Global Wake-Up Call for Australia:
Stop Stealing East Timor’s Resources and Trampling on Its New
For Immediate Release
Contact: John M. Miller,
Karen Orenstein, 202-544-6071
January 26, 2003 -- To mark the Australian national holiday,
Australia Day, the East Timor Action Network/U.S. (ETAN)
today demanded that the Australian government honor the national
sovereignty and resource rights of East Timor.
This week, East Timor's supporters around the world are phoning,
faxing, and e-mailing Australian diplomatic missions to urge a
speedy and fair resolution of the maritime boundary between the two
"This is the 21st century, not 1788. The Australian government
needs to wake up and realize that it is no longer acceptable to
seize territory or resources belonging to another people,"
said Karen Orenstein, Washington Coordinator for ETAN.
"Australia must respect East Timor’s
"What is at stake here is billions of
dollars that rightly belong to East Timor under international law.
The world is watching how Australia treats East Timor in boundary
negotiations,” said John M. Miller, spokesperson for ETAN.
“Australia should negotiate in good faith a permanent maritime
boundary with East Timor according to existing international
principles and within three years."
"Australia’s claim that it cannot afford to meet monthly for
negotiations, as East Timor requested, but only twice a year is
laughable. Who is the Australian government trying to fool?" asked
"Australia will lose any good will it generated in 1999 if it
cheats East Timor out of the tens of billions of dollars of
petroleum revenue," added Miller.
"It would be painfully ironic if East Timor remains the largest
contributor to Australia’s government budget over the next four
decades," continued Miller.
The Laminaria-Corallina field, which is twice as close to Timor
as it is to Australia, is now mostly depleted after generating more
than (US) $1 billion in revenues for the Australian government; not
a cent has gone to East Timor. If the Australian
government continues to delay a permanent
maritime boundary for decades, they will have taken 60% of East
Timor's entire oil and gas entitlement.
Spokespeople on this issue are available for interviews (call
See http://www.etan.org/issues/tsea.htm for additional info
Substantial oil and natural gas deposits lie under the Timor Sea
between Australia and East Timor. The fate of tens of billions of
dollars of revenue depend on a boundary agreement.
East Timor is among the poorest of the world's countries,
suffering from very low levels of basic services and high
unemployment. East Timor is currently struggling not to go into debt
to international financial institutions as it needs to cover a
US$126 million financial gap between 2005 and 2007. Yet between 1999
and today, the Australian government has received more than US$1
billion in oil and gas revenues that would belong to East Timor
under a fair boundary settlement.
Last November, a global coalition wrote Australian Prime Minister
John Howard urging his government to set a firm timetable for
establishing a permanent maritime boundary between East Timor and
Australia. The letter, signed by representatives of 100
organizations from 19 countries stated, "We
have been troubled by your government's callous disregard for East
Timor's sovereignty and rights, which seems contrary to the deep
concern for East Timor expressed by so many Australians…Australia's
own long-term national interests are best served by a stable and
prosperous East Timor...."
The two countries held preliminary
November, more than a year after East Timor requested it. They will
not meet again until April.
In October 2002, East Timor enacted a Maritime Boundary Law,
claiming a 200 nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone in all
directions, based on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the
Sea. Where neighboring claims overlap, as is the case with East
Timor and Australia, countries must negotiate a permanent maritime
boundary, usually halfway between their coastlines. In March 2002,
Australia gave formal notice that it was withdrawing from
international legal mechanisms - the International Court of Justice
and the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea - to resolve
boundary issues that cannot be settled by negotiation. East Timor’s
soon-to-be Prime Minister called this withdrawal an “unfriendly”
act. The withdrawal prevents the new nation from bringing Australia
to those forums to contest its refusal to engage in timely and
cooperative boundary negotiations.
Australia Day commemorates the first permanent British settlement
in Australia in 1788. Many Australians decry the holiday as
celebrating an often brutal colonial history that elevates 215 years
of white rule over 60,000 years of indigenous culture. The
Australian government can and should begin reclaiming the holiday
for justice and fairness by pledging to honor the sovereignty and
resource rights of East Timor.
La'o Hamutuk, an East Timorese NGO, recently issued a global call
for worldwide pressure on Australia on this boundary issue.
The East Timor Action Network/U.S. supports human dignity
for the people of East Timor by advocating for democracy,
sustainable development, social, legal and economic justice, and
human rights, including women's rights.
http://www.etan.org/issues/tsea.htm for additional info