We should all understand that Liberation
of the Fatherland is only half the objective of independence.
After independence, Liberation of the People constitutes the other half of the objective of independence.
(Xanana Gusmão, 1999)
It is not known how many Timorese, displaced or refugees, are still in Indonesia confined to camps controlled by former militias. To put an end to their suffering, they must be given the chance to choose freely whether they want to return to East Timor or remain and be resettled in Indonesia.
In September 1999, they numbered approximately 250,000. Although 160,000 had gone back to East Timor by March 2000, Indonesia claims that to have registered 134,000 refugees in March 2000. The UN does not accept this figure.
In order to determine the real number, and to give the displaced/refugees the chance to freely choose between repatriation and remaining in Indonesia, the UN organised a second registration scheme for May/June 2000. This exercise did not materialise because of repeated militia attacks.
A third attempt, conducted between October and December, was organised by Indonesia and endorsed by the UN, but encountered difficulties in two directions: the militias were against any registration that, in addition to contributing to the returns, would diminish their income and power by reducing the amount of humanitarian aid; UN relief agencies were forced to withdraw from West Timor in the wake of the militia killing of 3 UNHCR staff members, after which the Security Council gave the territory a "Phase V" security rating – i.e. maximum insecurity. As a result, Indonesia abandoned its registration attempt.
The UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) continued to cooperate with the Indonesian Government in seeking a solution that would combine registration/choice and security - security for both the refugees and the UN agency staff. Notwithstanding this agreement, Indonesia decided to launch a new registration exercise in May-June 2001, even without the UN Phase V security rating being lifted. The Indonesian Government tried to convince both sides of its goodwill in this initiative: it offered the militias, through their political organisation UNTAS, a prominent role in the organisation of the registration process; for the international community, it emphasised that the refugees could benefit by being able to vote in the forthcoming East Timor elections, and that their repatriation before the end of the deadline for electoral registration there (20 June) was, therefore, urgent. At the same time, some former militia leaders promised the imminent return en masse of: "50.000 to 70.000 refugees", "in the coming weeks". This scenario led José Ramos Horta to consider extending the electoral registration period, and the UN Transitional Administration (UNTAET), the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), the Portuguese Government and others (9, of which 7 were Asian) to agree to sending observers (the UNHCR refused). Thus, the registration process gained the credibility it needed.
Flawed from the outset, the registration/choice process proceeded, apparently, without a hitch. The international observers, 12 for the 507 registration stations, did not report any violence, but observed UNTAS ‘refugee leaders’ at every station "to facilitate the participation of the refugees". The lack of insistence that the process conform to the international standards demanded for similar operations has proven to be not only futile, but also downright dangerous. It was futile because the true number of refugees is still not known: Official sources state that 295,751 refugees were registered, of which 113,791 were over 17 years of age. These figures are far higher than the real numbers, and may include Indonesians who lived temporarily in East Timor: one of the Indonesian Task Force officials admitted that even Indonesian police and civil servants who had lived in East Timor for 5 years would be eligible to return to East Timor. It was also futile because only 1,241 (1%) are said to have decided to go back – such an unbelievably low number that different Indonesian authorities announced that even those who had stated they wanted to stay would be allowed to return. It was dangerous because, apart from the possible reprisals against refugees known to have opted for repatriation, the fact that international observers were present may result in less international pressure now being brought to bear, and thus strengthening the position of those who, by keeping the refugees, are intent on destabilising East Timor and reclaiming it for Indonesia.
Countries and organisations in the UN that
sent observers, particularly Portugal, UNTAET and the IOM, should realise
that they have been tricked and openly admit, like José Ramos Horta,
that Indonesia’s registration exercise was a farce. These countries and
organisations should now do everything possible to get the UN, especially
the Security Council, to impose a fresh refugee registration process that,
this time, conforms to international standards.
The following information and quotations may clarify the context of the recent Indonesian registration of refugees in West Timor.
