Decolonization Committee Hears Contrasting Views; `Special Status' Proposal of President Habibie also Discussed
The Special Committee on the Situation with regard to the Implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples this afternoon heard contrasting positions on the question of East Timor. While several petitioners stressed self-determination and independence for the island, others advocated its integration with Indonesia and expressed support for President B.J. Habibie's proposed special status for the Territory. The Committee was continuing its hearing of petitions on the question.
Jose Luis Guterres, External Delegation, Revolutionary Front for the Independence of East Timor (FRETILIN), said the organization rejected any definitive solution to the question without Timorese participation. It would never accept any transitional status that would imply Indonesian sovereignty over East Timor. The situation remained fundamentally unchanged; an occupied country and its people had not yet exercised their right to self-determination and independence as demanded in various General Assembly and Security Council resolutions.
He said FRETILIN believed that United Nations Member States and permanent members of the Security Council should have done more to implement decisions taken in respective resolutions. In spite of claims by Indonesian authorities of development and massive investments in East Timor, indicators by the United Nations Population Fund showed that Timorese life expectancy was among the lowest in the world's 30 least developed countries. The infant mortality rate was in fact the worst.
Maria Lurdes Soares, East Timor Cultural and Ethnic Research Centre, said President Habibie had shown a creative approach and a strong understanding of the Territory's problems. It was undeniable that the door for further discussions had been opened and the foundation for future negotiations laid. The promise to withdraw substantial numbers of troops, the offer of a special status, the release of political prisoners, the possible restoration of the East Timorese community and the return of guerrillas to normal life was a new attitude that deserved every consideration.
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Mari Alkatiri, Law Faculty, Eduardo Mondlane University, said Indonesia's offer was a political "marketing" bid aimed at conveying a more flexible attitude by the Government while implying an image of inflexibility on the part of the East Timorese Resistance and Portugal. The offer also aimed to create false expectations, thereby demobilizing international support for the cause of self-determination.
Abilio Sereno, Committee of the Peace and Development in East Timor, said that if everyone was sincere in solving the question of East Timor, the alternative offered by President Habibie was the only viable one. He invited all parties to accept that option as a starting point. Dialogue and consensus were the only ways to tackle the crisis. When there were winners and losers conflicts were unavoidable and ensuring that such a situation did not occur was the only way to avoid bloodshed.
Petitions were also heard from representatives of Kyoto East Timor Association, the British Coalition for East Timor, East Timor Alert Network, Pax Christi International, Free East Timor Japan Coalition, a Portuguese citizen living in East Timor, a member of the United States Congress, the Timorese Democratic Union, Hobart East Timor Committee, a citizen of East Timor, and the International Platform of Jurists for East Timor.
The Committee will resume its hearing of petitions tomorrow at 10:30 a.m.
Committee Work Programme
The Special Committee on the Situation with regard to the Implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples met this afternoon to continue its hearing of petitioners on the question of East Timor.
RICHARD TANTER, of the Kyoto East Timor Association, said President Habibie of Indonesia had conceded the necessity for change in East Timor policy. Indonesians themselves were questioning the wisdom, consequences and plain morality of occupation. More importantly, in the midst of Indonesia's economic and political crisis it was becoming clear to all how little there was to lose by a properly orchestrated withdrawal from the Territory.
He said Member States should renew approaches to Indonesian and East Timorese representatives to establish a two-step pathway to a process of self-determination for the Territory. To achieve those aims, the Organization would have to monitor: an immediate suspension of hostilities in the Territory; immediate revision of the powers of Indonesia's armed forces in East Timor; suspension of Indonesia's Anti-Subversion Act in the Territory; and an assurance of conformity by all Indonesian government organizations to the provisions of the Indonesian Criminal Code. In addition, the United Nations should sponsor a representative forum to develop transnational institutions and policies for the establishment of self-government in East Timor. It should also monitor the phased withdrawal of Indonesian troops from the villages and towns of the Territory and the simultaneous establishment of a transnational East Timorese local security and police force.
