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For Immediate Release

Contact: John M. Miller, 718-596-7668

U.S. Congress Calls for International Commitment to Justice for East Timor

Urges Indonesia, Timor to Endorse Recommendations of UN Experts’ Commission

July 18, 2005 - Members of both chambers of the U.S. Congress have written to the leaders of Indonesia and Timor-Leste urging them to support international involvement in bringing to justice the perpetrators of crimes against humanity and other human rights violations committed against the people of Timor-Leste.

In separate letters sent last week, members of the House of Representatives and Senate wrote, in the words of the House letter, "We strongly beliee a process of genuine accountability will build respect for human rights and the rule of law, strengthening your countries' still developing democracies and enhancing your mutual security."

Karen Orenstein of the East Timor and Indonesia Action Network (ETAN) praised the congressional actions, saying, "Members of the U.S. Congress have heard the victims’ pleas for justice. Now the UN and concerned governments must act to make sure that their pleas are heeded. Six years of waiting for justice is six years too long."

ETAN Advocacy Days demo at Indonesian Embassy.  

Both letters argue that existing justice mechanisms have proven unsatisfactory.

The bipartisan letters were sent just weeks after the UN Secretary-General forwarded the report of his Commission of Experts to the Security Council. The still unpublished report recommends that the UN set up an international tribunal to prosecute those responsible for the violence in 1999 if Indonesia fails to implement substantive action within a set period.

The House letter said that "a strong endorsement of the COE's recommendations and a clear statement that your governments will fully cooperate with any tribunal or other justice mechanism the United Nations would establish would send an important signal that you intend to base relations between your two countries on justice, sovereignty, and mutual respect."

The Senate letter expressed a very similar sentiment. Twenty Senators wrote, "Credible trials and punishment of those responsible for gross violations of human rights are essential to building respect for the rule of law, strengthening your countries' democracies and enhancing your mutual security and bilateral relationship. They are also essential to the cause of international justice."

The House letter, signed by 64 members, said, "When the governments of Indonesia and Timor-Leste approach these issues without international involvement, the result has inevitably favored the stronger power. We understand that Timor-Leste may feel vulnerable to its much larger neighbor... Similarly, Indonesia's elected government must tread carefully while struggling to bring its still very powerful military under democratic, civilian control, especially as many officers responsible for atrocities in the past are still very influential."

The Senators also pointed out, “The serious and systematic nature of these crimes, committed in defiance of UN resolutions and a UN mission, makes accountability a concern of people everywhere.”

Representatives Joseph Pitts (R-PA) and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) initiated the letter in the House; Senators Richard Durbin (D-IL) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) circulated the letter in the Senate.

The full text of the letters can be found at


Not one Indonesian military or police officer has been successfully or credibly prosecuted for crimes against humanity committed in East Timor in 1999. The Indonesian government's Ad Hoc Court on East Timor was a whitewash. Indonesia's refusal to cooperate with the UN-backed serious crimes process in East Timor meant it was denied access to 80% of those indicted. Indonesia refuses to extradite these suspects, including a number of high-ranking Indonesian officers, many of whom have received promotions.

The UN Commission of Experts appointed by the Secretary-General critically assessed these two justice processes and made recommendations for next steps for justice. Human rights organizations last week wrote to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan urging him to publish the Commission’s report as soon as possible “and to encourage the Security Council to meet soon to discuss its findings and recommendations.”

This past July 4, the East Timor Alliance for an International Tribunal urged the U.S. government to "support efforts to establish an International Criminal Tribunal for East Timor by the United Nations."

In a position statement on justice, the bishops of Timor-Leste recently recommended that “The United Nations take into consideration the fact that political interference is now a real issue and challenge for any national process. … This factor intensifies the need for international justice for the East Timorese people.”

Indonesia invaded East Timor in 1975 and brutally occupied the territory until October 1999. The international community never recognized Indonesia's claim, and approximately 200,000 East Timorese were killed as a direct result of the Indonesian occupation.

In 1999, Indonesia agreed to a UN-administered referendum on East Timor's political status. After the referendum, in which East Timorese people voted overwhelmingly for independence, Indonesian security forces and the militia they controlled laid waste to the territory, displacing three-quarters of the population, murdering approximately 1400 civilians, and destroying more than 75% of the buildings and infrastructure.

ETAN advocates for democracy, justice and human rights for East Timor and Indonesia.

see also ETAN Supports UN Commission’s Call for International Involvement in Justice for East Timor



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