1. The figures
a. The following figures refer to displaced people living in the province of Nusa Tenggara Timur (NTT), which includes West Timor. Some refugees were sent to other provinces; information on them is scarce, but they should not be forgotten.
b. A first census undertaken by Indonesian authorities in March 2000 registered 134,000 refugees in NTT, of whom 126,000 were located in West Timor (UNHCR, 22-6-00). Even though the 134,000 figure was considered the official number, various authorities announced completely different numbers: "238,000, in the Belu district alone whenever rice is being distributed, according to the local authorities" (Indonesian Observer,30-10-00).
c. The UNHCR estimated there were between 80.000 and 100.000 in September (UNHCR, 6-9-00), while José Ramos Horta put the figure at between 60.000 and 70.000 (AFP; 13-11-00).
d. The UNHCR and the IOM (International Organisation for Migration), the two organisations overseeing the returns, reported that from October 1999 there had been 180.000 returns to East Timor: 130,000 from October to December 1999 (33,000/month); 30,000 from January to March 2000 (10,000/month) e 20,000 from April 2000 to May 2001 (1,400/month).
e. The only overall figure for displaced people in Indonesia was provided by Basyiruddin Yusuf, Chief of the Refugee Task Force sent to West Timor by the Jakarta Government: "There has been a total of 284,000 refugees.... At present there are a total of only 125,000 awaiting their return to their birth place" (Antara, 24-3-01).
f. A 2-month community-by-community survey undertaken in East Timor by UNTAET, the UNHCR and the CNRT (Timorese National Resistance Council) found that since, September 1999, 84,707 people had disappeared from their homes (OCHA, CS Report n.27, 8-6-01). Most of these "disappeared" are believed now to be refugees.
g. The 6 June refugee registration was meant to establish the number of refugees "once and for all". Two factors probably account for the total (295,744) that was reached: Indonesians who had lived temporarily in East Timor as refugees were considered eligible for registration as refugees. "An Indonesian civil servant or policeman who has lived in East Timor for 5 years is eligible" (AFP, 22-5-01). Criteria proposed by some members of the Task Force, such as having been born in East Timor, or being a descendent or spouse of the former, were certainly rejected. Also, there are said to have been cases of multiple registration: Jesuit Refugee Services, which works in West Timor camps, reported that many people registered several times in different places under different names, in the hope of receiving more assistance (JRS, no.94, 11-6-01).
a. In September 1999, even before the arrival of the UN international intervention force, Mrs Sadako Ogata, High Commissioner for Refugees, reached an agreement with the Indonesian Government that would guarantee the security and safe passage of UNHCR staff working in the refugee camps in West Timor (International Herald Tribune, 27-9-99). Ten months later, Mrs. Ogata was obliged to remind Indonesia: "The Indonesian Government must live up to its commitments to provide adequate security in the camps. Otherwise, we will have to reconsider the whole range of our operations in the province" (UNHCR, 14-7-00).
b. "Resolving the militia problem in West Timor is clearly a matter of importance to the international community, to East Timor, to the East Timorese refugees remaining in camps, and to Indonesia itself. (...) provision of effective security by Indonesia remains an essential prerequisite, which only Indonesia can ensure", said Penny Wensley, Australia’s representative on the Security Council (29-2-00).
c. Less than a year after the agreement, 103 militia attacks on relief workers were recorded, not counting the attacks in recent weeks (Free East Timor Campaign, 30-8-00). The IOM and UNHCR were forced to temporarily close their Atambua office, and the UN raised the security rating for Belu district from Phase III to Phase IV (IOM, 1-9-00).
d. On 6 September, militias in Atambua murdered 3 UNHCR international staff. The UN raised the security rating for West Timor to Phase V – maximum alert – and withdrew all its international relief agency staff.
e. Pro-Indonesia militias continued to infiltrate armed men to East Timor, in spite of having officially announced their disbandment and transformation in a political organisation – UNTAS (the Union of Timorese Warriors). This level of military activity would not be possible without support in Indonesia. "TNI spokesman Rear Marshal Graito Usodo said that a certain elite group is still attempting to motivate former militiamen of the pro-integration group to reoccupy East Timor. He did not elaborate." (OCHA n.20, 20-4-01).
