More than a year after the Indonesian occupation of East Timor came to an end in late 1999 and a United Nations administration was put in place to bring about the territory's transition to independence, enormous problems still exist. An estimated 100,000 East Timorese refugees remain across the Indonesian border in West Timor, where they went after nearly 80 percent of registered voters cast their ballots for independence in a United Nations-sponsored referendum in August 1999. The plight of these refugees was dramatized in September 2000 with the tragic killings of three UN refugee workers, including one American, by a militia mob that could not have operated without the collusion of Indonesian army elements. Because of the killing of their colleagues, UN aid workers and others were forced to depart, leaving the refugees without protection.
An international peace-keeping force under UN auspices remains in East Timor, and its presence will be badly needed for the foreseeable future to guard against border attacks by militias and Indonesian forces. Two international peace keepers have been killed in militia raids and continued subversion of East Timor by the militias and their Indonesian army backers cannot be ruled out. Most of East Timor's infrastructure, destroyed by departing Indonesian troops and their local allies in late 1999, has yet to be rebuilt. Thousands were killed in the 1999 violence, including priests, nuns and seminarians.
In recent weeks a meeting in East Timor presided over by the Papal Nuncio to Indonesia attempted to address the unresolved problem of the refugees remaining in West Timor. The refugees were among the 250,000 people brought to West Timor, most of them forced there by the Indonesian military in September 1999.
Some in the camps are members of militias who participated in the destruction of East Timor, in addition to their family members and others who once worked for the former Indonesian administration in East Timor: Because of these complicated circumstances, some in the refugee camps want to remain in Indonesia.
By all accounts, however, many others wish to return home to East Timor, but have been subjected to intimidation and other forms of abuse. The refugees in West Timor should be allowed to choose whether or not they wish to return home without further delay. Bishop Carlos Ximenes Belo of the Diocese of Dili has appealed for international pressure toward this goal.
At the same time, there is a continuing investigation by the United Nations into the violence of 1999. However, international pressure will be needed to ensure that justice for the people of East Timor is finally obtained. All the key perpetrators of the 1999 violence remain in Indonesia, here prosecutions are stalled. There has been no evidence of a systematic strategy by either the UN or the Indonesian authorities to prosecute the top militia commanders or the Indonesian officers behind them. Bishop Belo and other Church experts have affirmed that it will be extremely difficult to achieve reconciliation in East Timor unless justice is rendered for the heinous crimes that took place.
The USCC has been consistent over the years in denouncing outstanding human rights violations and calling, with the Bishops of East Timor, for the territory's political status to be determined by the free decision of the people. During and following the crisis of September 1999, both Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, then Chairman of the Committee on International Policy, and Bishop Joseph Fiorenza, Conference President, issued particularly strong statements. During 2000, Archbishop McCarrick and Bishop John Cummins made separate visits to East Timor to express the solidarity of the Church in the United States with the people and clergy of East Timor.
International solidarity with East Timor remains vital. Members of Congress such as Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-RI), Rep. James McGovern (D-MA), Rep. Tom Lantos (D-CA), Rep. Christopher Smith (R-NJ), Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) and Rep. Tony Hall (D-OH), among others, have been active on the East Timor issues, and have introduced "The East Timor Transition to Independence Act of 2001" to help support various forms of U.S. aid to East Timor, as well as security for the territory, measures which Bishop Carlos Ximenes Belo has strongly encouraged.
It is expected that other measures will be proposed in the House in the months to come to deal with a range of human rights issues affecting East Timor. Sen. Russell Feingold (D-WI), Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R-RI), Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and others are expected to introduce similar measures in the Senate.
PLEASE CONTACT YOUR SENATORS AND REPRESENTATIVE ASKING THAT THEY KEEP IN MIND THE STILL UNRESOLVED PROBLEMS OF EAST TIMOR AND OFFER THEIR SUPPORT FOR SUCH LEGISLATIVE EFFORTS.
East Timor action alert (7/99; 9/99); USCC statements on the crisis in East Timor (9/99); on urgent appeal to president Clinton (9/99); Abp. Theodore McCarrick's statement on East Timor(9/99); on the protection of East Timor (9/99); update (2/00)
For further information: Tom Quigley 202-541-3184 (ph); 202-541-3339 (fax); email@example.com