September 9, 1999
President William Jefferson Clinton
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington, DC 20500
Dear Mr. President,
We have been shocked, dismayed, and deeply disturbed by the brutality unleashed against the defenseless people of East Timor by the Indonesian security forces and militias. This has been a week of unmitigated terror throughout the territory, a week of coldblooded murder, of arson and plunder, of forced removal of thousands upon thousands of innocent people whose only mistake was to trust the international community while freely casting their ballots in favor of self-determination.
It has been a week of broken promises and false assurances by the Indonesian government, and of temporizing by the rest of the world community, including our own government. We have been overly concerned not to offend the Indonesian authorities who, by all accounts, are themselves unable to control the murderous bands in East Timor, but have been fully successful in preventing the essential deployment of an international peacekeeping force.
The Catholic Church in particular is experiencing a bloody persecution. As of today, at least four priests and an equal number of women religious are confirmed dead and there are reports that an additional eleven priests and many of the Church's Caritas workers have been killed. Bishop Basilio Do Nascimento of Baucau was wounded while trying to protect victims of an attack on his home and is reported to be in hiding, while Nobel Laureate Bishop Carlos Ximenes Belo of Dili was forced into exile. Residences of both bishops have been burned down, as have several churches, schools and convents. Not only is East Timor experiencing human rights violations on a massive scale, it is also undergoing a brutal and systematic religious persecution.
Mr. President, this must end, and end immediately. A peacekeeping force must be sent to the region, with or without the acquiescence of Jakarta. From the historic illegitimacy of Indonesia's invasion of the territory in 1975, a conquest which the United Nations has never recognized, to the unchallenged expression of the people's will on August 30, an effort to come to the aid of the people of East Timor need not be an intrusion into a nation's internal affairs but a response to the will of the population. Together with the Holy See, the Bishops of the United States call for the immediate adoption by the United Nations of a resolution calling for the creation of an international peacekeeping force, and urge the United States to exercise strong leadership in securing that result.
I pray that you will be guided to take the actions necessary to save the lives of the suffering people of East Timor who, by committing themselves to the democratic process, placed their trust in the great democracies of the world. We cannot betray them.
Most Reverend Joseph A. Fiorenza
Bishop of Galveston-Houston