Testimony of the International Federation for East Timor
to the
Fourth Committee of the United Nations General Assembly

New York   October 6, 1999

Mr. President, distinguished delegates, diplomats and colleagues,

My name is Charles Scheiner and I am speaking on behalf of the International Federation for East Timor. IFET was formed eight years ago, and includes more than 30 NGOs supporting self-determination and human rights for East Timor, based in more than twenty countries.

IFET organized the largest international observer mission for the East Timor consultation. Our UNAMET-accredited nonpartisan Observer Project brought volunteers from 20 countries to East Timor, where we observed the process from before voter registration through the announcement of the results and beyond. On voting day, we had 125 people in every district of East Timor, observing balloting at 135 of the 200 polling centers.

We planned to stay in East Timor during the transition period, but rapidly escalating violence forced the last 60 of our volunteers to be evacuated by the Royal Australian Air Force on September 6 and 7.

We left East Timor for safety, but with tremendous sadness. The East Timorese people have no Australia to run to, no place to hide from militia and military terror. As we escaped East Timor, both IFET-OP and the people we left behind kept thinking of 1975, when the international community abandoned East Timor, allowing the Indonesian military to invade and kill 200,000 people with impunity while the nations of the world closed their eyes.

We are grateful for the attention paid to East Timor by the United Nations in 1999, especially over the past few weeks. It has been a long time coming. The InterFET Force in East Timor is a positive step, as are the special session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, the efforts at humanitarian relief, and the intermittent attempts to repatriate East Timorese who were kidnapped to West Timor and other parts of Indonesia. We welcome the Secretary-General's plan for a U.N. Transitional Authority in East Timor, and we hope that the General Assembly will quickly enable it.

Nevertheless, IFET continues to be troubled by a number of developments, most of which stem from three fundamental errors by the United Nations:

  1. Failing to listen to the East Timorese people, whose knowledge and observations, if heeded would have averted the recent disaster,
  2. Willingness to give the Indonesian government veto power on every step of the process, even down to the details of humanitarian aid and repatriation, and to defer to Indonesian "sovereignty" over people they have murdered for 24 years, and especially over the hundreds of thousands they have recently abducted,
  3. Acceptance of the Indonesian military and police as legitimate in East Timor, often swallowing the lie that they are a neutral force for peace and security.
Crying in the wilderness

Mr. Chairman, we are compelled to point out that the massive bloodshed and displacement inflicted since the vote was expected and avoidable.

IFET has followed U.N. processes relating to East Timor since 1991, and we frequently communicate our views. On March 30, 1999, we wrote the Secretary-General:

"We have been concerned by recent statements by your office and by the Indonesian government that disarmament of the paramilitaries and withdrawal of Indonesian soldiers from East Timor are not seen as prerequisites to the "ballot consultation" ... A UN-conducted East Timorese vote in the current atmosphere of terror would be a mockery of everything the United Nations stands for."
On May 3, we reiterated our concern:
"As soon as the 5 May accord is signed, the United Nations must assume responsibility for creating and preserving law and order in East Timor, and for protecting public safety. The Indonesian military has been there illegally for 23 years, and their occupation has taken more than 200,000 East Timorese lives. ... It will be impossible for the United Nations to conduct a meaningful assessment of East Timorese public opinion if those forces -- one party to the conflict, are controlling the situation on the ground."
Our Observers began arriving in East Timor in June, and we published nine documented reports, issued numerous press statements, and sent dozens of communications to UNAMET. From the very beginning, we underlined the pervasive fear of a military and militia-instigated bloodbath if the vote went for independence.

As no action was taken to address this concern, it was a recurring theme in our reports. On August 17, as the campaign period began, we described

"warnings by government officials and pro-autonomy spokespersons of large-scale violence if the East Timorese people reject the autonomy option in the August 30 vote, along with widespread reports of arms shipments entering the territory..."
We recommended
"that the international community work diligently through the U.N. to broaden the UNAMET mandate as it relates to security, and to increase significantly the numbers of United Nations security personnel in East Timor before the August 30 vote."
Our warnings were ignored.

On August 24, we wrote to the Secretary General from Dili, describing

" pervasive fears within the East Timorese population that the Indonesian military-backed militias will launch a wave of terror around, or shortly after, the time of the ballot."
We called for
"a much larger international security presence, preferably armed, to maintain security following the vote."
Like some awful Greek tragedy, the situation in East Timor moved seemingly inevitably toward catastrophe, despite the cries of many East Timorese people and IFET-OP. Although the August 30 vote stands as a monument to the dedication of UNAMET personnel and the incredible courage of the East Timorese people, the disaster was both predictable and preventable.

On September 2, IFET-OP assessed the Consultation Process, finding that the voting day itself was administered in a free and fair manner. However, we were concerned that the inadequate international response to escalating militia activities

"has taken great risks with the lives of the East Timorese people. That massive bloodshed has not yet occurred does not mean that security measures are adequate. It is clear that the East Timorese people live in a state in which they fear for their lives."
Two days later, the result was announced, and the violence exploded. Within three days after that, virtually all internationals, including our observers, fled the territory. The East Timorese people were left to be massacred, driven into the mountains, or kidnapped and held hostage in Indonesia.

Throughout our time in East Timor, IFET-OP observed the pro-integration militia, the police, and the Indonesian military. It was clear that these were three uniforms for the same force, and that the terror they inflicted on the civilian population was the intentional result of a coordinated campaign. We are eager to share our evidence with any international agency investigating crimes against humanity in East Timor.

The current situation

In the month since we were forced to withdraw from East Timor, unimaginable horrors have occurred. The Indonesian military has executed a well-planned campaign to kill and kidnap the majority of the East Timorese population. Thousands are dying of starvation, dehydration and disease while the Indonesian government uses legal pretexts to obstruct relief and repatriation.

