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East Timor NGOs Urge U.S. Congress to End Assistance to Indonesian Military & to Work for Justice & International Tribunal

Contact: John M. Miller, 718-596-7668; 917-690-4391 (mobile)
Lao Hamutuk, Dili, +670-3325013; mobile: +670-7234330

November 11, 2004 - East Timorese NGOs this week called on the U.S. Congress to end all assistance to the Indonesian military and to work for justice for victims of past human rights violations.

Sixteen NGOs wrote that they are looking to Congress "to provide leadership by ending all assistance to the military which so damaged our country... Restrictions on military aid are essential to efforts to end impunity for the horrendous crimes committed in East Timor. The restrictions are crucial to preventing similar crimes in Indonesia."

"We know that there are people within your government who argue that increased U.S.-Indonesia military relations will have a positive impact, but such beliefs are wrong and threaten many lives," the NGOs wrote. "The more powerful and unaccountable the Indonesian military remains, the slimmer the chances for stability and democracy in Indonesia."

The letter, citing the failures and limitations of existing justice processes, urged the U.S. "to actively work to create a meaningful mechanism capable of judging the crimes against humanity committed in East Timor - namely, an international tribunal."

The letter was released as East Timorese prepare to commemorate the anniversary of the Santa Cruz massacre. On November 12, 1991, Indonesian troops opened fire on a memorial procession which had turned into a pro-independence demonstration. At least 271 peaceful protesters were killed near the Santa Cruz cemetery in Dili, East Timor. The massacre, witnessed and photographed by western journalists, was a key turning point in East Timor's struggle for independence.

Following the massacre, the U.S. Congress began to restrict military assistance to Indonesia by quickly voting to ban it from IMET, the International Military Education and Training program.

"By progressively cutting off military training and other assistance to Indonesia, Congress promoted positive change that had a direct impact on East Timor. Your pressure on President Clinton in 1999 led to his crucial decision to cut all military assistance to Indonesia as East Timor burned in September of that year, and our independence is now a reality," the letter states.

Late last week, the Indonesian Supreme Court freed Abilio Soares, East Timor's last governor and the only official to be jailed in Indonesia for crimes committed in 1999.

"The acquittal of Abilio Soares just extends the farce of Jakarta's ad hoc trial process," said John M. Miller, spokesperson for the East Timor Action Network, which is distributing the letter to Congress. "This process was clearly designed to deflect international calls for accountability and justice. The UN and the international community should acknowledge that it has been hoodwinked and set up an international tribunal to try all the top officials responsible for the massive death and destruction in East Timor since Indonesia's invasion in 1975."

Signers of the letter include many leading NGOs who work on a wide range of issues from civil and gender rights to the environment and popular education.

A copy of the letter can be found below.

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DILI, TIMOR-LESTE

November 2004

Dear Members of the U.S. Congress,

We, victims of TNI violence, relatives of victims and representatives of East Timorese organizations, are writing to express our deep concern over your government's relationship with the Indonesian military (TNI). For 24 years, the TNI tortured, imprisoned, disappeared, raped and murdered our relatives and friends, often with United States government support.

However, thanks to the U.S. Congress, U.S. policy began to shift during the 1990s. By progressively cutting off military training and other assistance to Indonesia, Congress promoted positive change that had a direct impact on East Timor. Your pressure on President Clinton in 1999 led to his crucial decision to cut all military assistance to Indonesia as East Timor burned in September of that year, and our independence is now a reality.

We now look to you again to provide leadership by ending all assistance to the military which so damaged our country and continues to destroy lives throughout Indonesia. Restrictions on military aid are essential to efforts to end impunity for the horrendous crimes committed in East Timor. The restrictions are crucial to preventing similar crimes in Indonesia. We also request your full backing for an international tribunal on East Timor.

