Reported Australia/Timor-Leste Oil Deal "Cheats" East Timorese,
Contact: John M. Miller,
718-596-7668; 917-690-4391 (cell)
For Immediate Release
May 17 -- The East Timor and Indonesia Action Network
(ETAN) today said that the reported agreement between Australia and
Timor-Leste on the division of resources in the Timor Sea "cheats"
the new nation. It urged the two governments to transparently
conduct negotiations based on fundamental international legal
principles. ETAN also condemned Australia's continued pressure
through media leaks and other means to force Timor-Leste to concede
its oil and gas rights by making a rapid agreement on the Timor Sea.
"The pending deal cheats Timor-Leste's sovereignty and revenue,"
said Karen Orenstein, Washington Coordinator of ETAN. "Timor-Leste's
independence will not be fully realized until its boundaries, both
land and sea, are defined and accepted by its neighbors."
The Timor-Leste government has not yet approved the proposal, and
the details of any agreement have yet to be released. After last
week’s negotiations, Australian media reported that Timor-Leste will
receive some revenues from the disputed Greater Sunrise gas field in
return for deferring resolution of the maritime boundary for
"According to international law, Greater Sunrise belongs to
Timor-Leste. It is the height of hypocrisy for the Australian
government to claim it is somehow being generous while bullying
Timor-Leste to give up what is rightfully theirs," added Orenstein.
"Why the rush to complete a deal?" asked Charles Scheiner,
spokesperson for ETAN. "Timor-Leste will receive sufficient revenues
from other oil projects for the next 15 years. Furthermore, the
value of Sunrise natural gas will increase over time, and the
companies involved have made a priority of other projects."
"After the negotiators reach a provisional agreement, both
governments should involve their people in a thorough discussion of
its merits before it is ratified," added Scheiner.
Late last month,
NGOs urged their government not to “rush in obtaining an
agreement for the exploration of Greater Sunrise; it is more
important that you determine [boundaries] based on international
law..." They also asked "the Australian government to return to
international dispute resolution processes for maritime boundaries"
and to "cease exploration" and granting new licenses in disputed
Substantial oil and natural gas deposits lie under the Timor Sea
between Australia and East Timor. How much each country will receive
of the tens of billions of dollars of revenue is contingent on a
permanent boundary or other agreement.
Last week, Australian foreign minister Alexander Downer announced
that the latest round of talks with Timor-Leste had resulted in an
agreement that would allow development to go forward on the disputed
Greater Sunrise petroleum field. However, Timor-Leste's Prime
Minister Mari Alkatiri
denied the report, calling it "an absolute lie."
that Australia will pay Timor-Leste around $3.8 billion over the
next 30 to 40 years; negotiations over the maritime boundary would
be delayed for 60 years. Experts project government revenue from the
Sunrise oil and gas at around $39 billion. Under a prior
arrangement, Timor-Leste would receive only 18% of this. The rumored
agreement this week would increase the Timor-Leste share to around
Since East Timor's independence referendum in 1999, the
Australian government has taken in approximately $1.2 billion in
revenue from oil fields much closer to East Timor than to Australia.
Under current international legal principles, these fields should
belong to East Timor. Australia claims the bulk of the revenues from
the largest known field, Greater Sunrise, on the basis of prior
occupation stemming from illegal agreements with Indonesia, the
former occupier of East Timor. Development of Greater Sunrise has
not yet started, and production and revenues won’t begin flowing for
at least a decade after an agreement is reached on ownership.
In October 2002, Timor-Leste enacted a Maritime Boundary Law,
asserting its claim of a 200 nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone
in all directions, based on the 1982 United Nations Convention on
the Law of the Sea. Where neighboring claims overlap, as is the case
with Timor-Leste and Australia, countries must agree on a boundary,
usually halfway between their coastlines. The Australian government
preemptively withdrew from maritime boundary jurisdiction of the
International Court of Justice and the International Tribunal on the
Law of the Sea two months before Timor-Leste's independence, leaving
the new republic with no legal recourse if negotiations are
protracted or unsuccessful, as they have been thus far.
In March, 17 senior members of both houses of the
wrote Australian Prime Minister John Howard to urge "Australia
to move quickly and seriously to establish a fair, permanent
maritime boundary with Timor-Leste, based on the rule of law..."
They wrote that an "equitable sharing of revenue is not a question
of charity; rather it is a matter of self-determination, sovereignty
and Timor-Leste's future."
Last year, the Senate Appropriations Committee stated that it
"again encourage[d] all parties to negotiate in good faith in
accordance with international legal principles."
In Australia, the
Timor Sea Justice Campaign said this week, "You can't get a fair
outcome from an unfair process," accusing the Australian Government
of "trying to force East Timor into another shabby deal that [falls]
well short of East Timor's legal entitlements..."
ETAN has supported human dignity for the people of East Timor
since 1991. ETAN advocates for human rights (including national and
women's rights), democracy, sustainable development, and social,
legal and economic justice.
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