Meanwhile diplomats talk of sovereignty and cooperation. They make excuses for Indonesia's military and civilian leadership. Just today, Indonesian bureaucrats have blocked the first homeward flight of deportees in West Timor back to East Timor -- the U.N. cannot return even a token 100 of the 200,000 hostages being held there.

Yes, InterFET is in East Timor, in a few towns on the northern coast. They ponder where the population is -- yet InterFET has no presence in most of the country. The majority of East Timorese are hiding in the mountains, fleeing from areas still under Indonesian militia control.

Major General Cosgrove wants to disarm FALINTIL while allowing the TNI to keep their guns. Not only is the presence of the Indonesian military illegal in East Timor, as the General Assembly and Security Council have repeatedly resolved since 1975, but the Indonesian occupation was overwhelmingly rejected by the East Timorese people on August 30. More than 78% voted against the red-and-white Indonesian flag and for the flag of CNRT, the civilian authority under which FALINTIL serves.

FALINTIL and the CNRT have shown tremendous restraint, declining military engagement and trusting, perhaps naively, in the United Nations. Yet InterFET is absent from most of East Timor, the TNI has not withdrawn, and the militias continue to prevent hundreds of thousands of people from returning home. While groveling to the Jakarta government -- an unelected government recently rejected by voters in Indonesia -- may be convenient for diplomats in New York, Canberra, or Washington, it is death for the East Timorese people.

Last month, the international community finally mustered enough courage to pressure Indonesia to allow the InterFET troops in. If such pressure had been applied following the massacres in Liquica and Dili last April, East Timor would be enjoying a peaceful transition today.

Just two weeks ago, the U.N. Security Council "underline(d) the Government of Indonesia's continuing responsibility ... to maintain peace and security in East Timor." The High Commissioner for Human Rights accepts the pretense that only  "elements of the security forces were involved" in violence "targeted against those who supported independence." But those elements include the entire command structure of TNI, and those who support independence include at least 78.5% of the population.

The international community waits for investigators and rapporteurs, resisted by Indonesia, before acknowledging what common sense and every East Timorese person knows -- that the Indonesian military carried out a pre-planned, well-coordinated scorched-earth policy to destroy East Timor, murder its leadership, and dislocate the majority of its population. Although they were unable to conquer the East Timorese spirit in a quarter-century, TNI kidnapped a quarter-million people and moved them to another country in one week. How many of the armed forces of your countries would be capable of such an operation?

We endorse efforts to investigate crimes against humanity committed in East Timor and Indonesia, and to hold those directly responsible accountable. Special Rapporteurs and others must have immediate and complete access to East Timor and to East Timorese people wherever they have been taken.

But while justice is important, it is even more pressing to prevent further crimes. Although thousands of East Timorese people have been killed over the last month, hundreds of thousands remain alive. We urge you do to the utmost to preserve not only their right to survive, but their right to live free in their own homeland without fear or repression.


The International Federation for East Timor makes the following recommendations:

  1. The United Nations must immediately assume responsibility for security and government in all of East Timor, which must remain undivided. All Indonesian troops and police should be withdrawn without delay. The unelected Indonesian government never had a legal basis to be in East Timor, and the 78.5% vote for independence, coupled with Indonesia's brutal trampling of East Timorese human rights, has voided any de facto claim they have.
  2. We are concerned that the UNTAET plan does not include East Timorese people in decision-making positions. In an election held in a climate biased against the CNRT, 78% of the East Timorese electorate -- a higher percentage than voted for any democratic government represented in this building -- checked the box next to the CNRT flag. This mandate must be respected. Although Indonesia has murdered many of the leaders of East Timor, disrupted its people on an unprecedented scale, and destroyed much of its infrastructure, they could not destroy the skills, organizational structures, or yearning for freedom of the East Timorese people. We urge the United Nations use these human resources, including FALINTIL, not only because that would be democratic and will make the transition to East Timorese rule go more smoothly, but also to avoid repeating the disastrous misjudgments you have made over the past six months.
  3. The hundreds of thousands of East Timorese people kidnapped to Indonesia must be given immediate assistance. United Nations agencies should assume responsibility for their care and return to East Timor, with unrestricted access to all camps -- not only to those selected by Indonesia. The Government of Indonesia has no claim to sovereignty over people they have kidnapped from their homeland; all Indonesian militia, military and police presence in these camps must end. The U.N. must also control transport needed to bring the displaced persons home, and not allow Jakarta to continue to obstruct the process. Other East Timorese in Jakarta, Bali and other Indonesian cities who are hiding and terrorized by Indonesian forces must be protected, and given passage to safe places of their choosing.
  4. As we have called for repeatedly, all TNI and Indonesian police personnel in East Timor should disarm and leave. Militia soldiers, many of whom are TNI in other uniforms, should pull back to Indonesia with the rest of the military. Those who remain in East Timor must be apprehended and held by InterFET -- a first step toward accountability for the crimes committed by the Indonesian military.
  5. The full force of United Nations investigatory and prosecutory powers should be mustered against all responsible for crimes against the people of East Timor. Those at the top of the chain of command must not escape with impunity.
  6. Members of the international community, especially governments on the Security Council, should be held responsible for ignoring warnings that the Indonesian military planned massive atrocities after a pro-independence vote. In addition to developing accountability for complicity by inaction, such crimes must never happen again anywhere in the world. One outcome could be reparations paid to the people of East Timor not only by the government of Indonesia, but by all nations who stood by as the wheels of destruction continued to turn.
Thank you for your attention and concern.

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