Archbishop Theodore E. McCarrick
Chairman, U.S. Bishops' International Policy Committee
Bishop Nicholas A. DiMarzio
Chairman, U.S. Bishops' Committee on Migration
National Conference of Catholic Bishops/U.S. Catholic Conference
September 30, 1999
The welcome arrival of the first contingents of the International Force for East Timor (INTERFET) has prompted the departure from East Timor of many militia members responsible for the violence against innocent East Timorese civilians. The terror visited upon the people of East Timor, however, has yet to end completely.
In East Timor, thousands of persons remain in hiding and are afraid to return to their homes, while elsewhere in Indonesia a significant number of East Timorese are in dire need of protection. Reportedly, 200,000 displaced persons in camps in West Timor and nearby islands remain subject to the brutality and control of militia elements.
The immediate safety of East Timorese driven from their homes, with the eventual goal of their safe return, should be a priority for the international community. The United States must take a leadership role in working with the Indonesian government to achieve these objectives in a timely manner. In order to protect those who remain in grave danger and alleviate suffering already inflicted on East Timorese residents, the U.S. Catholic Bishops recommend that the following actions be taken as soon as possible:
- The international community should continue to pressure the government of Indonesia to implement all possible measures to discipline lawless elements and protect East Timorese, whether they are located in East Timor, in camps in West Timor or other islands, or elsewhere in Indonesia. Most urgently, violence against innocent people must end. East Timorese who are active in the independence movement and in the Catholic Church are especially at risk, as well as those working for international voluntary agencies or the United Nations.
- Humanitarian agencies must be guaranteed full, free and safe access to East Timorese in all locations. Because of the uncertain security situation, humanitarian agencies are unable to sufficiently assist the displaced. The presence of militia in West Timor camps prevents the United Nations and other humanitarian organizations from offering protection and emergency aid to those in need.
- The forced dispersal of East Timorese to camps in West Timor and elsewhere must be halted, with persons allowed to return home in a secure environment when conditions permit. Acts of violence against East Timorese continue to occur, while militia units are taking away those in the camps suspected of supporting independence for East Timor. At the same time, militia are pursuing a "scorched earth policy" as they withdraw from East Timor. Reports from West Timor indicate that militia groups are controlling departures from the camps and are considering the creation of permanent camps for some of the displaced. The international community must ensure that the displaced within the camps, if they so choose, are allowed to return to their homes in safety. The creation of a "safe corridor" for return should be strongly considered.
- Government registration of East Timorese should stop, with new emphasis placed on the repatriation of displaced persons. The registration of camp populations by Indonesian authorities is of grave concern, especially considering that East Timorese are being asked to decide whether they want to return home or remain in Indonesia, a choice which may be used to identify pro-independence sentiment and place persons in further danger. East Timorese who voluntarily wish to remain in Indonesia should not be forced to repatriate.
- Resettlement options should be available to East Timorese who are unable to return home. Although the immediate rescue of those in danger must be the international community's highest priority, we foresee the need for permanent resettlement in other countries for the relatively small number of East Timorese who, for reasons that might include severe trauma or continued risk, are unable to remain in East Timor or Indonesia. For these refugees, we ask governments, including that of the United States, to make resettlement places available. We also ask governments to offer refugee status to those who have already fled East Timor and sought safe haven in their countries. We commend Australia, as well as Portugal, Macao and the Philippines, which have already offered to provide temporary safe haven to a significant number of East Timorese.
- In all movements of East Timorese, we appeal to governments and agencies alike to do their utmost to keep families together.