Commission On Human Rights Special Session On ET

Published: Mon 27 Sep 1999 09:55 AM
24 September 1999
Press Release
Nature and Composition of Proposed Commission
on Inquiry into Alleged Human Rights Abuses Debated
(Reissued as received.)
GENEVA, 24 September (UN Information Service) -- The Commission on Human Rights continued this morning its special session on the human-rights situation in East Timor, with countries and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) debating whether an international commission of inquiry was needed and, if so, what its nature and composition should be.
The Governments of Norway, Switzerland and the United States were among those favouring such an international commission, which they said could do the job with expertise and impartiality. They stressed that those who had committed human-rights violations must be held criminally accountable for them.
Other countries, including the Philippines, supported an Indonesian-led inquiry with international assistance -- technical or otherwise -- provided as required. The Government of the Philippines said that anything else might give the impression that Indonesia's efforts would not be good enough. Malaysia contended that it was important to consider the sensitivities and opinions of Commission member States in the region.
While Egypt supported an international inquiry it emphasized that such an inquiry should supplement national measures and existing mechanisms, and stressed that it should be technical rather than political in nature.
A number of NGOs spoke passionately about the crisis. Monsignor Carlos Belo, representing Franciscans International, described the violence from the vantage point of his compound in East Timor, which was under siege during some of the bloodiest periods following the 30 August referendum in which an overwhelming majority of East Timorese voted in favour of independence. A representative of the International Service for Human Rights said East Timorese were paying for the laxity of the international community, including the Commission, which had been warned years ago about gross human rights violations in East Timor but had refused to listen.
Countries addressing the morning meeting were Ireland, Venezuela, Norway, Tunisia, Argentina, Sudan, Peru, Philippines, United States, Uruguay, Nepal,
Senegal, Ecuador, Mozambique, Egypt, Slovenia, Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Australia, Angola, New Zealand and Malaysia.
The following NGOs also read out formal statements: Franciscan International; International Service for Human Rights; War Resisters International; International Confederation of Free Trade Unions; Amnesty International; France Libertes; International Commission of Jurists; and World Lutheran Federation.
The special session of the Commission will reconvene at 3 p.m.
JOHN ROWAN (Ireland) said Ireland fully endorsed the points made by the Presidency of the European Union in the statement delivered yesterday. Ireland was participating in the international force in East Timor that was continuing to build up its operational capacity. It was entirely appropriate that the Commission had concerned itself with the issue of East Timor. The situation there was so grave that all means at the disposal of the international community should be used to alleviate the suffering of the Timorese people. It should not be forgotten that these gross violations of human rights were what the Commission was supposed to deal with.
Ireland believed that the provision in the European Union draft resolution for a review of the discussions in this forum at the current session of the General Assembly was necessary in view of the gravity of the situation in East Timor. The Commission could not let matters, which fell squarely within the remit of this body, drift. Action was needed now.
VICTOR RODRIGUEZ CEDENO (Venezuela) said his delegation supported the process that had begun with the popular consultations in East Timor. There was a lack of clarity in the process of deciding to convene the special session, and that was regrettable. However, Venezuela supported the special session and hoped the outcome would result in a resolution which addressed the situation.
The participation and cooperation of Indonesia was indispensable; assistance should be strengthened and progress made within a framework of flexibility and balance.
BJORN SKOKMO (Norway) said the Norwegian people had taken a keen interest in the situation in East Timor. Norway had congratulated the people of East Timor on their exercise of the right to self-determination through their massive participation in the free and fair referendum of 30 August 1999. The High Commissioner for Human Rights should be commended for her report on the situation on human rights there. Norway was shocked by the recent gross violations of human rights and international humanitarian law in East Timor. Those responsible for the atrocities should be condemned.
Norway expected that those responsible for the crimes would be held accountable. It called for the establishment of an international commission of inquiry to gather and analyze evidence concerning atrocities and gross human- rights violations in East Timor to make sure that those responsible for these crimes were brought to justice. The commission of inquiry should address several questions of accountability in connection with human-rights violations in East Timor. Individual acts of violence and intimidation must be investigated. Individuals and organizations which actively planned, organized or permitted acts of violence or intimidation should be held accountable and brought to justice.
KAMEL MORJANE (Tunisia), speaking on behalf of the African Group, expressed appreciation that the session was taking place in an air of calm and hoped that this atmosphere would continue. The situation in East Timor was of concern. Large-scale violations of human rights had taken place along with serious difficulties in carrying out humanitarian relief. Law and order must be restored speedily and violations must stop immediately. The results of the popular consultation of 30 August must be instituted immediately, and guilty parties must not go unpunished.
