage to the political and personal demands of militia leaders. The Indonesian military and militia members in West Timor also present a serious threat to the integrity and security of East Timor. The United States, U.N. and other international authorities must act now to support justice and democracy in Indonesia, to secure the refugees' human rights, and to ensure peace in East Timor.

The UNHCR and most other international agencies blame poor security conditions for their failure to resume necessary work in West Timor. Disturbingly, the UNHCR plans to disengage from the entire process, regardless of the reality on the ground for the tens of thousands of East Timorese refugees, due to reduced funding and political pressure to declare the crisis resolved.

Indonesian efforts at refugee registration and repatriation in March 2001 met with failure, as TNI troops enabled militia leaders to terrify potential returnees. The Indonesian government plans another attempt at registration on June 6, 2001, but observers are concerned the prominent role of the Indonesian military and militias in this process will again prevent refugees from choosing freely between repatriation and resettlement in Indonesia. The militias operate with impunity and with the encouragement of TNI, and the refugee crisis will not end without strong pressure on Indonesia and the U.N. from its member countries -- especially the United States.

The failure of Indonesia and the international community to achieve justice for East Timor exacerbates the refugee crisis. In its January 2000 report, the U.N. International Commission of Inquiry on East Timor called for an international tribunal on crimes against humanity. The U.N. report states:

The intimidation, terror, destruction of property, displacement and evacuation of people [in 1999] would not have been possible without the active involvement of the Indonesian army, and the knowledge and approval of the top military command… The Commission is of the view that ultimately the Indonesian army was responsible for the intimidation, terror, killings and other acts of violence experienced by the people of East Timor before and after the popular consultation. Further, the evidence collected to date indicates that particular individuals were directly involved in violations of human rights.

These findings were emphasized in a recent U.N.-commissioned report, which called "the continued forced detention of those East Timorese in refugee camps in West Timor who wish to return to their homeland" … "one of the most serious crimes against humanity" committed in East Timor in 1999.
However, no Indonesian military officers or militia leaders have been held accountable for the forced removal of people from East Timor, or for the murders, assaults, rapes and other serious crimes committed in West and East Timor. In fact, many high-ranking Indonesian officers involved in these crimes remain in positions of power, and some have even been promoted. Recent actions by the Indonesian government and security forces, described below, leave an international tribunal as the best remaining hope for justice.

Current Status
As of May 2001, 80,000 to 100,000 East Timorese refugees remain in West Timor camps. Some choose to stay for financial or other well-informed reasons. However, the U.N., international humanitarian agencies, the East Timorese leadership and other observers agree that a significant fraction would choose to return to East Timor if they could do so in an atmosphere free of fear and intimidation. In fact, in April the Governor of West Timor asserted that the majority of refugees want to return immediately to East Timor to participate in upcoming elections there.

Indonesia's plans to conduct a massive one-day refugee registration on June 6, 2001, make this issue especially urgent. The planned registration will require refugees to choose between returning to East Timor and remaining in Indonesia. Concerns regarding the registration voiced by the West Timor Forum on Humanitarian Issues, a coalition of nongovernmental organizations working with the refugees, include the prominent role of the Indonesian military and militias in the process, the continuing presence of weapons in the camps, and confusing registration materials.

The humanitarian situation in the camps continues to deteriorate. Poor conditions have escalated tensions between refugees and West Timorese, and among the refugees themselves. Recent clashes between refugees around Kupang forced Jesuit Refugee Service to temporarily suspend programs in the region. Stress has also increased incidents of violence against women in the camps.

In a May 2001 report to the Security Council, Secretary-General Kofi Annan stated, "The pro-Indonesian militias based in West Timor have continued to advocate armed struggle to bring East Timor into Indonesia and have not laid down their arms." A TNI spokesman recently admitted attempts to disarm militias had failed, explaining the militias use their weapons to strengthen their "bargaining position," and they were therefore loath to give them up. This statement leads one to question how committed the TNI is to disarming their cohorts. Father Mark Raper, former head of Jesuit Refugee Service, recently linked the need for justice and a resolution to the West Timor refugee crisis, stating, "There is no process of accountability for the perpetrators of the violence, and in those camps are many militias. Without the help of the international community, these camps will not be liberated from the control of the militias."