ARSENIO PAIXO BANO, of the British Coalition for East Timor, said his organization sought to influence British Government policy and the European Union position on East Timor. The initial steps by President Habibie's Government provided a crucial opportunity to solve the problems of the Territory. It was a timely moment for the Special Committee to carry out its responsibilities to fulfil obligations started by Portugal in 1974. Over time, Indonesia's illegal invasion and occupation had tragic consequences for the people of East Timor. This year had been no different. The weakening Indonesian economy had also affected the East Timorese, who now had to pay for Indonesian mismanagement. The general poverty of the East Timorese people, coupled with rising food prices, meant that they could now afford very little.
Now was the time for Indonesia, under the auspices of the international community, to take serious steps to resolve the decolonization issue. It must also improve its standing in the international community and its human rights record. President Habibie had indicated consent for a special status for East Timor. That was not satisfactory and was not in line with the European Union position adopted in 1996. There must be a referendum for the people of East
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Timor to choose their right to self-determination. The Coalition urged the Committee to encourage the Government of Indonesia to take concrete steps to resolve the situation of East Timor. He also drew the attention of the Committee to violence against women in East Timor who were subjected to rape, sexual harassment, prostitution and were also used as sex slaves. It was alarming that such considerations had been largely omitted from the peace initiatives.
MAX SURJADINATA, of the East Timor Alert Network/Canada, said the East Timorese were suffering severely from a combination of political repression and social mismanagement. Conditions under Indonesian occupation could not be expected to improve. The changes in Indonesia had opened up new possibilities for East Timor, but so far the new Government had remained almost as inflexible as the last. Its offer of special status was essentially meaningless, and would be no more than symbolic -- a far cry from the self- determination which the East Timorese demanded, and which was their right.
Many Canadian organizations and individuals had called for a free and fair referendum on the status of East Timor. There could be no better time than now, when Indonesia was trying to move towards democracy. If the new Government was serious, it would extend the basic democratic right of self- determination to the East Timorese, he said.
ABILIO SERENO, of the Committee of the Peace and Development in East Timor, wanted to know the meaning of "legitimate" in the context of East Timor when the FRETELIN had killed so many. It made no sense to launch a negative campaign against the saviour, Indonesia, while praising the killer. In a prison situation, did people have to wait for the United Nations to verify legitimacy or would they accept the hand of the savior who set them free. The Indonesian Government hoped to open a different chapter by giving East Timor a new status.
He said that, if everyone was sincere in solving the question of East Timor, the alternative offered by President Habibie was the only viable one. He invited all parties to accept that option as a starting point in solving the problem. Dialogue and consensus were the only ways to solve the crisis. When there were winners and losers, conflicts were unavoidable. Ensuring that there were none was the only way to avoid bloodshed. Also, why should Portugal force a referendum in East Timor when Macao had not been required to hold one to establish whether it wanted to join China? he asked.
ROBERT MURKEN, of Pax Christi International, spoke of economic injustices experienced by the East Timorese. Natural assets such as marble, oil and trees, were "stripped" from the island by the Indonesian business community, while the local indigenous community was denied its right to participate in the decision-making, work opportunities and profit-sharing. There was continued and excessive military presence, and the violation of human rights was another main source of conflict. The East Timorese were
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victims of oppression, arbitrary detention, ill treatment, torture and even extra-judicial execution. They were also denied the right of lawful assembly and political activity. Poor social care, especially in the area of health, was yet another principal conflict area.
He said Pax Christi International recommended that the Special Committee on the Situation with regard to the Implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples should initiate actions to reverse the annexation of the Territory. Interim initial steps which could be taken should include: setting up an independent human rights commission in Dili to safeguard basic human rights; the immediate and unconditional release of East Timorese political prisoners; access to the Territory by the United Nations specialized agencies to carry out a programme of restoration and protection of the environment; voluntary resettlement of displaced persons; district development projects, women and childcare and public health; the appointment of a resident representative of the United Nations to implement all its activities; broadening the Indonesian Government's agenda to include good governance, human rights, environmental sustainability, and human development; and the reduction and eventual withdrawal of occupying forces.