An acceptable compromised was possible, and confrontation must be avoided. There should be a concrete form to the consultations of 30 August. At the same time special attention should not be given to some reasons for the difficulties at the expense of others.
NORMA NASCIMBENE DE DUMONT (Argentina) said the Government condemned human-rights violations in East Timor. Wanton killings were deplorable, as was the entire lack of respect shown to all people there, including staff of international organizations. Argentina was a member of the Security Council, and it had voted in favour of Resolution 1264 on 15 September. The Government had sent policemen to the multinational forces in East Timor.
It was necessary to strengthen the on-site multinational force, while at the same time strengthening democracy in Indonesia. Argentina exhorted Indonesia to do everything it could to correct the situation. At the same time, Argentina hoped a constructive spirit would reign in this room. An action taken constructively would have a much stronger impact. It was hoped that whatever action was taken would be taken by consensus.
IBRAHIM MIRGHANI (Sudan) said Sudan had considerable reservations about holding the special session, as the procedure for deciding on the meeting was not clear, nor were the expressed objectives of the meeting. While the situation in East Timor was greatly regrettable, efforts were being made with the cooperation of the Indonesian Government to redress the problems there. Indonesia had accepted the installation of a multinational force; and the Government should be praised for its courage in dealing with the situation.
The problems in East Timor were complicated and a certain delicacy was required; the help of the Government of Indonesia was needed to produce positive results so that peace and stability could prevail.
JORGE VOTO BERNALES (Peru) said the Government supported the initiative to hold this session. The Commission had specific competence in this field, and it was its duty to apply it. All information coming from East Timor agreed that this was a situation of serious violations of human rights. The situation was even more serious as many of these violations were carried out in reaction to the referendum.
The Commission obviously could not duplicate the role of the Security Council in the field of peace and security, and nobody had tried to do that. But the Commission had broad powers in the field of human rights. Peace had a human-rights element.
DENIS LEPATAN (Philippines) said that with the country's limited means, the Philippines had contributed both human and financial resources to the peacekeeping effort in East Timor. The Government of the Philippines took this decision as a result of an appeal for assistance from the Government of Indonesia, which was a peacemaker. Indonesia's efforts to resolve the situation in Mindao was testimony to this.
Any formula that did not recognize and add to the efforts of the Indonesian Government to find a solution to the problem in East Timor would not be acceptable. The Indonesian Government had begun a fact-finding inquiry into the recent events, and the international community should assist with this effort. But there must not be a parallel effort by the international community, as it would imply that Indonesia's inquiry was not good enough. Moral and other support should be given to Indonesia for these efforts. Reconciliation was needed so that there would be a future for the peoples of Indonesia and East Timor, who were fated by geography to live together.
GEORGE MOOSE (United States) said the United States supported the call for this special session. The threats in East Timor against the people there, humanitarian groups, and journalists had jeopardized the transition to independence. It was strongly in Indonesia's own interest to hold perpetrators accountable, and there should be an international fact-finding body to investigate the violations. It had been a courageous act by the Indonesian Government to allow the East Timorese to vote for their independence, but the reaction to that vote had created a massive humanitarian crisis.
The United States expected the Indonesian Government to honour the agreements it had entered into under international law. The Government should protect the East Timorese who had fled or who had been forcibly removed from their homes. The militias should be disarmed. Steps should be taken to determine what had happened and who was responsible. It was important to send a signal to all parts of the world that gross violations would not be tolerated. The US welcomed the recent decision by the Indonesian Government to establish a national investigative mechanism, but it should be aided by a credible international investigative mechanism.
PAMELA VIVAS (Uruguay) said Uruguay supported the convening of a special session on the understanding that the group’s efforts and findings would be coordinated with the Security Council to bring about rapid security and specific action in East Timor, while taking into account efforts made by the Indonesian Government.
SHAMBHU RAM SIMKADA (Nepal) said the United Nations, this Commission, and the Office of the High Commissioner were seen as vanguards of the endeavour for the protection of human rights. Acts of violence and the killings of innocent people were always deplorable.
But in light of such willingness to cooperate fully on the part of the Indonesian Government, and the actions of the Security Council, Nepal remained unconvinced of the utility of this special session.
MOMAR GUEYE (Senegal) said the special session had come about as recognition of the need to advance the cause of human rights; the Commission was the appropriate forum for this. The fact that the Government of Indonesia had agreed to participate in the peacekeeping effort showed its willingness to cooperate and readiness to act.