3. Refugees - a source of income
a. The Indonesian Task Force sent to West Timor by Jakarta discovered that the number of refugees always increased whenever rice was being distributed. In one such case, the authorities in the Belu district claimed they had 238,000 refugees, although the total number (itself probably inflated) number for the 5 districts was 134,000 (Indonesian Observer, 30-10-00).
b. The Task Force met with opposition from refugees and their leaders who feared that a credible registration exercise "would impact negatively on the amount of resources (food, financial) which the refugees and, indirectly, pro-autonomy groups receive", "The NTT authorities would also be reluctant to see a major reduction in the registered numbers as it would lead to a decrease in the amount of funds allocated from Jakarta" (UNHCR, Joint Operation Centre, report 15, 5-12-00).
c. Indonesia began requesting assistance for refugees who wanted to return to East Timor: "we need their active participation in providing the re-settlement of those who want to return to East Timor", said Foreign Minister Alwi Shihab (press conference in the US, 15-8-00). Indonesia then asked for assistance for those wishing to remain in Indonesia : "... there shall not be any discrimination in allocation of assistance to those who choose to repatriate to East Timor or those who decided to remain in Indonesia" (Widodo, Chargé d’Affaires, UN S/2000/1125, 27-11-00).
d. "Fewer refugees means less money" said a Task Force official quoted by the Singapore Straights Times (UNHCR, JOC n.27, 4-5-01). This was the feeling of militia leaders, local authorities, and Indonesian central government alike.
4. International pressure and Indonesia’s image
a. Indonesia’s Foreign Minister, Alwi Shihab, said: "Now, we would like to demonstrate to the whole world that we, Indonesian Government, would like to solve this problem once and for al and demonstrate to them that we are not the part that would prevent the return of the refugees" (press conference in the USA, 15-8-00).
b. "Indonesia is not playing around with this matter. For me, the solution to the refugee problems must not be delayed due to an international political problem", said coordinating minister for Political, Social and Security Affairs, Bambang Yudhoyono (Indonesian Observer, 14-10-00).
c. "The government has to discuss the registration of refugees with the UN so that all parties accept the results", said Pake Pani, Deputy Governor of NTT (AFP, 23-12-00).
d. "The repeated delay in registration of refugees might give a negative impact on the Indonesian Government in the international world" said the Director of the Institute for the Advocacy & Study of East Timor, Yoseph Dasi Djawa (Antara, 16-4-01).
e. Colonel Heriyanto stated he wanted to ensure the safety of the registration officials, including foreign observers, in order to safeguard Indonesia’s international image (Antara, 2-5-01).
f. "The problem of refugees is a problem that is closely monitored by the international community" said Gumelar, Minister for Security, "We do not want to create the image that the Indonesian nation is not serious in handling it" (AFP, 27-6-01)
5. Registration - giving the militias what was denied to international agencies
a. "Without the help of E. Timor (refugee) leaders themselves, the government will for sure encounter a lot of obstacles in registration", said Joanico Cesário, former commander of Sector A militias. "The government can involve UNTAS and then UNTAS will form a working group that consists of E.Timor leaders trusted by the refugees themselves" (Surya Timor, 24-3-01).
b. Central Government and the Task Force held a coordination meeting with UNTAS, communities and religious leaders in West Timor to prepare the registration process (Sasando Pos, 1-5-01). After this meeting, there was a clear change of attitude, reflected in the message put out to refugees.
c. João Tavares, commander-in-chief of the former militias, "warned all his men to think 1,000 times before making the decision to return, because, he said, all the jails in E. Timor are now full of former militias who went back. (...) the refugees still want to struggle until the last drop of blood so that E.Timor remains a part of Indonesia. Registration .. is an effort to force E.Timorese out of Indonesia" (Radar Timor, 15-3-01). João Tavares advised other ex-militias and leaders not to stop the registration process (Surya Timor, 10-5-01).
d. Filomeno Hornay, UNTAS Secretary-General, headed a delegation of refugee leaders to East Timor. They took part in a reconciliation meeting held between pro-integration and pro-independence Timorese: "we hope that the contention between the two can be resolved and then all Timorese will be able to turn over a new leaf and rebuild the new country of Timor Lorosae together" said Filomeno (BBC, 8-5-01). Days later, on his return to Indonesia, he said: "the refugees would prefer to stay in Indonesia rather than be treated inhumanely if they return to East Timor". (Indonesian Observer, 19-5-01).
