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NGO Letter to Howard on Timor Boundary Talks

click here for Australia's response

November 7, 2003

The Hon John Howard MP
House of Representatives
Parliament House
Canberra ACT 2600
Fax: (02) 6273 4100

Dear Prime Minister Howard:

We appreciate your government’s recent announcement that Australia will soon begin negotiations with East Timor on a permanent maritime boundary. We urge you to start these discussions in earnest by setting a firm timetable with the Government of Timor-Leste to establish a boundary within no more than three years. Throughout these negotiations, East Timor should be treated fairly and as a sovereign nation, with the same rights as Australia.

As you are no doubt aware, under legal principles established by case and statutory law under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the median line (half way between the coastlines of two countries) is the standard way to establish maritime exclusive economic zone (EEZ) boundaries when two countries are closer than 400 nautical miles to each other, as is the case with East Timor and Australia. If this international principle were applied, many of the oil and gas fields lying outside the Joint Petroleum Development Area but north of the median line would fall within East Timor's EEZ, including the lucrative Greater Sunrise field and the Laminaria-Corallina field, now nearly depleted without any revenue having gone to East Timor.

We trust you agree that every nation has the right to know where its territory ends and that of bordering countries begins. East Timor's independence will not be fully realized until its boundaries, both land and sea, are defined and accepted by its neighbors. We have been troubled by your government's callous disregard for East Timor's sovereignty and rights, which seems contrary to the deep concern for East Timor expressed by so many Australians. Australia's own long-term national interests are best served by a stable and prosperous East Timor; depriving East Timor of its petroleum birthright undercuts its chances to succeed as a nation.

We urge your government to rejoin international legal mechanisms to resolve boundary issues that cannot be settled by negotiation. Specifically, we urge Australia to accept the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice for maritime boundary disputes and to rejoin the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, from which your government withdrew in March 2002. That withdrawal has been widely interpreted as a hostile act to deliberately prevent East Timor from using its legal rights in the event of your government's refusal to enter timely and cooperative boundary negotiations.

We appreciate Australia's recent support for East Timor's development and the crucial security role it played in 1999. Well-managed oil and gas resources in East Timor will greatly reduce the small nation's dependency on economic and security assistance. But under the interim arrangements promoted by your government, East Timor is providing more support to Australia in petroleum revenues than Australia has given or likely will give East Timor in foreign aid.

East Timor is among the poorest of the world's countries, suffering from very low levels of basic services and high unemployment. The quality of life for East Timor's present and future generations depends on a fair boundary agreement. Well-managed, these petroleum resources can be the basis for just and equitable economic development in East Timor. Australia's continuing violation of East Timor's right to enjoy all of its oil and natural gas resources risks squandering the international goodwill Australia established since 1999, and would be tantamount to yet another sellout of East Timor.

We thank you for your serious consideration of this most important matter. We will continue to monitor it closely and work to ensure its prominence in the international arena.

We look forward to your response.


Dr. Tim Anderson

Dr. Andrew McNaughtan, Convenor
Australian East Timor Association (NSW)

Rob Wesley-Smith, Spokesperson
Australians for a Free East Timor

Alex V Tilman
East Timor Students Association-Victoria University

Amanda Jackson, Manager

Franceces Rule
Friends of Los Palos

Peter Phipps
Globalism Institute, RMIT University, Melbourne

Jeremy Liyanage, President
Noonga Reconciliation Group Inc

Helen Anderson
Social Justice Officer
The Sisters of the Good Samaritan

Peter Jennings, Executive Officer
Union Aid Abroad (APHEDA)

Zakir Kibria, Executive Director

Philip Gain, Director
Society for Environment and Human Development (SEHD)

Gilio Brunelli, Director, Development Programs Department Development and Peace

East Timor/Timor Leste
Carlos Florindo, Executive Director
East Timor Agriculture and Development Project Foundation (ETADEP)

Joaquim da Costa, Executive Director
East Timor NGO Forum

Marcelino Ximenes Magno, Director Democracy and Social Change
East Timor Study Group

Eugenio Lemos, Director
East Timor Sustainable Agriculture (HASATIL)

