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East Timor Action Network Congratulates Country on UN Membership

Calls on UN to Work for Justice for New Nation

September 27, 2002 -- The East Timor Action Network/U.S. (ETAN) today congratulated the Democratic Republic of East Timor on gaining membership in the United Nations. In a statement ETAN spokesperson John M. Miller said:

United Nations membership represents an important milestone for the world's newest nation. East Timor is taking its place in the assembly of nations having experienced first-hand both the UN's strengths and limitations. During Indonesia's illegal occupation, the UN often let the East Timorese people down with tragic results, In recent years, the organization has provided East Timor with a tremendous amount of support.

As a member, East Timor can help transform that often unwieldy institution toward one which lives up to its professed commitments to human rights, sustainable development and peace. We encourage East Timor to use its voice and vote to do so.

Even as we celebrate East Timor's membership, we urge the UN and its member states to work more effectively to obtain justice for the victims of Indonesia's 24-year-long occupation. The recent acquittals of six Indonesian officers by Jakarta's ad hoc court clearly demonstrate the need for international action. We urge the Secretary-General and the Security Council to establish an international tribunal to try crimes against humanity committed during the Indonesian occupation of East Timor.

Whether the crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in East Timor are prosecuted or forgotten will depend upon the UN's vision and its political will. To fail in this case will not only deny justice to East Timor -- it will deny Indonesia its best chance of ending the impunity enjoyed by its often-brutal security forces and will imperil future UN missions.

The cry for justice is a demand we hear consistently from East Timor. Church and community leaders, widows and rights activists have all echoed this plea. We urge the UN to answer these cries by establishing an international tribunal for East Timor. The UN's own experiences, tragic losses and continued commitment to the East Timorese demand no less.


The United Nations has a long history with East Timor. The then-Portuguese colony was included in the list of non-self-governing territories. After Indonesia invaded East Timor in 1975, the Security Council and General Assembly demanded Indonesia withdraw. However, many UN members assisted the occupiers by providing weapons, military training and political support. Similar resolutions in the General Assembly also went unheeded.

After the fall of the Indonesian dictator Suharto, the UN helped broker the May 5, 1999 agreement between Portugal and Indonesia to conduct a "popular consultation" in which the East Timorese voted overwhelmingly for independence. Despite many warnings, the UN failed to stop violent retribution by Indonesian forces. Ten East Timorese UN staff were among the several thousands killed. After three long weeks, the UN endorsed an Australian-led peacekeeping force and Indonesia agreed to withdraw. A year later, three international UN workers assisting refugees in West Timor were murdered by military-backed militia.

The UN Transitional Authority for East Timor (UNTAET) governed East Timor until May 20 of this year, when the territory became independent. The UN currently maintains its peacekeeping mission while assisting in policing, serious crimes investigations and trials, human rights training, economic development assistance and technical expertise.

East Timorese give the UN mixed grades for its work in East Timor, praising the restoration of security and the conduct of elections, but criticizing the cultural ignorance and insensitivity of some UN staff, UNTAET's lack of transparency and its failure to transfer skills or build the local economy. UNTAET spent more than $2 billion dollars during the past three years -- about eight times what the East Timor government budget will be for the next three. Spent well, this could have been enough to establish sustainable education, health care, water, sanitation, electricity, and communications systems -- none of which the UN addressed seriously.


Contact: John M. Miller, (917)690-4391

see also coverage of Timor-Leste Joining the UN

see also Human Rights & Justice pages