e. The UNTAS executive in Belu "decided not to take part in the refugee registration ... considering it to be a waste of time and resources" said Mateus Guides, local UNTAS secretary (Radar Timor, 1-5-01); "All the refugee camp coordinators have expressed their support for registration and are prepared to take part in it", stated Agostinho Pinto, UNTAS chief in the Belu district, at the end of a coordinators’ meeting (Antara, 2-6-01).
f. Indonesia wanted to keep the role of international agencies to just enough in order to ensure UN endorsement: "It is the intention of my Government that this process (registration) be implemented by the Government of Indonesia and NGOs, observed and supported by the UN agencies" Alwi Shihab (UN SC, 12-10-00);
g. "Registration must move forward and we don’t need to wait for UNHCR, although in the registration certainly international institutions will be invited to observe the registration process being implemented by Indonesia." said Minister Bambang Yudhoyono(Surya Timor, 19-10-00).
h. Task Force secretary Lt. Col. Suwandi Mihardja said "UNTAET won’t be involved but the results of the registration will be made responsible to international parties, so UN agencies such as UNHCR and others will be involved as observers." (Radar Timor, 27-3-01).
6. UN: principles exchanged for quick results
a. "The international community, as I have stated many times before, must provide Indonesia with the necessary support for that part of the equation to be effectively addressed. I repeat that the comprehensive plan of action of the Indonesian Government is viable, and we support it. UNHCR, the International Organisation for Migration and other humanitarian agencies can proceed with the registration of refugees, and with their return or settlement in Indonesia, in close partnership with the Indonesian Government, and UNTAET will fully support that process. In fact, as we all know, the problem could have been solved long ago had the militia been removed from these refugee settlements and had humanitarian agencies been allowed to do their job and determine freely who wishes to return and who wishes to remain", said Hedi Annabi, UNSG representative for peacekeeping operations, before the Security Council (UN SC, 29-9-00).
b. "Everyone wants a quick resolution of the refugee crisis, but unless the refugees can express their wishes without intimidation or pressure, the process will have no credibility" said Sidney Jones, Director of Human Rights Watch (AFP, 24-10-00).
c. "For registration to be credible, there must be involvement of international personnel (...) In accordance with paragraph 5 of Security Council resolution 1319 (2000), the Mission reiterates that the UNHCR and other agencies will not be able to return to West Timor until security can be guaranteed, including real progress towards disarming and disbanding the militia" (UN SC report of the Security Council Mission, 17-11-00).
d. "The Mission noted the efforts of the Government of Indonesia to resolve the refugee issue (...) It is clear that the refugee problem raises complex issues. There is a pressing need to work together to facilitate the earliest possible registration (...) Many refugees are saying they are frightened that they still do not have a free choice about their own future, and security in the camps remains uncertain. Furthermore, decisive action is necessary to deal with the remaining militias"(UN Martin Anjaba, Security Council Mission Chief, 17-11-00).
e. "The UN security department team will go to West Timor ... to determine how safe conditions are", said a UNHCR spokeswoman at the Jakarta office (...), adding, however, that a UNHCR presence was "not that important" for further resettlement programmes:
"We depend on the Task Force there ... we still support the mandate of the Indonesian government in resettling their refugees". Keeping intimidating ex-militia leaders away from the refugees would be "the work of the military and Task Force", she added (AFP, 16-3-01)
f. "One of the major human rights issues we have as yet been unable to solve is the continuing plight of the 60 to 100 thousand East Timorese refugees who are still in West Timor (...) However, with security conditions in West Timor still insufficient to allow a resident international presence, an acceptable solution to the problem has not been found Despite these hurdles, we are continuing to work with the Indonesian authorities to seek ways in which we might better support their efforts to promote the return of those refugees who would freely choose to do" (Vieira de Mello at the UNCHR, 5-4-01).