MISAKO KIMURA, of the Free East Timor Japan Coalition, recalled an incident at the Second Asia-Pacific Conference on East Timor meeting in Kuala Lumpur in 1996, when the Malaysian authorities forcibly stopped the conference, arrested its local NGO organizers and deported foreign participants.
She said she was lucky never to have seen a person killed and had never even seen a real gun. She had no specialized training and would not know how to fight with weapons if she had to. But although it was not an armed struggle, she was carrying out a struggle nevertheless by urging the people of her community -- whether the lady down the street or the Japanese Government -- to be concerned about human rights and to be aware of what was happening in East Timor.
People in Japan, Asia and throughout the world should know about East Timor, she said. They should listen to what the Timorese themselves had to say and join the struggle. When that happened, things would change and the name of East Timor would be heard throughout the world.
MARIA LURDES SOARES,of the East Timor Cultural and Ethnic Research Centre, said that although last October's all-inclusive intra-Timorese dialogue in Krumbach, Austria, had provided the environment for open discussion on practical issues, some of the participants had regarded the forum as ground for personal political campaigns. Past divisions and radical postures were key factors that prevented the meeting from being as efficient and as conducive as it should have been. However, the Krumbach Declaration was produced, stating -- among other things -- that participants reaffirmed
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their support for the ongoing Tripartite Dialogue between the Governments of Portugal and Indonesia under the auspices of the United Nations to find a just, comprehensive and internationally acceptable solution to the question of East Timor.
She said the political transformations in Indonesia during the last few months had placed great emphasis on the question of East Timor in the international community. The President of Indonesia, Jusuf Habibie, had already shown a creative approach and a quite strong understanding of the Territory's problems and had conclusively shattered the traditional practice of absolutely refusing to discuss or negotiate the question. It was undeniable that the door for further discussions had been opened and the foundation for future negotiations laid.
She said the new Indonesian President had promised to withdraw substantial numbers of troops from the Territory while offering the status of a special region, the release of political prisoners, the possible restoration of the East Timorese community and the return of guerrillas to normal life. That new attitude deserved every consideration since there was a greater chance for its success in a new atmosphere of dialogue and understanding. The Timorese people had much to gain, she added.
VALENTE DE ARAUJO, a Portuguese citizen born in Timor, said that the last 22 years had witnessed extreme and irreducible positions concerning the question of East Timor. For some people that was the independence of the Territory, while for others it was integration with Indonesia.
He said he proposed a form of autonomy that would be supported by a constitution and by the legalization of existing political parties in the Territory; a reasonable period to prepare free elections; and the installation of the party winning the most votes, which would rule through a president of the regional government, who would appoint regional secretaries and a regional parliament.
In terms of colonization, East Timor had nothing to do with the history of Indonesia, he said. In 450 years of Portuguese colonization, the Territory had always been separate from Indonesia in political, cultural, social and economic terms. As such, the East Timor question could not be resolved in terms of the Indonesian Constitution and should not be a source of problems for other regions/provinces.
He said that such autonomy meant a strong defence of the maintenance of the Portuguese language, which should be taught and spoken in schools and in public administration side by side with the Indonesian language. The use and practice of the two languages would be a fundamental means of understanding both cultures.
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NITA M. LOWEY, a member of the United States House of Representatives, in a statement read on her behalf by Matthew Traub, said that to effect real and lasting change in East Timor, there should be a demand for self- determination for its people through an internationally supervised referendum. The United States foreign aid bill for the current fiscal year included several provisions relating to the Territory. It contained an unprecedented requirement that any sale of weapons from the United States to Indonesia must include the stated expectation that they would be not used in East Timor. There was also a provision in the bill supporting "international efforts to find a just and viable solution to the problems in East Timor".
Resolutions had been introduced in the House of Representatives and the United States Senate by Congresswoman Lowey and Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, respectively, calling for an internationally supervised referendum to determine the political status of East Timor. Congresswoman Lowey believed very strongly that the United States and the international community had a responsibility to demand that Indonesia end its occupation of East Timor and give its people their inalienable right to self-determination.