LUIS GALLEGOS CHIRIBOGA (Ecuador) said it was often said that international news concentrated on scandal. In East Timor, the international press had shown scenes of barbarity and human suffering. The suffering could be seen clearly. There could be no doubt of the relevance of the action taken by the international community, and the need for the Commission to take action. This body should not prejudge. Ecuador believed in the rule of law and due process.
Ecuador hoped for the adoption of a resolution that focussed on goodwill. The Government wanted consensus. Indonesia's willingness to accept an international force in East Timor must be recognized. It was essential that, together with legal provisions, the international community should establish a mechanism that stressed the rule of law and fought against impunity.
ALVARO O DA SILVA (Mozambique) said the situation in East Timor was a clear demonstration of shortcomings on the part of the Indonesian Government in fulfilling the May 5 agreement. The delegation was pleased with the statements made by Xanana Gusmao calling for peace, reconciliation and tolerance within East Timor and among its neighbours. It also expressed appreciation for the commitment expressed by the Indonesian Government to cooperate with the United Nations.
Indonesian organizations should be included in all measures related to the deployment of emergency humanitarian assistance as well as to the gathering and compiling of information on human-rights violations. Mozambique was preparing to participate in UNAMET's efforts and was willing to share its experience with reconciliation and national reconstruction with its brothers and sisters in East Timor. Mozambique hoped United Nations agencies would assist East Timor in the field of human rights and national reconstruction.
IBRAHIM SALAMA (Egypt) said Egypt fully supported the principle of joint international action. It also was well aware that the international community could not remain inactive in the face of human right violations. But it must be remembered that all international action should respect legal norms, including the limits among the various United Nations bodies. All joint actions should fit into an international spirit of cooperation.
Egypt was pleased to note the interest shown by the international community in efforts to resolve the situation in East Timor. Objective criteria should be determined that could be included in any draft resolution considered by the Commission. With regard to the contents of a resolution, it was essential for the Commission to adopt one with international scope, particularly for any investigatory commission. Also, any measure to be recommended should supplement national measures and not be imposed on such measures or be a substitute for them, so as not to give the impression that institutions in Indonesia were not able to carry out their responsibilities. With regard to means of implementation, it was essential for the Commission to use existing mechanisms. This was very important because there was a study ongoing about the means of strengthening existing mechanisms. It was essential to reach a consensus on any recommendation. That would be the criteria for either the success or failure of the special session.
GREGOR ZORE (Slovenia) said Slovenia fully supported the statement made by the European Union. The perpetrators of acts of violence in East Timor must be brought to justice. Slovenia supported the creation of a multinational force and hoped the Government of Indonesia would be helpful.
There should be unhindered access for international humanitarian personnel, and their security should be assured. There should also be full access for such agencies to internally displaced people. A meaningful implementation of the expressed will of the East Timorese people should take place.
LETIZIA MEIER (Liechtenstein) said while Liechtenstein was not a member of the Commission, it welcomed this opportunity to address the human rights situation in East Timor. The holding of the special session was one appropriate way for the international community to express concern and outrage in response to the humanitarian tragedy which had unfolded there. Other bodies had already responded, most notably the Security Council, but it should be stated that not everything had been done to save lives in East Timor.
Leichtenstein was of the view that this body should adopt a text on the situation of human rights in East Timor. It would be an appropriate and strong message if such a text could be adopted by consensus -- possibly even as a statement read out by the chairperson. More important, however, was the adoption of a text which did justice to the events that had taken place and contributed to enabling the people of East Timor to live their lives in peace and in accordance with their freely expressed will to become an independent country.
JEAN-DANIEL VIGNY (Switzerland) said the lack of will or inability of the Government of Indonesia to put an end to the atrocities had been vital to the course of events in East Timor. The activities of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) had been continually impeded as had been the efforts of UNAMET. The international community must pay the keenest attention to the events in East Timor. The international community had stated its duty to protect those whose human rights had been violated. An international commission of inquiry was urgently required to combat the risk of impunity.
The intervention of the international force was the most important factor for ensuring humanitarian assistance and security for the people of East Timor. The Government of Switzerland had contributed financially to the peacekeeping and humanitarian efforts. However, the ultimate responsibility lay with Indonesia to mitigate the situation, restore peace to the region and allow refugees to return home, if they wished to do so.