g. The Commission for Human Rights in Geneva: "urged the Government of Indonesia to continue to disarm and disband the militia, to restore security in the refugee camps of West Timor and to take measures to ensure that refugees could make a free and informed choice whether to return to East Timor or resettle in Indonesia; encouraged it to strengthen its endeavours to resolve the problem of large numbers of refugees still in camps in West Timor; and said all efforts should be made to complete the refugee repatriation programme in accordance with international standards including the need for impartial and transparent registration of refugees in order to enable them to register to vote in the East Timor general elections to be held on 30 August" (Chairman’s statement on ET, UNCHR, 20-4-01).
h. UN chief of staff in East Timor, N. Parameswaran, said the three-day tour of four refugee camps had been successful (...) and that he was hopeful that thousands of refugees would return home soon. (OCHA 20, 20-4-01).
i. Hedi Annabi disagreed with this appraisal of the visit: "Regarding refugees, Mr. Annabi said that no tangible progress had been made but discussions between UNTAET and the Indonesian authorities continued, despite efforts by UNTAET culminating in a tour of four refugee camps from 9 to 11 April. Despite heavy security provided by the Indonesian army and police, the team was advised not to visit the camp at Betun, which is a stronghold of pro-Indonesian militias. According to the report, the majority of refugees voice no opinion when Indonesians accompanying the UNTAET team informed them about the planned registration which would enable them to choose between repatriation and permanent settlement in Indonesia. In each camp, a small but vocal group denounced the result of the 1999 ballot, saying they would only return if East Timor became part of Indonesia" (UN SC/7061, 18-5-01).
j. "Those [refugees] who want to come back can do so safely. There is nothing to stop them from coming home", said UNTAET’s N. Parameswaran (Timor Post, 24-5-01).
k. UNTAET will send an observer to the one-day registration exercise (UNTAET, 25-5-01).
l. The 12 international observers who responded to Indonesia’s invitation, escorted or led by Indonesian police and military, "visited 120 registration points in 11 sub-districts between 8 in the morning and 8 at night" (Observers’ report, 15-6-01).
m. "As a refugee I am full of doubts about this registration. How can the UN recognise all this?" asked refugee Bas Sole (Jakarta Post, 7-6-01).
7. Difficult choice for the Timorese
a. To go back or to remain: "This is a very basic decision affecting their future", said Carlos de Fátima, head of UNTAS Legal and Human Rights Bureau. He said that such a decision was difficult to make when the resettlement program had not yet been finalised and the security and political situation in E. Timor remained uncertain (Surya Timor,., 21-10-00).
b. "We are ready to support the registration" said Matias de Jesus Ornay, a refugee leader. He asked the Indonesian Government not to offer refugees the choice between repatriation and remaining in NTT because in principle almost all the Timorese refugees wanted to return. Former militia Domingos Parreira said: "If we are ordered to choose to go back or to stay here, it’s possible a majority will just choose to remain silent (Radar Timor, 12-3-01).
8. Returns: predictions and the reality
a. Minister Yudhoyono said it was estimated that 60% of the refugees would remain in Indonesia, and 40% would return to East Timor: "That’s just an estimate. It will be known for certain when the refugees register, at which time this composition could still probably change" (Surya Timor, 23-1-01)
b. About 70% of the tens of thousands of refugees want to go home, said Col. Budi Hariyanto, military chief of Indonesia’s West Timor province: "only about 30%, mainly ex-militias and their families, will want to stay in Indonesia" (DPA, 18-4-01).
c. Filomeno Hornay, UNTAS secretary-general predicted that 95% of the refugees would opt to stay in Indonesia as Indonesian citizens. General Willem da Costa, Commander of the Udayana regional military command that oversees NTT province, stated that he did not believe this prediction (Indonesian Observer, 19-5-01).
d. Many aid workers estimated that probably no more than 10% of the refugees would voluntarily choose to stay in Indonesia (Reuters, 6-6-01).
e. Results of the registration: 98,2% choose to remain, 1,1% choose to return, 0,6% refuse to choose (AFP, 13-6-01).
f. The views reported in ‘The Jakarta Post’ of 3 refugees who opted to stay in Indonesia explain why they chose not to go back to East Timor just yet, but they do not give reasons for wanting to remain in Indonesia: "I want to return to East Timor when it is safe" said António Soares; "when the situation is more favourable" said Manuel da Silva; "if the first elections proceed smoothly", said Manuel (JP, 12-6-01).