JOAO VIEGAS CARRASCALAO, of the Timorese Democratic Union, said that at the last Pacific Regional Seminar held at Nadi, Fiji, from 16 to 18 June, it had been recommended to the Special Committee that Indonesia be called upon to comply with all relevant resolutions of the United Nations Security Council and the General Assembly. New calls were now being added for the unconditional liberation of Xanana Gusmao and for the condemnation of Indonesia for crimes against humanity in East Timor.
He said that Portugal, the administering Power of a Non-Self-Governing Territory recognized by the United Nations, had shown readiness to decolonize it and was, in fact, implementing its own decolonization programme with United Nations approval. A free act of self-determination was to take place at the end of the process. A third party, not concerned with the case, had stepped in uninvited, and decided to invade and militarily occupy the country in defiance of the United Nations Charter. That action was a clear-cut violation of international law. The East Timor issue did not belong in the Special Committee. It was a case for the Security Council and for the United Nations to enforce its resolutions.
JOSE LUIS GUTERRES, of the FRETILIN External Delegation, said that in East Timor the situation remained fundamentally unchanged. An occupied country and its people had not yet exercised their right to self-determination and independence as demanded in various General Assembly and Security Council resolutions. The Revolutionary Front for the Independence of East Timor (FRETILIN) believed that Members of the United Nations and permanent members of the Council should have done more to implement the decision that had been taken. It appealed to the Chinese Government, Japan, Australia, the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the South Pacific Forum to help the United Nations to bring peace and freedom to East Timor.
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In spite of claims by Indonesian authorities of development and massive investments in East Timor that surpassed the Portuguese colonial period, indicators released by the United Nations Population Fund indicated that life expectancy for the Timorese was one of the lowest among the 30 least developed countries, and that the infant mortality rate was in fact the worst.
From a self-sufficient country in rice production, East Timor now depended on rice imports. Deforestation for military purposes, destruction of the environment, lack of sound incentives for farmers, and rigid military control over the circulation of people had led the majority of Timorese to live below the poverty line. The FRETILIN encouraged President Habibie to continue his efforts to rectify the extreme injustice committed against a sister country.
He said FRETILIN clearly rejected the idea of any definitive solution without the participation of the Timorese people. It would never accept any transitional status implying Indonesian sovereignty over East Timor. It recognized the right of any Timorese to defend any political status for East Timor. The FRETILIN also believed that human rights should be respected by all individuals, organizations and States. A strong, democratic and stable Indonesia was in the interest of the East Timorese people, ASEAN, Australia and the world.
MARI ALKATIRI, of the Law Faculty, Eduardo Mondlane University, said that the sole novelty in the Indonesian offer of autonomy or special status for East Timor was the fact that it had been formally and publicly disclosed. For many years, several resistance leaders had been approached by Indonesian envoys with similar proposals. The resistance had never been influenced by such offers, not even during the most uncertain and hardest periods of the struggle waged by the East Timorese.
He said that the aim of the Indonesian offer was a political "marketing" bid aimed at conveying an apparently more flexible attitude by the Indonesian Government and, therefore, an image that the East Timorese Resistance and Portugal were inflexible; creating false expectations, thereby demobilizing international support for the cause of self-determination; and endlessly postponing a solution to the East Timor question.
He said the following stands should be adopted for a just solution: negotiations without conditions and the direct participation of the National Council for the East Timorese Resistance, led by Xanana Gusmao, in the dialogue involving Portugal and Indonesia under the auspices of the United Nations Secretary-General; unrestricted debate of all the issues regarding East Timor in the intra-Timorese dialogue; and refusal of any offer of a political status for East Timor unless it arose from a consensus born of the negotiating process, in full respect of international law.
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MIRANDA SISSONS, of the Hobart East Timor Committee, referred to United Nations mechanisms that could have been used to assist the people of East Timor, but which had been largely ineffective. Instead of the Organization placing restrictions on the nation in violation of international law -- Indonesia -- it had permitted that country to place a comprehensive air, sea, land, postal and telecommunications blockade on East Timor.
