Grassroots & Congressional Action Mark Anniversary of East Timor Massacres
East Timor Action Network Criticizes Bush Administration for Inaction on Refugee Crisis and International Tribunal
September 5 --On Thursday, the East Timor Action Network (ETAN) will mark two dark anniversaries for East Timor. The rights group will take a variety of actions in 20 cities across the United States, including hosting a press conference with members of Congress in Washington, DC. These actions will call attention to the ongoing refugee crisis and the need for an international tribunal for East Timor.
September 6 is the anniversary of the Indonesian military-led massacre in 1999 in the town of Suai, East Timor, one of the worst after East Timor voted overwhelmingly for independence. The date is also the first anniversary of the murder of three United Nations refugee workers and others by military-backed militia in Atambua, West Timor. A list of activities can be found at http://www.etan.org/news/calendar.htm
“East Timor took an historic step with last week’s democratic, multiparty election. Yet, the U.S. and the wider international community have failed to fully address critical issues,” said John M. Miller, spokesperson for ETAN. “The victims of past crimes require justice and all refugees in West Timor who wish to return must be able to do so.”
Approximately one-tenth of those eligible to vote last week in East Timor’s constituent assembly election could not do so. They were among the estimated 80,000 East Timorese still held in squalid refugee camps in Indonesian West Timor. Humanitarian workers have described widespread malnutrition, epidemics, militia intimidation and violence against women in the camps, which are controlled by militia backed by the Indonesian military. East Timorese religious, political and community leaders have strongly urged the creation of an international tribunal for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in East Timor. They believe an international tribunal is necessary for East Timor’s healing and reconstruction and have endorsed the call by a United Nations special inquiry on East Timor for such a tribunal.
“An international tribunal is the only way to be certain that the Indonesian military commanders and political leaders most responsible are held accountable for the systematic human rights abuses in East Timor. Indonesia does not have the will and East Timor does not have the resources or access to try them. An international tribunal is essential to uphold international human rights standards and to end the impunity of the Indonesian military,” added Miller.
In Washington, DC at 11:30 am, tomorrow in Room SC-4 (Capitol Building), Senator Tom Harkin (IA) and Representative Jim McGovern (MA) will hold a press conference. With Senator Jack Reed (RI), they visited East Timor in August 1999 just before its UN-organized referendum. The Indonesian military devastated the country in retaliation for the overwhelmingly pro-independence vote. On September 6, some two weeks after the members of Congress visited Suai, the Indonesian military led a brutal attack on refugees sheltering in the town’s churchyard, killing at least 200 people, including nuns and priests.
Exactly one year later, three international staff with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, including U.S. citizen Carlos Caceres, were hacked to death and their bodies set on fire by rampaging military-backed militia in West Timor as Indonesian police stood by. An unknown number of East and West Timorese civilians were also killed that day. Six militiamen confessed to the crime, but Indonesian courts sentenced them to prison terms of just 10 to 20 months, sparking international condemnation.
To commemorate the anniversaries, ETAN will hold demonstrations at the Indonesian Embassy in Washington, DC, and the Indonesian consulates in Chicago and San Francisco. Other grassroots actions will take place in Tempe, AZ; Seattle; Green Bay, WI; Atlanta, and Philadelphia. These demonstrations and vigils will urge Indonesia to fulfill its promises to disarm the militia and allow the refugees to return home safely, as well as demand justice for the people of East Timor through the establishment of an international tribunal. Elsewhere, ETAN members will do local education, outreach, and contact the media to raise awareness of the issues.
“Such a high level of activity demonstrates the continued interest in justice and security for East Timor, both in Congress and by local communities. We are deeply disappointed that the Bush administration has not made a priority of a just resolution to East Timor’s refugee crisis or even publicly called for an international tribunal,” said Diane Farsetta, ETAN’s Field Organizer. “We are disturbed by the administration’s stated plans to renew ties with the Indonesian military, especially now as this repressive force continues its brutal tactics against civilians throughout Indonesia. Tomorrow’s activities should encourage the administration to reconsider,” she added.
Senator Harkin is the chief sponsor of Senate Concurrent Resolution 9 calling for “the establishment of an international war crimes tribunal to prosecute crimes against humanity” carried out by the Indonesian military in East Timor. Representative McGovern is a co-sponsor of the companion House Concurrent Resolution 60.
Interviews are available. Additional background
on the Suai massacre can be found at
For more information about the UNHCR killings, see http://www.etan.org/news/2000b/wtim.htm
The East Timor Action Network/U.S. supports human dignity for the people of East Timor by advocating for democracy, sustainable development, social, legal, and economic justice and human rights, including women’s rights. ETAN has 28 local chapters.
John M. Miller
Media & Outreach Coordinator, East Timor Action Network
48 Duffield St., Brooklyn, NY 11201 USA
Phone: (718)596-7668 Fax: (718)222-4097
Mobile phone: (917)690-4391
Web site: http://www.etan.org
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