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

10 Years for Justice and Self-Determination

A Decade of ETAN

by John M. Miller

Information, education and action. For a decade these watchwords have guided ETAN in our pursuit of self-determination and justice for the people of East Timor. With the former achieved, ETAN continues to work for justice.

Through the first 15 years of the Indonesian military occupation, few in the U.S. heard about, much less acted to stop, this outrage. The November 12, 1991 Santa Cruz massacre changed that. Filmed and photographed, the attack on peaceful demonstrators by Indonesian troops wielding U.S.-supplied weapons sparked the formation of organizing efforts in cities throughout the U.S. These local groups soon found each other, creating the national East Timor Action Network.
Some early members of ETAN had been concerned about East Timor and/or Indonesia for years and saw that change might at last be possible. Others saw the U.S. role in backing Indonesia’s invasion and occupation as a particularly egregious example of the worst in U.S. foreign policy. Many would join, horrified that their country had assisted in one of the worst genocides of the late 20th century. One early leaflet simply stated that East Timorese could be shot for attending a demonstration, and while the Timorese had to take great risks in speaking out, we could easily support them from our relative safety. A simple recitation of the facts was all that was needed to convince many that a grave injustice needed to be confronted.

Early on we decided to be non-partisan (working with people and politicians with a wide-range of views on other subjects), tactically diverse and focused on gaining self-determination for East Timor. These three principles have served us well.

Through the years, we engaged in a wide range of tactics. We built public awareness through educational events, personalizing the issue through annual tours of East Timorese, and highlighting the plight of the East Timorese in both mainstream and alternative media. We leafleted outside showings of the documentary “Manufacturing Consent,” which includes a substantial section on East Timor. We spoke inside (and outside) the UN and organized countless demonstrations at the Indonesian Embassy and its various consulates around the U.S. Several hundred were arrested in civil disobedience sit-ins.

The internet greatly facilitated our ability both to learn what was going on in East Timor and to get the word out quickly, and enabled us to inexpensively mobilize people on short notice.We compiled news reports, documents and other information from a range of international sources, filling in for the scarce coverage in U.S. media. We also published a newsletter, first called Network News, then renamed Estafeta. Our resource list made available hard to obtain documentaries and books, many from overseas.

We issued dozens of action alerts via internet, fax, phone and mail. We reached out to other organizations and constituencies who helped amplify these calls to action directed at the UN, the Indonesian government and, most often, the U.S. Congress and administration.

Our political strategy was both ambitious and simple. Viewing the Indonesian military as key to the occupation and the U.S. as the military’s chief benefactor, we set out to sever that relationship. We believed that Indonesia would value its ties to the U.S. more than its continued occupation of East Timor. Events would bear out this analysis.

Though the U.S. had rarely cut off military training  or aid because of human rights violations, we pushed Congress to pass legislation stopping military assistance and other aid for Indonesia. Mobilizing existing concern and building new support, we found early success when Congress quickly banned IMET military training for Indonesia in 1992. Versions of that ban have been annually renewed ever since. Through the years, either the administration (always under Congressional pressure) or Congress would end specific weapons sales or suspend the transfer of categories of military weapons. Indonesian dictator Suharto twice refused training or weapons in a fit of pique over criticism of repression in East Timor.

In September 1999, as the Indonesian military ransacked East Timor after its pro-independence vote, President Clinton finally cut all military ties (and other assistance) to Indonesia. This action had the effect we had always predicted. Indonesia quickly agreed to withdraw and allowed in a peacekeeping force. But the damage had been done.

Ten years ago we set a seemingly impossible goal:  freedom for an obscure nation occupied by the fourth largest country in the world with backing from the world’s only superpower. “Against All Odds: Victory for a Lost Cause” was the Estafeta headline. Having helped the East Timorese achieve that goal, we are now set to support them on their perilous path of independence.
Meeting soon after, ETAN’s steering committee decided to remain focused on East Timor. We agreed on a program of support for the new nation: justice for East Timor through an international tribunal and accountability for the U.S. role; return of all refugees who want to go home; support for human rights and sustainable development. We committed to maintain the suspension of military ties with Indonesia, both to pressure Indonesia on East Timor and to support those still on the receiving end of Indonesian military brutality. We also helped launch the Indonesia Human Rights Network to expand that work.

As East Timor celebrates its independence, all of us in ETAN can be justly proud of our role in supporting this wonderful victory. Having made a real difference for ten years, ETAN remains committed to making a difference for East Timor’s future. You can too.

For more on ETAN’s history see

ETAN in Action: Some Highlights

• Congress bans IMET military training for Indonesia

• Pressuring President Clinton to raise East Timor at the APEC summit in Jakarta and supporting East Timorese activists who hopped the fence at the U.S. Embassy there
• A Senate vote on an amendment to ban the use of U.S. supplied weapons in East Timor. Although the provision was defeated, it led directly to a ban on the sale of small arms and riot control equipment to Indonesia

• Organizing the widely  cited  questioning of Henry Kissinger at a New York speaking engagement
• A sold out forum featuring Noam Chomksy, Allan Nairn and Constancio Pinto at Columbia University

• Supporting a local union in their victorious struggle with the management of a factory owned by an Indonesian company with close ties to the Suharto regime

• The unanimous passage by the U.S. Senate of a resolution supporting self-determination for East Timor, soon followed by the House.
• Exposing the JCET (Joint Combined Exchange Training) end-run around Congressional bans on military training program, leading to Pentagon suspension of the program

• Winning a suit to have the street in front of the Indonesian Consulate in New York City temporarily renamed “East Timor Way”
• ETAN members  participate as election observers  during  East Timor’s “popular consultation” on independence

• Helping sue Indonesian General Jhony Lumintang.

• Celebrating East Timor’s independence.