She said that in 1975, Portugal's requests for the development of a peacekeeping operation were ignored by the United Nations and effectively sabotaged by Australia and the United States. Had the United Nations taken its peacekeeping responsibilities more seriously, an Indonesian invasion of East Timor might have been averted altogether.
Since the formation of the United Nations, more than 70 colonies had gained nationhood, but few had achieved their independence by reason of the help, encouragement and support of the Special Committee, she said. It seemed likely that East Timor would gain its independence within the next year or two through the tenacity, courage and determination of its people, rather than because of any positive action taken by the Committee.
CIPRIANO MAGNO, a resident of East Timor, said he enjoyed living as an Indonesian citizen. Integration had fulfilled cherished hopes and aspirations, and liberated Timorese from the nightmare of Portuguese colonialism which had left poverty, backwardness and isolation in its wake. Over the past years, the Indonesian Government had accorded special attention to the needs of the people of East Timor, despite the many other domestic issues that it had to confront. That special attention continued even today in the face of economic difficulties. East Timor had been transformed into a vastly different land. The colonial past offered nothing worth remembering. It was a past where health care was absent, which denied education to most with the exception of the privileged few, and which was filled with racial discrimination in the employment sector.
Referring to the petitions made by the "so-called" National Council of Timorese Resistance, he said it was to be expected, given their past records, that they should speak so much when they had done so little. They offered solutions when they were themselves the mischief makers. They falsely and arrogantly spoke on behalf of the people who, however, could not be deceived. Ramos Horta could never pull the wool over the eyes of the East Timorese and his opportunistic ways shone through. The "Province" of East Timor could not escape the economic difficulties which had recently affected Indonesia and the entire Southeast Asian region. However, there was a determination to collectively overcome those challenges with the other provinces.
VANESSA RAMOS, International Platform of Jurists for East Timor, asked the Committee members not to lend themselves to the fallacious formulas of the
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occupying Power who invented the term "special status". They should only be taken seriously when they started withdrawing occupying troops.
Peace would come sooner if countries selling weapons to Indonesia would stop doing so. The tripartite talks involving Portugal, Indonesia and the United Nations should continue and the people of East Timor should be invited to participate.
She strongly urged the Indonesian Government to release Xanana Gusmao and all remaining political prisoners. It was hoped that the United Nations would soon be in a position to provide a working group to facilitate a self- determination referendum and that the Indonesian Government would allow access to the specialized agencies.
STEVANUS WAISAPY, of the Solidaritas Pemuda Indonesia, said, as an Indonesian he was astonished by the strong anti-Indonesia rhetoric hurled at his country by people who had little or no knowledge about it. As former colonial peoples, Indonesians needed no sermonizing about human rights, he said. In the case of East Timor and its people, he said Portuguese colonialism had left its deep scars. They had no health facilities, schools, roads, hospitals and transportation. On the contrary, following integration with Indonesia, East Timorese and Indonesians had worked in partnership to expedite the process of reconstruction after decades of colonial subjugation by Portugal. Every effort was being made to ensure that the people of East Timor enjoyed full exercise of their rights as Indonesian citizens.
After so much tragedy, he said East Timorese deserved support and assistance as they strove to consolidate their development as an integral part of Indonesia. The rest of Indonesia extended its fullest support towards the achievement of that goal, he added.
FERNANDO NEVES (Portugal) said that some petitioners seemed to be making comparisons between Indonesian colonialism and Portuguese colonialism which was not the purpose of the meeting. The last speaker had mentioned Portuguese atrocities in East Timor; it was under the Indonesian occupation that the worst atrocities had been committed in the Territory.
SOERYO LEGOWO (Indonesia) said his delegation would exercise its right of reply at a later stage.
BRUNO RODRIGUEZ-PARILLA (Cuba), acting Chairman, said that in order to allow all petitioners to speak, it had been decided to meet tomorrow at 10:30 a.m. He requested petitioners to limit their statements to a maximum of 10 minutes. There was no way the Committee could conclude its work without calling for the greatest punctuality and brevity possible.
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