LES LUCK (Australia) said the Australian Government, in its statement of 6 April 1999 to the Commission, had highlighted the many positive developments in Indonesia's human-rights situation while noting its concern at the eruptions of social tension in different parts of the country. It was hoped that the gains in civil and political rights would be consolidated and not overshadowed by those tensions and that all sectors of society would secure national stability and well-being by putting human rights first.
Regrettably, Australia had also had to make clear its dismay and concern at the collapse of order and the violence that followed the vote of East Timorese for independence. The response of the international community to this distressing situation was embodied in the resolution adopted by the Security Council, which was made possible by Indonesia's readiness to accept an international peacekeeping force through the United Nations to assist in restoring peace and security in East Timor. Australia had acceded to the United Nations Secretary-General's request to lead that force, INTERFET, which had now begun its work. It was the Australian Government's view that allegations of human-rights violations in East Timor should be thoroughly investigated through a coordinated, United Nations-wide response based on the Security Council resolution. It was in that context that the proposals of the High Commissioner were viewed. Australia was ready to cooperate as fully as possible with any such investigation and to do whatever was appropriate to ensure that those who were responsible for any violations of human rights in East Timor were brought to account.
LEOUIGILAO DA COSTA SILVA (Angola) said that his delegation had followed with great interest the events in East Timor and condemned the violence and gross violations of human rights committed there. An inquiry was not incompatible with the multinational peacekeeping force; a special rapporteur could better supplement their efforts.
The Angolan delegation unequivocally supported the statements of the European Union and the African group.
ROGER FARRELL (New Zealand) said the people and the Government of New Zealand had been shocked by what had unfolded in East Timor since the 30 August ballot. As the Prime Minister had said, the hearts of New Zealanders had gone out to the East Timorese people for what they had suffered. There had been a deliberate attempt to sabotage and undermine the United Nations process, a process to which the Indonesian Government had agreed and in support of which it had pledged to provide peace and security. Unquestionably, elements of Indonesia's armed forces and police were complicit in the violence and human rights abuses alleged to have taken place. The facts and scale of what had happened were beginning to come out.
New Zealand supported the proposal for the establishment of a mechanism to investigate alleged human-rights abuses in East Timor, and it was hoped that Indonesia would be able to facilitate and cooperate with it. It was also hoped that Indonesia's own national Commission for Human Rights would make a constructive contribution. It was expected that the report of the commission of inquiry would be made available to the Security Council and to the General Assembly as soon as possible so that the Security Council could consider appropriate action. The convening of this special session reflected a broad international concern about developments in East Timor and an equally broad commitment, which New Zealand shared, to work for realization of the ballot outcome and East Timor's transition to independence.
RAJA NUSHIRWAN (Malaysia) said that in view of the fact that the Indonesian Government had demonstrated its willingness to cooperate with the Security Council, the matter was better left there. The Indonesian Government had taken steps towards domestic reform; therefore further action was not needed.
In addressing the situation in East Timor, the international community should bear in mind the impact on regional stabily; on-going reforms; and the views of the countries in the region. The May 5th agreement must form the basis of discussions. The views of the Indonesian Government must be consulted and the territorial integrity of Indonesia should be respected. The special session should take place in an air of impartiality and respect.
CARLOS BELO, of Franciscans International, said after the announcement of the results of the referendum, the militias had taken revenge against the population which had voted for self-determination. In an attack on 5 September, 25 refugees were killed, and the next day, the Franciscans’ episcopal residence was destroyed. What had happened was that many innocent people had been beaten or killed. Many people had been forced to flee to West Timor. The Commission should create an international investigative commission.
Franciscans International deplored that at the end of this century, when the 50th anniversary of the human-rights declaration had just been celebrated, that such a thing could happen. It thanked the international community for its support, and it was hoped that the East Timorese people would soon be helped.
ADRIEN-CLAUDE ZOLLER, of International Service for Human Rights, said that if serious attention had been given to the information presented to the Commission in 1982, thousand of lives could have been saved in East Timor. Concentration camps then were described as detention centres. Other massacres were described by the Government of Indonesia as “incidents”. The Indonesian delegation had taken advantage of its membership in the Commission to advance its lies.
East Timor was paying for the laxity of the international community. Human-rights interests should take precedence over political or economic interests. The tragedy was not over; the criminals had not finished their dirty work. An inquiry should be established and there should be an international criminal court on East Timor. The investigators should submit their first papers by the end of October. There was a need for a long-term human rights programme to be established for East Timor. East Timor had lost almost one- third of its people.
MICHEL MONOD, of War Resisters International, said the NGO had been dismayed by the recent events in East Timor. They once again showed that armies did not protect populations; rather, they were a threat to populations. Eighty per cent of human rights violations were committed by military or paramilitary forces. The pretext of having an army in these regions was supposedly to combat terrorism. But terrorism was carried out by such forces.
