Vol. 3, No. 2 - Spring 1997

No F16's for Indonesia

Tensions Escalate in East Timor

ETAN Calls for Independent Observer

Elections, Suharto Style

Sanitized by the Nobel Prize

Isabel Galhos Tours the United States

Massachusetts Closer to Indonesia Sanctions

New Resources from ETAN

ETAN's New Field Organizer

Support East Timor in Your Community

Academic "Roadshow" Raises Awareness

Estafeta Homepage

Victory for East Timor in Geneva
U.N. Human Rights Body Passes Resolution Critical of Indonesia
By Matthew Jardine

Indonesia suffered an embarrassing defeat at the annual meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHRC). On April 16, the Commission passed a resolution criticizing Indonesia for ongoing human rights abuses in East Timor. The resolution passed with 20 votes in favor, 14 against, and 18 abstentions.

The vote marked only the second time that the Commission has passed a resolution on East Timor. The first one, approved in 1993, was a delayed reaction of sorts to the November 12, 1991 massacre at the Santa Cruz Cemetery in Dili, the East Timorese capital. U.S. co-sponsorship of the 1993 resolution was key to its passage. But, like this year, the U.S. co-sponsored the resolution only after significant grassroots and congressional pressure pushed the Clinton Administration from its comfortable position of acquiescence to the Indonesian occupation.

The resolution expressed "deep concern at the continuing reports of violations of human rights in East Timor, including reports of extrajudicial killings, disappearances, torture and arbitrary detention." The resolution also called upon Jakarta to allow for the establishment of a UNHRC office in the Indonesian capital and to provide the officer "unhindered access to East Timor."

From 1994 to 1996, Indonesia was able to prevent a vote from taking place on a resolution at the annual gathering in Geneva. Instead, the Commission settled for a so-called "Chairman's Statement" which does not require member-states to take a public position. According to diplomatic sources cited by Earth Times News Service, Indonesia rejected such a compromise this year. In a tactical blunder, Indonesia's diplomatic delegation thought that it could win outright on a vote on East Timor.

But the awarding of this year's Nobel Peace Prize to Bishop Belo and Ramos-Horta helped significantly to raise East Timor's international profile. Combined with a deteriorating human rights situation in the territory, and Indonesia's failure to fulfill past promises to the Commission, such as releasing political prisoners, and inviting thematic rapporteurs from the UNHRC to investigate human rights matters, many Member-States found it impossible to allow Indonesia to escape unscathed from this year's meeting.

Indonesia did everything it could to defeat the resolution, even going so far as to block this year's Nobel Peace Prize Co-Laureate, José Ramos-Horta, from addressing the Commission from the podium. Ultimately, however, Jakarta's bullying tactics failed, resulting in a stinging defeat for the Suharto regime. "It can't get much worse than this for Indonesian diplomacy," stated a senior member of the regime's delegation to Geneva.

While such resolutions are not binding on U.N. member-states, they carry a good amount of moral authority. Moreover, they provide activists with a standard by which to hold their own national governments accountable vis-à-vis relations with countries criticized by the Commission.

The European Union introduced the original text of the resolution. The resolution had a large number of sponsors, including Angola, Canada, Brazil, Ireland, Mozambique, and the United States.

Those countries voting in favor were Angola, Austria, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Cape Verde, Czech Republic, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Mozambique, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Uruguay.

Opposed were Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, Cuba, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Madagascar, Malaysia, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, and Zimbabwe.

Algeria, Argentina, Belarus, Benin, Chile, Columbia, Ethiopia, Gabon, Guinea, Japan, Mali, Mexico, Nicaragua, Russia, South Africa, South Korea, Uganda, and Zaire (not yet the Democratic Republic of the Congo) abstained from the vote