The Indonesian government and security forces have placed serious obstructions to justice for East Timor. In April, Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid signed a decree establishing an ad hoc Human Rights Court for East Timor that limits the court's jurisdiction to crimes committed after the August 1999 referendum. This measure effectively assures impunity for high-ranking military strongly implicated in planning and directing gross human rights abuses. The U.N., Amnesty International, and others have expressed concern at restrictions placed by the presidential decree, which will exclude two of 1999's worst massacres -- the April attacks in Liquica and Dili -- from the court's purview. In addition, the Indonesian Attorney General's office has not investigated any cases of violence against women, which was a major component of 1999's violence.

Extremely lenient sentences recently handed down by Indonesian courts in two high-profile cases of militia further demonstrate the need for an international tribunal for East Timor. Eurico Guterres, head of the murderous Aitarak militia, was given only six months in jail, minus time served under house arrest, for inciting violence in West Timor. (Subsequently, Guterres has led an "anti-communist" organization burning books and terrorizing people throughout Indonesia.) In May, six militia members were given sentences of 10 to 20 months for the brutal murders of the three UNHCR workers last September. The defendants have admitted their guilt. The sentence was decried as "a wholly unacceptable response to the ultimate sacrifice" by U.N. Secretary-General Annan. The U.S. State Department questioned "Indonesia's commitment to the principle of accountability and its commitment to the international community to bring to justice the perpetrators of this and other crimes in East and West Timor." The head of Indonesia's National Commission on Human Rights has remarked, "Without enough international pressure, there won't be enough domestic political will for justice."


The East Timor Action Network, in consultation with the Centre for Internally Displaced People's Services in West Timor, makes the following recommendations for actions by the Indonesian and United States governments and the U.N. to resolve East Timor's refugee crisis, and to achieve justice for serious crimes committed in East and West Timor:

  • The Indonesian government must act immediately to disarm and disband militias in West Timor; to provide security for international organizations to resume operations in the refugee camps; to ensure adequate security and access to registration information for all refugees before proceeding with refugee registration efforts; to include international organizations and local nongovernmental organizations in any refugee registration process; to provide aid for West Timorese communities impacted by the refugee camps; to hold TNI and militia responsible for gross human rights violations committed in East and West Timor; and to cooperate with U.N. efforts to investigate and prosecute crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in East Timor.
  • The U.N. should fully accept responsibility for the future of the East Timorese refugees who were forced into West Timor as a consequence of a U.N.-conducted referendum. The UNHCR and other U.N. agencies should resume their support for the refugees, and continue to provide humanitarian assistance until all refugees have had the opportunity to freely decide whether to return to East Timor or settle in Indonesia. The U.N., in conjunction with UNHCR, the International Organization for Migration and others, should provide transportation, resettlement, and other services to enable those who chose repatriation to go home.
  • The U.S. and U.N. must pressure the Indonesian government and its security forces to verifiably disarm and disband the militias in West Timor. TNI must end its continued support of the militias, and the militias must be physically separated from civilians in the refugee camps. International and Indonesian agencies must provide counseling and rehabilitation services to militia members to enable them to re-enter society.
  • The U.S. and U.N. must ensure that any refugee registration process is conducted under international oversight and with significant international participation, including that of the UNHCR, so that refugees may safely and freely choose between repatriation to East Timor and resettlement in Indonesia. The Indonesian government's task force for refugee repatriation, SATGAS-PMP, must stop working with militia, as it is currently doing.
  • The U.S. and U.N. must work with the Indonesian government, its security forces, organizations in West Timor, and other involved parties to ensure that refugees wishing to return to East Timor to participate in the August 2001 Constituent Assembly elections are able to do so.
  • The U.S. and U.N. must support humanitarian efforts to provide aid to West Timorese communities who have also suffered during the refugee crisis, through loss of land; property destruction; increased militarization and violence, including violence against West Timorese women; and decreased availability of essential resources.
  • The U.S. must actively work towards the formation of an international tribunal for crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in East Timor. The U.S. and U.N. must support an expanded mandate for the tribunal that includes crimes of universal jurisdiction against East Timorese people committed during and since Indonesia's 1975 invasion.
  • The U.S. and U.N. must ensure that those who perpetrated rape, sexual slavery, forced sterilization, and other widespread forms of violence against women committed in East Timor since 1975 and in West Timor since 1999 are held accountable.
  • The U.S. and U.N. must provide increased technical support and other resources to judicial efforts in East Timor and Indonesia, to support nation-building and reconciliation in East Timor, and to further democratic reform and the rule of law