9. The future
a. After hearing the registration results, Xanana Gusmão said: "We are open to all those who want to come home" (AFP, 12-6-01).
b. "The observers trust that the collected data will be analysed carefully by the Government to ensure the credibility of the results. They further note that, based on their observations, the ballot should be viewed as a choice made by the refugees on the day, and not necessarily an indication of their permanent intentions" (Report of the International Observers on the Registration, 15-6-01).
c. The Indonesian authorities themselves
were surprised by the result; Basyiruddin said: "The Task Force will
give the refugees who decided to remain in Indonesia the chance to change
their minds and to be repatriated" (Antara, 15-6-01).
Observatório Timor Leste Updated Jan 25
Duas Organizações Não Governamentais portuguesas, a COMISSÃO PARA OS DIREITOS DO POVO MAUBERE (CDPM) e o grupo ecuménico A PAZ É POSSÍVEL EM TIMOR LESTE que, desde o início da década de oitenta, se solidarizam com a causa do Povo de Timor Leste, tomaram a decisão de criar o OBSERVATÓRIO TIMOR LESTE. A vocação do Observatório Timor Leste é, no quadro das recentes alterações do regime de Jacarta face a Timor Leste, o acompanhamento, a nível internacional, do processo negocial e, no interior do território, do inevitável período de transição que se anuncia.
correio electrónico: email@example.com URL: http://homepage.esoterica.pt/~cdpm/framep.htm
East Timor Observatory Updated Jan 25
ETO was set up by two Portuguese NGOs - the Commission for the Rights of the Maubere People (CDPM) and the ecumenical group Peace is Possible in East Timor, which have been involved in East Timor solidarity work since the early eighties. The aim of the Observatory was to monitor East Timor's transition process, as well as the negotiating process and its repercussions at international level, and the developments in the situation inside the territory itself.
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Homepage: http://homepage.esoterica.pt/~cdpm/frameI.htm
Observatoire Timor-Oriental Updated Jan 25
Deux Organisations Non Gouvernementales portugaises, la ‘Commission pour les Droits du Peuple Maubere’ et l’association oecuménique "La Paix est Possible au Timor Oriental", qui se solidarisent avec la cause du peuple du Timor Oriental depuis le début des années 80, ont pris la décision de créer un OBSERVATOIRE TIMOR ORIENTAL. La vocation de cet observatoire est d’accompagner le processus de transition du Timor Oriental, aussi bien le processus de négociation que ses répercussions au niveau international et l’évolution de la situation à l’intérieur du territoire.
courrier électronique: email@example.com URL: http://homepage.esoterica.pt/~cdpm/framef.htm
Jul 2 OTL: Refugiados; um recenseamento inútil e perigoso Report added July 11
"O recenseamento não atingiu nenhum dos seus objectivos: nem esclareceu o número de refugiados, nem os números dos que querem ficar ou voltar, nem deu a estes últimos a possibilidade de regressar a tempo para a inscrição no recenseamento eleitoral em Timor Leste, nem mesmo favorece a reinstalação na Indonésia visto que não distingue os que querem ficar dos que querem voltar logo que a situação o permita." Observatório Timor Leste
jui 2 OTO: Réfugiés : un recensement inutile et dangereux Report added July 11
"Le recensement n’a atteint aucun de ses objectifs : il n’a précisé ni le nombre des réfugiés, ni le nombre de ceux qui veulent rester ou retourner, ni donné à ces derniers la possibilité de retourner à temps pour s’inscrire sur les listes électorales du Timor Oriental, ni même favorisé la réinstallation en Indonésie vu qu’il ne distingue pas ceux qui veulent rester de ceux qui veulent retourner dès que la situation le permettra." Observatoire Timor-Oriental
BD: 'Refugees' & Missing Persons - A collection of recent information, reports, articles and news