Olandina Caiero, Director
East Timor Women Against Violence Everywhere (ET-WAVE)

Manuela Leong Pereira, Executive Director Fokupers (Forum Komunikasi untuk Perempuan Timor Lorosa’e)

Demetrio do Amaral de Carvalho, Executive Director
HABURAS Foundation

Maria Angelina Sarmento, Coordinator Kadalak Sulimutuk Institute (KSI)

Jesuina Soares Cabral, Natural Resource Monitoring Team
La’o Hamutuk: The East Timor Institute for Reconstruction Monitoring and Analysis

Tito Akino, National Coordination Team
Men’s Association Against Violence (AMKV)

Laura Pina, National Coordination Team
National Movement Against Violence (MNKV)

Julino Ximenes da Silva, Policy Analysis Division
Perkumpulan HAK (Law, Rights and Justice)

Filomena Barros dos Reis, Co-director
Peace and Democracy Foundation

Mira Martins da Silva, Director
Pradet Timor Lorosa’e

Mario de Araùjo, Coordinator
Pro-Democracy Students' Movement (GMPD)

Nuno Rodrigues, Coordinator
Sahe Institute for Liberation

Dorothy Guerrero, Project Coordinator

Dr. Juan Almendares, Coordinator
Movimiento Madre Tierra

John Rumbiak, Supervisor
West Papuan Institute for Human Rights Study and Advocacy (ELSHAM)

Bustar Maitar, Direktur
PERDU - Papua

Andry Wijaya, Study dan Advokasi MIGAS (SE Oilwatch Network)/Database JATAM
JATAM (Jaringan Advokasi Tambang)

Aminuddin A. Kirom, Media and Publications Manager
JATAM - Jakarta

Baharuddin Demmu, Coordinator
Jatam Kaltim ( Jaringan Advokasi Tambang Kaltim )

Bonar Tigor Naipospos, Chairperson
SOLIDAMOR (Solidarity Without Borders)

Berry Nahdian Forqan, Direktur Eksekutif
Walhi Kalimantan Selatan

Rully Syumanda, Executive Director

Soleman, Campaign Coordinator
Walhi Sulteng

Dewa Gumay, Kadiv, Industrial Pollution and Mining Coordinator
WALHI Sumsel

Mahir Takaka, Program Coordinator
Yayasan Bumi Sawerigading

Muhammad Riza, Executive Director
Yayasan Duta Awam (YDA) Solo

Lahmuddin Yoto, Campaign Coordinator
Yayasan Tanah Merdeka, Palu

Kyo Kageura
Japan East Timor Coalition (formerly Free East Timor Japan Coalition)

Martin Khor, Director
Third World Network

Mauricio Sulila, Programme Officer

Pedro Pinto Leite, Secretary
International Platform of Jurists for East Timor

New Zealand
Peter Zwart, Programmes Manager
Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand

Zeferino Viegas Tilman, President
East Timorese Students Association-New Zealand (ETSA-NZ)

Maire Leadbeater
Indonesia Human Rights Committee

Nnimmo Bassey, Executive Director
Environmental Rights Action (ERA)

Dominic Totaro, S.J.
Director, Jesuit Centre, Benin City

Papua New Guinea
Damien Ase, Executive Director
Center for Environmental Law and Community Rights Inc./Friends of Earth (PNG)

Augusto Miclat, Jr., Coordinator
Asia-Pacific Coalition for East Timor (APCET)

Gabriel Jonsson, Chairman
Swedish East Timor Committee

S. Parasuraman, Asia Regional Policy Coordinator
ActionAid Asia

Penchom Saetang, Coordinator
Campaign for Alternative Industry Network (CAIN)

Ben Moxham
Focus on the Global South

United Kingdom
Paul Barber, Director
TAPOL, The Indonesia Human Rights Campaign

United States
Vanessa Ramos, Secretary General
American Association of Jurists

Kani Xulam, Director
American Kurdish Information Network

Mishka Zaman, Manager, Asia Program
Bank Information Center

Robert Doolittle
Boston Archdiocese Task Force for East Timor, Chairman

Saint Paul Parish Youth Community, Youth Director
Denny Larson, Director

Global Community Monitor
Community Environmental Monitoring – Worldwide
Refinery Reform Campaign, A National Campaign to Clean Up U.S. Refineries

