Spring 1998
Indonesian Military Training Continues Despite Ban

Constâncio Pinto Joins ETAN Staff

APECT III Meets in Bangkok

ETAN Hosts Activist Training Conferences

José Ramos-Horta Inspires St. Louis Activists

Massachusetts East Timor Bill Update

Member News

Indonesia - On the verge of change?

Torture and Fear of Torture Actualized

Postcard from Timor

Review- Women’s Rights in East Timor

U.S. Should Help East Timor

Youth Resistance in East Timor

Estafeta -
Spring 1998
Spring 1997

Congress Votes to Bar Use of US Weapons in East Timor
By Charles Scheiner, ETAN National Coordinator

The US Congress voted on Nov. 13, 1997 to block the use of US weapons in occupied East Timor, placing an unprecedented restriction on US arms sales to Indonesia. The legislation was signed into law by President Clinton on November 26.

The vote came as the White House was offering a financial bailout for Indonesia, and on the eve of extensive discussions between high US officials and General Suharto, Indonesia’s long-standing dictator.

It deals a severe blow to Suharto and his embattled regime, and may endanger all future weapons deals between Washington and Jakarta. According to US Embassy sources in Jakarta, there have been no sales or proposed sales in the four months since the bill was passed. "Perhaps we should put one through to see what happens," they joked.

The new legislation, included in the FY 1998 Foreign Operations Appropriations Law requires that any contract to sell lethal equipment to Indonesia "state that the United States expects that the items will not be used in East Timor."

The Indonesian government has stated repeatedly that it will not accept conditions on weapons sales, particularly conditions tied to its record on human rights. Last June, Suharto canceled a pending F-16 fighter plane deal because members of Congress were talking about attaching human rights conditions. The bar, sponsored by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), was crafted in House-Senate Conference Committee with unanimous bipartisan support. Senator Russell Feingold (D-WI) and Representatives Nita Lowey (D-NY), Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Frank Wolf (R-VA) played key roles in passage of the East Timor related language in the bill. ETAN mounted an extensive grassroots campaign on behalf of the legislation.

This new law puts Jakarta on the spot. From now on, every time they sign a deal to acquire weapons from the United States, they will have to essentially agree not to use those arms in occupied East Timor. The bill is a political milestone because Congress implicitly recognizes that, despite the Suharto regime’s claims, East Timor is distinct from Indonesia.

The East Timor weapons ban is the latest in a series of expanding restrictions imposed by the US Congress on the sale of arms to Indonesia. Public and Congressional pressure blocked a transfer of F-5 fighters in 1993, and under similar pressure, in 1994 the State Department instituted a ban on the sale of small arms and crowd control equipment to Indonesia. The ban has since been expanded to include helicopter-mounted weapons and armored personnel carriers.

The Timor legislation (Sec 571 of PL 105-118) reads in full:

"In any agreement for the sale, transfer, or licensing of any lethal equipment or helicopter for Indonesia entered into by the United States pursuant to the authority of this Act or any other Act, the agreement shall state that the United States expects that the items will not be used in East Timor: Provided, that nothing in this section shall be construed to limit Indonesia’s inherent right to legitimate self-defense as recognized under the United Nations Charter and international law."

"The key phrase ‘the United States expects that the items will not be used in East Timor’ means that the US regards Indonesia as obligated to refrain from using the weapons in East Timor," said Roger Clark, Professor of International Law at Rutgers Law School, Camden, NJ. Professor Clark is widely viewed as the leading international scholar on the legal status of East Timor.

After the December 1975 invasion of East Timor, the State Department’s legal office said that the use of US weapons during the invasion violated the agreement governing weapons sales to Jakarta signed in 1958. The Mutual Defense Agreement Between the United States of America and Indonesia on Equipment, Materials and Services allows the use of the weapons "solely for legitimate national self-defense" as defined by the U.N. Charter.