RECENT EVENTS: The 1996 Nobel Peace Prize to Bishop Carlos Ximenes Belo and co-recipient Jose Ramos-Horta raised international awareness of the long-neglected situation in East Timor. Nonetheless, conditions in that island territory remain grim. To cite just one recent example, in mid-November, Indonesian troops burst onto the campus of the University of East Timor in Dili, there were shootings and arrests and soldiers dragged a wounded student from a Red Cross truck. Bishop Belo described these and other recent acts as incalculable brutality.
On December 10, one year after his receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, the bishop said he had seen no improvement in the [political] climateor any improvement on human rights in 1997. The threat of violence is always present, he said in an interview in December. There are still violations and torture. It means that there are no changes at all, either in human rights or in peace and justice.
In 1997, however, there was an attempt by South African President Nelson Mandela, who has long had relations with Indonesia and high standing in that country, to try to mediate a solution to the East Timor conflict. This venture leaves the door open for future action. United Nations talks continue, and in his New Years address to the Vatican diplomatic corps, Pope John Paul spoke of the plight of the people of East Timor, and in particular the sons and daughters of the Church there, still awaiting more peaceful conditions in order to be able to look to the future with greater confidence.
Added to the human rights and political problems is the possibility of severe food shortages and even famine as a result of drought caused by the El Niρo phenomenon. In the late 1970s, famine claimed the lives of many tens of thousands; a recurrence of famine at this time would be extremely disastrous.
Last June, Bishop Belo addressed the Kansas City meeting of the NCCB/USCC and repeated his plea for an increase of advocacy here on behalf of East Timor.
ROLE OF THE U.S.: Through the leadership of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), a measure passed Congress last fall that limited use of American weapons in East Timor. Welcome as such efforts are, it is far from what is needed to bring about a just and lasting solution to the political conflict. It is in the area of finance where the United States has the most significant influence in Indonesia today. The IMFs recent economic bailout of Indonesia included a direct American contribution of $3 billion and much more in U.S. contributions to the IMFs $43 billion Indonesian package.
USCC POSITION: The USCC has consistently and repeatedly supported the efforts of Bishop Belo in his denunciation of violations of human rights in and his calls for a peaceful, mediated settlement under the auspices of the United Nations of East Timors political status. The most recent major Conference expression on the issues was the July 1994 statement of the USCC Committee on International Policy, which has been followed by several letters expressing the Conferences continuing concern.
ACTION REQUESTED: Congressional protests and representations by various U.S. Administrations since 1979 have helped to limit severe human rights abuses. Recently, Reps. Patrick Kennedy (D-RI), Tony Hall (D-OH) and Frank Wolf (R-VA) have taken the lead in asking the U.S. to use its financial leverage with Indonesia to help bring about major changes in its policy on East Timor. At the least, the U.S. should utilize its enormous influence to help meet Bishop Belos goals of reducing the number of Indonesian troops there, releasing political prisoners, ending torture and violence, and bringing about an equitable solution to the tragic 22 year-old conflict in East Timor.
Please contact your Senators and Representatives expressing support for such efforts, as well as the initiatives of Sens. Patrick Leahy and Russell Finegold (D-WI) which aim to ensure that a major diplomatic effort on East Timor be a part of the U.S. agenda with Indonesia at this critical juncture.
Stress also the importance of U.S. participation in any international relief efforts to address food shortages there, using its political influence to ensure that independent aid organizations be allowed to operate in East Timor to the greatest extent possible.
For further information,Tom Quigley: (202) 541-3184; fax 541-3339; e-mail email@example.com