ETAN Statement on Recent Events in Timor-Leste
Country Fragile, International Assistance, Justice Still Needed
The East Timor and Indonesia Action Network (ETAN) has followed recent events in Dili with deep concern. The recent riot
regrettably resulted in injury and death, as well as property damage. As longtime supporters of Timor-Leste's
self-determination and independence, we hope the peace that has prevailed on Dili since April 29 continues, and that
those who fled in fear will soon return. While property can be rebuilt and political problems resolved, the traumatic
experiences from several decades of repressive occupation and Indonesia's destructive withdrawal in 1999 continue to
have serious impacts on the Timorese population.
Timor-Leste, a new nation borne of decades of military occupation, has made remarkable progress since 1999. However, its
democracy, as well as public confidence in the leaderships' ability to peacefully resolve conflicts, are fragile. Trauma
recovery, economic development, the creation of a competent public administration and building physical and governmental
infrastructure are long-term processes. Patience is required by the government, the population, and all others committed
to a democratic Timor-Leste.
The inadequacies of governmental leadership and the shortcomings of international support for the transition to
self-government have been illustrated by recent events. There are many lessons to be learned.
We urge all parties to the recent disagreement within the military to seek a peaceful and lasting solution. As long as
Timor-Leste has a military, structural and institutional weaknesses within that force must be addressed. The spirit of
national unity and public service, which provided the foundation for the independence movement, must be re-established
among military and civilian public officials. The government commission's investigation of the fired soldiers'
grievances, as well as any evaluation of the behavior of the police and military during recent months, must be
transparent with results made public in a timely manner.
After so many traumatic experiences since 1975, Timor-Leste's population is especially sensitive to rumors and displays
of force, a situation worsened by an absence of accurate information. The telephone system must therefore be made
reliable under peak loads, and with wider coverage. Journalists and other media personnel, both
Timorese and international, need to better understand and avoid the inflammatory effects of unverified reports. To help
regain public trust, the government should release the long-completed reports on the December 4, 2002 unrest in Dili,
when police killed several demonstrators.
The Timor-Leste government and the international community should heed the Timorese people's cry for justice for crimes
committed during the quarter-century Indonesian occupation. The UN and key governments, including the United States,
must move beyond platitudes and actively pursue real accountability. We cannot but wonder if international and Timorese
failures to ensure justice have led some in Timor-Leste to believe that their own use of violence would be met with
similar impunity. As described in the recent report of Timor-Leste's Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation
(CAVR), several countries - including the U.S., U.K., and Australia - bear a special responsibility to ensure justice
and accountability due to their actions and inaction from 1975 on. Reparations, as called for by the CAVR, would help
alleviate the poverty and joblessness that has fueled some of the unrest and help rebuild the country's infrastructure,
which the Indonesian military so thoroughly destroyed during the brutal occupation supported by these countries.
The international community has invested heavily in Timor-Leste since
1999, but their job is not complete. Transforming a guerrilla resistance into an official military is always difficult,
but the roots of many of the current problems in Timor-Leste's UN-designed military grow out of the international
community's failure to help
Timor-Leste define and implement a clear mandate for and effective training of the defense force.
We urge the international community and the UN, especially the Security Council, to work with Timor-Leste to complete
the nation-building and development tasks to which it has already committed. Security Council members should favorably
consider the Timor-Leste government's request for a special UN office until after next year's presidential and
parliamentary elections. These national elections, the first in independent Timor-Leste, will help determine if
democracy has staying power in this new nation. In addition to electoral assistance, the Secretary-General has proposed
continued human rights monitoring, military liaisons, police training advisers, and other assistance to improve the
competence of government institutions. A formal mission will also increase the East Timorese people's sense of security
over the coming year, whereas a premature end to the mission could escalate public fear.
International support and expertise are still needed but must be geared toward empowering the Timorese people to take
full charge of their own destiny. It is not too late to keep Timor-Leste from joining the ranks of post-conflict "failed
states." However, the people of Timor-Leste will require further assistance to reach that goal -- to secure the
self-determination for which they struggled many years and at such great human cost.
ETAN advocates for democracy, justice and human rights for East Timor and Indonesia. ETAN calls for an international
tribunal to prosecute crimes against humanity committed in East Timor from 1975 to 1999 and for restrictions on U.S.
military assistance to Indonesia until there is genuine reform of its security forces. For additional background, see http://www.etan.org/