Testimony of the International Federation for East Timor
to the
United Nations Commission on Human Rights

Geneva, 24 September 1999

Distinguished High Commissioner, delegates, diplomats and colleagues, My name is Edwin Keijzer and I am speaking on behalf of Anti-Slavery International and the International Federation for East Timor (IFET). IFET was formed eight years ago, and now includes more than 30 NGOs supporting self-determination and human rights for East Timor, based in more than twenty countries.

From June through September of this year, IFET organized the largest international observer mission to the East Timor consultation. Our UNAMET-accredited nonpartisan Observer Project brought volunteers from 22 countries to East Timor, where we observed the consultation process from before voter registration through the announcement of the results and beyond. On August 30, we had 125 accredited observers in every district of East Timor, and observed balloting at 135 of the 200 polling centers.

Although we had planned to stay in East Timor to observe and assist during the transition period, the rapidly escalating violence forced the last 60 of our volunteers to be evacuated from Dili and Baucau 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 international community and the United Nations in 1999, and especially for this special session of the Commission on Human Rights. But we are compelled to point out that the massive bloodshed and displacement inflicted on the people of East Timor over the last three weeks was entirely expected and avoidable.

Crying in the wilderness

IFET has closely followed United Nations processes relating to East Timor since 1991, and we frequently communicate our views to participants in those processes. On March 30, 1999, we wrote to 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. Even after President Habibie's change of policy, the Indonesian military and police have proven incapable of stopping paramilitary violence. 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 held by most East Timorese people of a military and militia-instigated bloodbath if the vote were to go for independence. On July 23, as the registration period proceeded, we pointed out that "an atmosphere of intimidation and violence ... calls into question the commitment of the Indonesian authorities to provide the security needed to ensure a free and fair process..."

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 warned of

"continuing activities of TNI-supported paramilitary groups in the form of violence and intimidation directed against independence supporters in many areas of East Timor. In addition, 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, are cause for worry."
In that report, which documented numerous instances of intimidation, we recommended
"that the international community work diligently through the United Nations 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, expressing

"our grave concerns regarding the security situation. ... There are 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 feel that fears of a bloodbath are based on a variety of credible factors. We believe that the international community, as represented by the United Nations, has a duty to ensure that these fears do not come to fruition."
The report we appended to our August 24 letter recommended that the militia be immediately disarmed and disbanded, and that Indonesian military personnel be withdrawn from East Timor. We called for
"a much larger international security presence, preferably armed, to maintain security following the vote. These personnel should be in place before the announcement of the results of the ballot. Many East Timorese fear that the Indonesian military and its paramilitary groups will engage in widespread terror at the time of announcement of the ballot result, especially if the vote rejects the autonomy option."
Like some awful Greek tragedy, the situation in East Timor moved seemingly inevitably toward catastrophe, despite voices like IFET-OP and most East Timorese people calling for help. 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 impending disaster was both predictable and preventable.

On September 2, IFET-OP issued an assessment of the Consultation Process, finding that the voting day itself was highly successful, 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 vote result was announced, and the violence escalated rapidly. 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 observers accumulated evidence of crimes by the pro-integration militia, by the police, and by 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, well-planned campaign. We are eager to share our information with any international agency investigating or prosecuting crimes against humanity committed in East Timor.

Perhaps the most vivid evidence comes from conversations between the Kopassus special forces and the Ablai militia who were active in Same, East Timor. Our team there had access to tapes of unencoded radio transmissions in August and September, in which the Kopassus directed the militia as subordinate troops within a unified command structure. IFET-OP observers listened on September 1 as Kopassus ordered Ablai to stop and kill them: "Those white people ...should be put in the river." The Ablai commander agreed "If they want to leave, pull them out, kill them and put them in the river." The military and the militia discussed where the militia should block the roads, and whom they should stop, with Kopassus concluding "Nobody will leave Same."

On August 27, we heard conversations where Kopassus directed the militia when and where to pick up rifles, suggesting that it be done on August 30 because UNAMET would be busy then. The military officer coordinated between the militia groups Ablai and Mahidi. Other overhead conversations revealed military involvement in campaigning, and the directive for militias to keep their radios on all night, waiting for a military order to initiate mayhem.