Stan De Boe, OSST, Director, Office of Justice & Peace
Conference of Major Superiors of Men

Stephen Hellinger, President
Development GAP

Roland Watson
Dictator Watch

Karen Orenstein, Washington Coordinator
East Timor Action Network

Rev. John Chamberlin, National Coordinator
East Timor Religious Outreach

Jackie Lynn, Executive Director
Episcopal Peace Fellowship

Robert Weissman, Co-Director
Essential Action

Soren Ambrose, Senior Policy Analyst
50 Years Is Enough: U.S. Network for Global Economic Justice

Medea Benjamin, Co-founder
Global Exchange

Melinda Miles, Co-Director
Haiti Reborn/Quixote Center

Mary Anne Mercer, DrPH, Deputy Director
Health Alliance International

Robert G. Pedersen, Trade and Labor Coordinator
Indiana Alliance for Democracy

Joseph K. Grieboski, President
Institute on Religion and Public Policy

Chuck Warpehoski, Director
Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice

Bama Athreya, Deputy Director
International Labor Rights Fund

Aviva Imhof, Director, Southeast Asia Program
International Rivers Network

Sharon Silber, Co-founder
Jews Against Genocide

Marie Lucey, OSF, Associate Director for Social Mission
Leadership Conference of Women Religious

Diane Farsetta, Coordinator
Madison-Ainaro Sister City Alliance

James Kofski, M.M.
Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns

Diana Bohn, Co-Coordinator
Nicaragua Center for Community Action

Katherine Hoyt, National Co-Coordinator
Nicaragua Network

Michael Beer, Director
Nonviolence International

William H. Towe, Coordinator
North Carolina Peace Action
North Carolina Peace Action Education Fund

Mary Anne Mercer, Co-chair
Northwest International Health Action Coalition (NIHAC)

Chuck LaMark, Founder
Our Children’s Village International

David Robinson, National Coordinator
Pax Christi USA

Kevin Martin, Executive Director
Peace Action

Ivan Suvanjieff, President
PeaceJam Foundation

John Witeck, Coordinator
Philippine Workers Support Committee

Gopal Dayaneni
Project Underground

Staff Collective
School of the Americas Watch

Peace and Justice Interest Group
Shalom Community Church of Ann Arbor

Lhadon Tethong, Executive Director
Students for a Free Tibet

Jan Lundberg
Sustainable Energy Institute

Mike Amitay, Executive Director
Washington Kurdish Institute

Jennifer Carr, Coordinator
Washington Peace Center


Australian Government
Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet
TELEPHONE: (02)6271 5111
FACSIMILE: (02)6271 5414

Dr Tim Anderson

Dear Dr Anderson

Thank you for your letter of 7 November 2003 to the Prime Minister regarding Australia's maritime boundary with East Timor. The Prime Minister has asked me to reply on his behalf.

The Australian Government is committed to helping the East Timorese to build a peaceful, democratic and independent East Timor, including through its significant bilateral aid programme and as a major contributor to UN efforts in East Timor. As you note in your letter, Australia has also made a public commitment to enter negotiations with East Timor to delimit our maritime boundaries with East Timor, as set out in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. However, Australia's experience of delimiting maritime boundaries is that the process is long and complex. Based on this experience, the Australian Government does not think it sensible to set an end-date for the process.

The government has no plans to revisit its decision in March 2002 to no longer accept the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice and the other dispute settlement mechanisms under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea in relation to its maritime boundaries. Australia's strong view is that any maritime boundary dispute is best settled by negotiation rather than litigation. Negotiations are by their nature conducive to an outcome acceptable to both sides, whereas litigation can produce a result that satisfies neither.

Thank you for bringing your concerns to the Prime Minister's attention.

Yours sincerely


Simeon Gilding

Assistant Secretary

Asia, Americas & Trade Branch

12 November 2003

see also Timor Boundary page




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