The East Timorese people crave justice, both for ourselves and for the Indonesian people. Fortunately, we no longer live under the oppressive rule of the Indonesian military, but the same is not true for over 200 million of our neighbors. Indonesian security forces continue to terrorize the people under their control in Aceh and West Papua especially, but also in other areas such as Ambon and Nusa Tenggara Timur. Many of those responsible for such terror were involved with the crimes committed against the East Timorese people, and giving them any form of assistance is promoting further violations of human rights.

We received invaluable help from the Indonesian pro-democracy movement in our struggle for independence. These friends are now asking for the world's help to further their country's path toward democracy by finally ending the Indonesian military's abuses and overarching power. For this reason and others, we believe that all military assistance must be cut. We know that there are people within your government who argue that increased U.S.-Indonesia military relations will have a positive impact, but such beliefs are wrong and threaten many lives.

As members of East Timorese civil society, we work daily with victims of the Indonesian military and their militia fronts. Some of us narrowly escaped death ourselves in 1999. Like almost every East Timorese, we have lost loved ones to the Indonesian military and police forces. Little has been done to bring these people to justice. The Indonesian Ad-Hoc Tribunal was a sham by any standard, and we thank the U.S. Congress and State Department for recognizing this. Indonesia's failure to punish any military or police officers for the slash and burn campaign that destroyed our country in 1999 has added to our people's suffering. That many of the officers involved were promoted and continue to be active in the TNI today only adds to victims' distress.

The Serious Crimes Unit, established by the UN Security Council, is under-resourced and has had its jurisdiction effectively limited to smaller criminals inside East Timor by a complete lack of Indonesian government and security force cooperation. Meanwhile, the major perpetrators are given sanctuary by Indonesia.

We urge you and the U.S. administration to actively work to create a meaningful mechanism capable of judging the crimes against humanity committed in East Timor - namely, an international tribunal. Unfortunately, East Timor's government, as a new, small and vulnerable nation, is not in a position to push for such a tribunal. Along with a large majority of the East Timorese people, we feel our government should be stronger, and wish that they would not allow the Indonesian government to intimidate them into this position. You, however, are representatives of the world's most powerful country and do not fear the Indonesian military as our leaders do.

We ask for your active help in bringing about an international tribunal. A tribunal is equally important for Indonesia to advance the rule of law and end impunity.

We know that your country values democracy and the rule of law and enforces civilian supremacy over the military. We also know that the people of the United States value security forces that protect rather than terrorize them. However, in the past, U.S. military assistance to the TNI has not instilled similar values. Instead, it has encouraged the TNI to continue to severely violate the rights of the Indonesian and East Timorese people.

A stable, peaceful, democratic Indonesia is in the best interests of our region, and we believe is in the best interest of the United States. The more powerful and unaccountable the Indonesian military remains, the slimmer the chances for stability and democracy in Indonesia. We hope that you will help our efforts to hold the Indonesian military accountable and secure justice for East Timorese victims of Indonesian military crimes. We ask that you cut off all military assistance to Indonesia and instead focus on bolstering Indonesia's civil society. We also ask for your full-fledged support for an international tribunal on East Timor.

Thank you for your attention and for your continued concern about the rights of the East Timorese and Indonesian peoples.

Sincerely,

La'o Hamutuk, East Timor Institute for Reconstruction Monitoring and Analysis

Sahe Institute for Liberation

HAK Association (Law, Rights and Justice)

Judicial System Monitoring Programme

East Timor NGO Forum

Fokupers, East Timorese Women's Communication Forum

Caritas Australia

Grupo Feto Foinsae Timor Lorosae, Young Women's Student Group of East Timor PRADET, Psychosocial Recovery and Development in East Timor

Hasatil, East Timor Sustainable Agriculture Coalition

Asosiasaun Mane Kontra Violensia, Association of Men Against Violence

Movimentu Nasional Kontra Violensia, National Movement Against Violence

Timor Leste National Alliance for an International Tribunal

Dai Popular, East Timorese National Network of Popular Educators

Movement Against the Occupation of the Timor Sea

Haburas Foundation

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