Back to Tour Media Release
Schedule of Tour events
Biography of Winston Neil Rondo

Note: this statement has been publicized widely through local media and has been presented directly to the Deputy Governor of NTT as the responsible party for refugee affairs within the NTT regional administration. It has led to the postponement of the registration from 1 May to 6 June because of unequal socialization, security problems in the camp and the rejection by UNTAS (militia group) of this statement and of the registration process designed by the government.

Forum of NGOs for Humanitarian issues in West Timor

The Forum of NGOs for Humanitarian Issues in West Timor is a forum comprising several NGOs in West Timor working with refugees in West Timor, with great concern for humanitarian issues and upholding human rights in West Timor.

We have observed the situation related to the decision to register refugees from East Timor currently in West Timor on 1 May 2001. We stand on the principles of respect for free choice and the need to secure a sense of safety for the refugees in this process of registration. We are thus presenting the following:

1. We support the plans to register refugees in West Timor on the following conditions:

a. the process of registration must take place under truly free and safe conditions' this includes absence of weapons or threats of violence and the absence of all forms of prejudice or vested interests.

b. a clear, widespread, open and equitable process of socializing the registration procedures covering each area, in face-to-face meetings, distribution of pamphlets/leaflets or press releases in all local mass media, all of which should provide concrete information about the following:

-the goal of the registration -time of registration -format of registration -mechanisms of registration -actors/officials involved in the registration -guarantees for security during and after the registration.

This is to ensure that male and female refugees and male and female local residents have the same access to all information, to ensure that the rights of all men and women are protected, and to ensure that all are properly prepared to participate in a peaceful manner.

c. No weapons may be hidden inside or outside the camps.

d. The security of local residents around the camps must be taken into account.

e. To ensure a smooth registration process, all refugees must have equal access to the registration process, and in order to ensure the safety of the refugees, we ask that the registration format must take into account the following:

-the mother tongue of the person registered -repatriation and resettlement options should be deleted; -the format should add an item asking the place of origin of husband/wife.

f. There must be monitors to oversee the entire refugee registration process, covering the socialization period to and including the post-registration period.

We feel that the safety of the refugees is not fully secured and for that reason it is very likely that the registration will give rise to serious conflict in West Timor. For that reason, the above requirements must be attended to.

2. We urge the Refugee Registration Committee and the Task Force for the Resolution of East Timorese Refugee Question to co-operate with those NGOs that have observed the problems of refugees for a long time but have not been asked to participate in discussions and decision making.

3. We demand that the Refugee Registration Committee, the Task Force for the Resolution of the East Timorese Refugee Question and the government of Indonesia ensure that women refugees do not suffer marginalization, are not subjected to discrimination, and are not sexually exploited during the registration process and during efforts to repatriate or relocate them. We also demand that refugee women and local women be involved in significant numbers in the decision making process (thus, in meaningful numbers), in relation to the question of refugees in NTT (East Nusatenggara).

This demand is made by the Forum of NGOs for Humanitarian Issues in West Timor:

1. The Women's Health Network for East Indonesia (JKPIT) 
2. Lap Timoris 
3. Lakmas Cendana Wangi 
4. The Volunteer Team for Humanitarian Issues, Flores (TRUK-F)
6. Rumah Perempuan Kupang (Kupang Women's House) 
7. Forum for Disaster Preparedness and Response (FKPB) 
8. West Timor Humanitarian Team (TKTB)

Kupang, 2 April 2001 


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