U.S. House of Representatives Shows Strong Support for Human Rights and Reconstruction in East Timor
Foreign Relations Act Calls for Justice and Refugee Return, and Authorizes Aid
May 17, 2001 -- The East Timor Action Network (ETAN) today praised continued congressional support for the territory set to become the first new nation of the millennium. Although ETAN endorses many of the bill’s provisions, the human rights organization encouraged the U.S. to do more to ensure justice, stability, and security for East Timor.
On Wednesday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Foreign Relations Authorization Act for Fiscal Years 2002 and 2003 (HR 1646). The bill authorizes funds to support reconstruction and capacity-building in East Timor. Also included was language calling for accountability for human rights atrocities committed in East Timor and condemning Indonesia’s failure to disarm and disband militia controlling East Timorese refugee camps in Indonesian West Timor.
“U.S. support is critical to East Timor’s future, and we appreciate the deep continuing involvement demonstrated by the House of Representatives. We must build on this step to institute socially, environmentally, and economically just relations between the two countries. Given past U.S. support for Indonesia’s illegal occupation, that is the least our country can do for the people of East Timor,” said Karen Orenstein, Washington Coordinator for ETAN.
The bill authorizes annual appropriations of $25 million in bilateral assistance and $500,000 in scholarships for East Timor for the next two years. This aid will support media, job creation, environmental protection, sustainable development, health care, education, the role of women in society, the voluntary and safe return of refugees to East Timor, and free and fair elections.
“We are encouraging Congress to appropriate the full amounts authorized by the final bill and will ask the Senate to authorize at least $30 million annually,” said Orenstein. Before becoming law, the U.S. Senate must also pass the legislation, the House and Senate must agree on any changes, and President Bush must sign it.
“Although ETAN appreciates the bill’s support for the East Timorese people, we are wary about the equity of the future economic and political relationship between the two countries” said ETAN spokesperson John M. Miller. “The U.S. should seize the rare occasion of defining its relationship with a new nation to set an example by following the highest international standards of justice, including labor rights, environmental protection, and equitable and sustainable development,” he continued.
The House also advocated justice and accountability for atrocities committed in East Timor, including the possible establishment of an international tribunal. The legislation calls “upon the United States Government to continue to insist upon vigorous investigations into all such [human rights] violations, and upon trials according to international standards for [Indonesian] military and police officers, militia leaders, and others accused of such violations.”
“The U.S. must unequivocally work to establish an international tribunal for crimes against humanity committed in East Timor. Recent events have made clear the inability and unwillingness of the Indonesian government to deliver justice. Any tribunal must cover human rights violations committed since the 1975 Indonesian invasion of East Timor,” said Orenstein.
In recent weeks, Indonesia limited the jurisdiction of an ad hoc Human Rights Court on East Timor to crimes committed after the August 30, 1999 referendum on independence. In an action widely condemned internationally, a Jakarta court handed down extremely light sentences to militia members who confessed to killing three UN refugee workers, including a U.S. citizen, in West Timor in September 2000 The House approved an amendment offered by Congressman Tom Lantos (D-CA) covering many aspects of U.S. relations with East Timor, including the establishment of official diplomatic ties. East Timor is currently under United Nations administration, with full independence scheduled for early 2002.
Language attached to the bill by the House International Relations Committee expresses concern about worsening conditions for East Timorese refugees in militia-controlled camps in Indonesian West Timor. “The Committee deplores the failure of the Indonesian government and security forces to disarm and disband militia groups which have enjoyed close relationships with elements of these forces, and which continue to intimidate refugees, spread misinformation, prevent safe and full access to refugees by international and local humanitarian workers, and threaten the peace and security of East Timor. The Committee is troubled by … reports of sexual enslavement of women and girls; and the separation of East Timorese children from their refugee parents.” The Committee urged the State Department to monitor the refugee situation closely and provide funding assistance.
In August 1999, the East Timorese people voted overwhelmingly for independence from Indonesia in a UN-conducted referendum, ending a 24 year-long occupation by Indonesia. Immediately following the ballot, the Indonesian military and its militia proxies conducted a month-long scorched earth campaign in East Timor, No Indonesian security forces personnel have been held accountable for crimes committed before or after the referendum. The U.S. provided weapons and political backing during the course of the occupation.
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. For additional information see ETAN’s web site (http://www.etan.org)