ISSN #1088-8136

Vol. 8, No. 1
Spring 2002

East Timor Achieves Hard-won Nationhood

Changes and Challenges in Washington

The Women of East Timor Demand Justice

A Dangerous Oil Slick

Documents Detailing Role of Kissinger and Ford in 1975 Invasion Released

Ten Years for Justice and Self-Determination

ETAN Continues Refugee and Justice Campaigns

About East Timor and the East Timor Action Network

Spring 2002

back issues

ETAN Home Page

ETAN Continues Refugee and Justice Campaigns

by Diane Farsetta

Thus far in 2002, ETAN has continued to focus most of its energies on East Timor’s refugee crisis and the campaign for a tribunal for East Timor.

Happily, progress has been made toward achieving a resolution to the refugee crisis.  Following intense pressure from East Timorese and international human rights groups – including a letter from non-governmental organizations (NGOs) organized by ETAN – the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) delayed its planned phase-out of activities in East Timor from June to December 2002.  The letter, sent to UN High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers, urged the UNHCR to re-establish an office in West Timor and to remain in the area “as long as there are East Timorese refugees.”  

ETAN also protested the joint UN-Indonesian government strategy to address the refugee crisis, released late last year.  Among the shortfalls of the plan are: a failure to seriously address disarming and disbanding of militia members (the word “militia” is mentioned only once in the 73 page text), the reliance on Indonesian military and police to provide security and accurate information to refugees, and the absence of safeguards to ensure refugees participating in repatriation or resettlement programs elsewhere in Indonesia are doing so of their own free will.

Despite these and other obstacles, refugee repatriation rates increased dramatically in early 2002.  Some 3600 people returned to East Timor in March – the highest number in two years – and another 3500 returned by mid-April.  The UN attributed the increase to a desire to vote in the April 14 Presidential elections and the end of the rice harvest in West Timor. The Jesuit Refugee Service had earlier documented cases of desperate refugees returning to East Timor, following the Indonesian government’s January 1 cut-off of all food aid.

Approximately 60,000 East Timorese remain in West Timor. East Timorese leaders hope that the peaceful election of Xanana Gusmão and the draw of celebrating Independence Day will keep repatriation rates high. ETAN will continue to monitor the situation and to raise the plight of refugees elsewhere in Indonesia, including the estimated 1600 East Timorse children separated from their families.

Unfortunately, the movement for justice has not yet seen significant progress. Although Indonesia finally made good on its promise to hold trials, its ad hoc Human Rights Court on East Timor has been criticized by Timorese, Indonesian, international and U.S.-based justice and human rights organizations, including ETAN, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.

On the tenth anniversary of the Santa Cruz massacre in November, ETAN activists in 20 cities did community and Congressional outreach to build support for an international tribunal for East Timor.  The same month, an ETAN-organized Congressional letter sent to Secretary of State Powell from ten Senators stated, “we add our voices to East Timor’s National Council (the former legislature), all 16 political parties, many East Timorese and Indonesian NGOs, and prominent individuals like Nobel Laureate Bishop Carlos Belo, in calling for an international tribunal for East Timor.”

In January, ETAN released a statement signed by nearly four dozen legal experts from around the world calling for an international tribunal. ETAN’s spring speaking tour also focused on justice, building grassroots, Congressional and UN support for an international tribunal (see page 3).
ETAN’s media work kept the question of justice for East Timor alive, generating coverage by  the Associated Press, the BBC, Feature News Service, UN Wire and Mother Jones magazine website.  As the Indonesian ad hoc trials were beginning in mid-March, ETAN enumerated “Ten Reasons Why Indonesian Courts Will Not Bring Justice to East Timor.” When the International Criminal Court was ratified in early April, East Timorese lawyer and legislator Aderito de Jesus Soares released a joint statement with ETAN welcoming the formation of the court, but pointing out its inability to hear cases of past atrocities means that East Timor needs its own international tribunal.  ETAN also criticized the UN Human Rights Commission for releasing a weak and inaccurate statement on East Timor – despite Human Rights Commissioner Mary Robinson’s call to re-examine the need for an international tribunal.

As ETAN tour speaker Filomena dos Reis explained, “We know the road to justice is long, but justice will come.”  See sidebar (below) or ETAN’s website ( for how you can help push for an international tribunal for East Timor. ETAN will also be working to push a process of accountability for Washington¹s role in the occupation. Even with independence, the struggle continues.

Have your Members of Congress co-sponsored the resolutions calling for an international tribunal for East Timor?  Passage of House Concurrent Resolution 60 and Senate Concurrent Resolution 9 are essential to build official U.S. support for an international tribunal.  More information on the resolutions (including sample letters) can be found on ETAN’s website at

A list of resolution co-sponsors is at, or contact ETAN Washington coordinator Karen Orenstein at or 202-544-6911.  Call or fax your representatives in Washington and/or visit their local offices to demand justice for East Timor!