East Timor, like Kosovo, had demanded its independence. Once the results of the elections were announced, violence was unleashed. The East Timorese did not need more of an army; they needed more help to become self-sufficient. The United Nations should be able to outlaw armies and punish those who distributed and sold weapons.
MARIE-THERESE BELLAMY, of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, said an international commission of inquiry should be established. An international tribunal should be established as well, if it was recommended by the international commission of inquiry. Concerted international pressure was needed more than ever to protect East Timorese. It was particularly of concern that, among the displaced people, men had been separated out. Displaced persons and refugees should be placed under international protection.
All Governments should recognize the Government of East Timor and provide assistance. The ICFTU would assist East Timor in setting up a system of free trade unions.
ISABELLE SCHERRER, of Amnesty International, said massive and widespread violations of international human rights and humanitarian law continued to take place in East Timor, much of it away from the public eye and media because of lack of access. Murder, torture -- including rape -- disappearances and forcible expulsions had been carried out by pro-integration militias with the acquiescence and in some cases with the active participation of the Indonesian security forces. The human-rights tragedy that had unfolded in East Timor had now spread also to West Timor, where an unknown number of militias who had left East Timor were operating with impunity. Tens of thousands of East Timorese who had fled or been forcibly transferred lived in precarious conditions in West Timor, where the UNHCR and international humanitarian organizations had to date been given limited or no access to the camps.
The international community had failed a first time during this transitional phase in the history of East Timor to carry out its responsibility to ensure protection for East Timorese, as required by the 5 May agreement. It must not fail a second time. In order for the Commission to exercise its responsibility to act concretely, effectively and quickly in this special session, Amnesty International believed it was essential that any resolution adopted by the Commission should, among other things, call on Indonesian authorities to provide for immediate and unconditional access by humanitarian agencies and independent monitors to the internally displaced persons; call on Indonesian authorities to ensure full and unimpeded access to the territories for independent monitors, and call on the Security Council to promptly create a Committee of Experts to gather evidence of human-rights violations in East and West Timor, as recommended in the report of the Security Council mission to the region.
ANA NUNES, of France Libertes, said that in light of the current circumstances, the safety of political prisoners should be guaranteed. Those responsible for violence against women in East Timor should be punished. Summary executions had been numbered in the thousands. Human-rights investigators must have access to all East Timorese, whether they remained in the country or not.
If there was no justice, a system of vengeance could result. The new State of East Timor could not live under constant threat. Indonesia would never find peace with its neighbours unless there was justice.
NIRMALA PANDIT, of International Commission of Jurists, said the persistent, deliberate, systematic and gross violations of human rights perpetrated on the East Timorese civilians by the anti-independence militias and their supporters in the regular Indonesian armed forces justified prompt, adequate and collaborative action by the international community. The extreme gravity and urgency of the situation called for States to rise above petty political differences in order to suppress impunity and restore the rule of law in the name of human rights and the right of the people of East Timor to self- determination.
The ICJ urged that perpetrators of gross human rights violations in East Timor be held individually responsible. Such action would be effective only if it meant that the authors of war crimes and crimes against humanity would be brought before an impartial international tribunal. The Indonesian suggestion of conducting an inquiry through their national human rights commission was laudable, but not entirely credible in light of the present political climate. The ICJ supported the initiatives taken by its Portuguese and Australian sections to ensure that impunity did not prevail. It encouraged the international community to expedite with utmost urgency the process of ratification of the Rome Convention on the establishment of an International Criminal Court.
RACHLAN NASHIDIK, of Lutheran World Federation, called for the creation of an international tribunal on East Timor, as that step could finally provide the opportunity to establish the facts and break the cycle of impunity in Indonesia. The Commission should not be diverted from its heavy responsibility. The response to the ballot for independence was testimony to the magnitude of the violations in East Timor. Strategies employed included killings, the use of terror and forced displacement. This was extreme State-sponsored violence and so far it had enjoyed immunity from prosecution.
The magnitude of Indonesia's defiance should be emphasized; the violations were a slap in the face of the United Nations, its principles and concepts. The United Nations must now respond; the job should not be left to the Indonesian Commission on Human Rights. Indonesia should not be entrusted with the task; it was a task for the United Nations alone. More than ever before, East Timor was the responsibility of the international community. The situation in East Timor should be viewed within the wider context of military abuse in the face of claims of self-determination.

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