Petition to the United Nations Special Committee on the Situation with Regard to the Implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples

on behalf of the
International Federation for East Timor (IFET)

Regarding the Question of East Timor

United Nations, New York
July 5, 2000

Mr. Chairperson, distinguished members of the Committee, and guests, my name is Charles Scheiner, and I am speaking for the International Federation for East Timor. IFET was formed nine years ago to bring the concerns of people from around the world to the United Nations process of self-determination for East Timor. Our federation currently includes more than 30 NGOs based in 23 countries.

Last year, IFET organized the largest international observer mission for the East Timor consultation. Our UNAMET-accredited project included volunteers from 20 countries who 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, monitoring 135 of the 200 polling centers.

From January to mid-September 1999, we warned of the dangers of leaving security in the hands of the same Indonesia military which had killed and terrorized the people of East Timor for the previous quarter-century. Sadly, our warnings and the predictions of most East Timorese people came true, and the Indonesian military and its militias wrought unimaginable destruction on East Timor after its people voted for independence.

Last October, IFET petitioned the Fourth Committee of the General Assembly, pointing out a fundamental error by the United Nations in "failing to listen to the East Timorese people, whose knowledge and observations, if heeded, would have averted the recent disaster." Unfortunately, that error is becoming an institutionalized principle of U.N. operations in East Timor.

Last week, Special Representative Sergio Vieira de Mello told the Security Council that he plans to incorporate more East Timorese in political and technical positions within the Transitional Administration. We welcome his commitment - it is long overdue. For the last eight months, the people of East Timor have had to deal with inadequately trained international technocrats who have little relevant skills or experience. From the District Administrator level on down, UNTAET has brought in local officials who, by and large, do not understand the needs and desires of the people they are governing, and have little empathy or interest in adapting their preconceptions to East Timorese realities. Although there are some welcome exceptions to this pattern, it seems to be worsening as East Timor becomes a less desirable posting. East Timor no longer attracts the best and the brightest in the U.N. system, and staffers often arrive with scarcely any training about the country.

Over the past few months, IFET has been working with East Timorese NGOs to develop La'o Hamutuk, which will help bridge the gap between international agencies and the East Timorese people. La'o Hamutuk means "Walking Together" in Tetum; it is a joint East Timorese- international project which seeks to increase East Timorese participation in the construction of their country. La'o Hamutuk advocates democracy and transparency in the development process and works to improve communications between East Timorese society and the international institutions operating there. Rather than take more time to describe it here, I will provide English-language copies of the first issue of the La'o Hamutuk Bulletin to the Special Committee and to anyone else who would like them.

One article in that Bulletin discusses the responsibility of the international community to provide a role for FALINTIL. We welcome UNTAET's recent allocation of funds for humanitarian assistance for FALINTIL members, and encourage the U.N. to appreciate that FALINTIL fighters, having made tremendous sacrifices for decades, are among East Timor's national heroes. Their extraordinary restraint last year enabled UNAMET, InterFET, and now UNTAET to operate in East Timor without risk of getting caught in crossfire, and their courage and commitment to East Timor's nationhood is beyond question. We encourage the U.N. to utilize these skilled and dedicated people in the security and police forces needed throughout East Timor.

Other petitioners will discuss the shameful reality that more than 100,000 East Timorese people are still under Indonesian occupation, virtual hostages to militia violence in the refugee camps in West Timor. We welcome the strong words by Ambassador Holbrooke, Special Representative Vieira de Mello and others at the Security Council last week. But, in what has become a recurrent refrain in U.N. discussions about East Timor, "words are not enough." As security and conditions in the camps in West Timor deteriorate further, we urge the international community and the Indonesian government to take decisive action to enable the majority of East Timorese who wish to return home to do so.

We remind the United Nations that this is not a domestic Indonesian problem, to be dealt with by deferring to Indonesian government actions. The East Timorese people forcibly relocated to West Timor were never citizens of Indonesia under international law. Rather, they were abducted from their home country (East Timor, legally under Portuguese administration) and taken, by invading foreign troops, into a neighboring country. Would the international community would be so halfhearted if 100,000 Kuwaiti nationals, for example, were being held against their will by paramilitary forces in Iraq? The United Nations is perpetuating another fundamental error which had disastrous consequences last year: deferring to fictitious Indonesian "sovereignty" over a people they have illegally occupied and murdered for 24 years.

One factor in the intractability of the refugee problem is the failure of the international community and the Indonesian government to bring those responsible for crimes against the people of East Timor to justice. This morning, IFET and dozens of other organizations around the world delivered a letter to the Secretary General, urging him to recommend that the Security Council take immediate steps to establish an international tribunal for East Timor. We believe that this is the only way to achieve justice for East Timorese victims of gross violations of human rights and breaches of international humanitarian law.

The letter, which I will not read here, details how Indonesia has failed to bring the perpetrators to justice or to follow the Council's five-month-old recommendation "to institute a swift, comprehensive, effective and transparent legal process, in conformity with international standards of justice and due process of law." We urge this Special Committee, and the international community as a whole, to move on this process. For until Indonesian military and civilian officials, and militia leaders, are prosecuted for their crimes in East Timor, they will continue to commit and allow such activities against East Timorese people in West Timor. And until there is a transparent and effective legal process for holding the perpetrators accountable, the process of reconciliation between former pro- integration East Timorese and others who supported independence cannot develop fully. Furthermore, some elements of the Indonesian military are repeating their crimes in East Timor against civilians in Aceh, Papua, and Maluku. Decisive action by the international community would aid Indonesia's president and other responsible authorities in bringing them under control.

Of course, the Indonesian military does not bear sole responsibility for the crimes committed in East Timor between 1975 and 1999. The United Nations, particularly the states on the Security Council, shares the blame for their own complicity or inaction until last year. Although the International Criminal Court will not have retroactive jurisdiction, we urge the governments of the world to acknowledge their responsibility and to commit significant funding to East Timor over an extended period of time. These de facto reparations will help the nascent nation recover from 24 years of brutal occupation, capped by two weeks of systematic destruction.

Yesterday, East Timorese people peacefully demonstrated outside the Independence Day party at the United States Mission in Dili. While congratulating the American people on their commitment to democracy and justice for all, the protesters urged an honest assessment of history and a process of accountability, and asked Washington for a public apology to the East Timorese people for U.S. complicity in the deaths, suffering and destruction during Indonesia's invasion and occupation.

IFET echoes their request, not only to the United States but to the major powers of the United Nations, who failed, until late last year, to take the simple but decisive steps necessary to allow the East Timorese people to determine their own political future.

Mr. Chairman,

Members of this Special Committee know better than almost anyone else in this building, how the cries of the East Timorese people fell on deaf ears for decades. You heard these petitions every year, and had little success is moving the Security Council, the General Assembly, or the leaders of the international community to take action. This week's session may be the last time you receive petitions on East Timor. We thank you for your patience and attention over the years, and hope that you will use this one last opportunity to exert influence on some of the problems we and other petitioners have highlighted.

For decades, East Timor was one of the signal failures of the United Nations system. The current transitional period could be an chance for the U.N. to redeem itself, but that opportunity is being squandered. Most of today's problems are no longer those of geopolitics or lack of international political will, but rather of insensitivity and inadequate commitment to democracy, transparency and accountability. They are far easier to address, and the reputation of the United Nations as well as the future of East Timor depends on their resolution.

Thank you for doing what you can.

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