The current situation

In the two weeks 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. Hundreds of thousands of forcibly displaced people are held hostage in militia-controlled concentration camps in West Timor and elsewhere, while the Indonesian government promulgates plans to make their dislocation permanent. Reports of people being pushed off of ships or abducted from prison camps reverberate across the archipelago; nobody knows how many have been murdered. Thousands more are dying of starvation, dehydration and disease while the Indonesian government uses legal pretexts to delay and prevent emergency humanitarian aid from being delivered by air or on land.

Meanwhile diplomats talk of sovereignty and cooperation. They make excuses for Indonesia's military and civilian leadership, while people continue to be killed.

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

But even now, Security Council Resolution 1264 "looks forward to close cooperation between the multinational force and the Government of Indonesia" and "underlines the Government of Indonesia's continuing responsibility ... to maintain peace and security in East Timor."

Your own High Commissioner, whose actions on East Timor have otherwise been above reproach, reports that "elements of the security forces were also involved" in violence "targeted against those who supported independence of East Timor." But those elements include the entire command structure of TNI, and those who supported independence include at least 78.5% of the population.

If truth be told, this Commission would determine that what is happening in East Timor is a reprise of what happened in the 1970's -- a systematic, planned and massive campaign by the Indonesian government and military from the highest levels to exterminate and terrorize the East Timorese population.

Justice and Impunity

We join the call for a Commission of Inquiry to investigate crimes against humanity committed in East Timor and Indonesia, and to hold those directly responsible accountable. We endorse the need for Special Rapporteurs to be given immediate and complete access to East Timor and displaced East Timorese people, and to report on their findings. We stand ready to assist these inquiries in any way that we can.

But while justice is important, it is even more pressing to prevent further crimes from being committed. The United Nations must ensure that the perpetrators do not escape with impunity -- but the most urgent need is to prevent the perpetration of further crimes. Although thousands of East Timorese people have been killed over the last few weeks, hundreds of thousands remain alive. We urge you do to the utmost to preserve not only their right to survive, but also their right to live free in their own homeland without coercion, fear or repression.


Based on our support for human rights and self-determination for East Timor, and on the information we gathered while in East Timor and after being forced out, the International Federation for East Timor makes the following recommendations to the United Nations Human Rights Commission and to the international community:

  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, and InterFET should facilitate an expeditious turnover of local administration to a UNAMET interim government, with transition to East Timorese government as quickly as possible. The Indonesian government has never had jurisdiction in East Timor under international law, and the 78.5% vote for independence, coupled with their brutal trampling of East Timorese human rights, has voided any de facto claim they have to a role there.
  2. The hundreds of thousands of East Timorese people who have been forcibly evacuated to West Timor, Alor, Kalimantan, Flores, Bali, Sulawesi and other parts of Indonesia must be given immediate international humanitarian and human rights assistance. Appropriate United Nations agencies should assume responsibility for their care and return to East Timor, and journalists, aid agencies and others must have unrestricted access. The Government of Indonesia has no claim to sovereignty over people they have kidnapped and transported from their homeland. Refugee camps must be under international supervision, and all Indonesian militia, military and police presence in these camps must end. The displaced people should be given the opportunity to return home expeditiously; any temporary or permanent housing for them should be in East Timor. Recent reports indicate that the military and militia continue to abduct East Timorese people from East and West Timor even after the arrival of the InterFET force; this should be investigated and such behavior immediately stopped.
  3. The full force of United Nations investigatory and prosecutory powers should be brought to bear against the perpetrators of crimes against the people of East Timor. Those at the highest levels in the Indonesian military structure, as well as others who abetted their crimes, must not escape with impunity. United Nations investigators should be granted the resources, expertise and access needed to hold all responsible fully accountable, and to investigate crimes as far up the chain of command as necessary.
  4. Members of the international community, especially those governments on the Security Council, should be held responsible for taking so long to act in the face of overwhelming evidence that the Indonesian military planned to perpetrate massive atrocities against the East Timorese people if they voted for independence. In addition to developing accountability for complicity by inaction, these investigations must ensure that such crimes do not happen again anywhere in the world. If the United Nations is unable to investigate its own membership and structures, perhaps an independent body, with authority to recommend national and international changes in policy and structure, could be formed. One outcome of such an investigation could be the assessment of reparations to be 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. We continue to be ready to assist in any efforts to restore human rights, sovereignty, or justice for the people of East Timor.

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