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The Role of the International Community

The international community wholeheartedly supported the reconstruction of East Timor, with U.S. $522 million pledged at a December 1999 donor conference in Tokyo, jointly chaired by UNTAET and the World Bank. Japan, the E.U., Australia, Portugal, and the U.S. all made significant contributions. At a follow-up conference in Lisbon in June 2000, donors agreed to cover the U.S. $16 million shortfall between expenses and revenue in East Timor's first-ever national budget. East Timorese leaders saw the aid less as overwhelming generosity than as an appropriate response from the countries that had long supported the former Soeharto government in Indonesia. Many bilateral and multilateral donors saw the reconstruction effort as an opportunity to help lay the foundations for a democratic society; they funded NGOs and local professional associations as well as UNTAET. Some donors earmarked funds specifically for human rights and justice projects: Britain helped with forensic equipment, Canada with forensic investigators, the U.S. with initial efforts toward a truth and reconciliation commission, Norway with criminal investigations, and so on. Australia played a particularly important role as the new state's nearest and largest neighbor.

The killings of two UNTAET soldiers in August and of three UNHCR workers in West Timor on September 6 sparked international outrage and demands for disarming and prosecuting the militias.

United Nations

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and the U.N. Security Council were supportive of UNTAET throughout the year. Annan was warmly received during his visit to East Timor in February, and he underscored his commitment to seeking justice for the 1999 violence. Security Council Resolution 1319, adopted on September 8, called the killings of aid workers in West Timor "outrageous and contemptible," demanded that Indonesia disarm and disband the militias, stressed that those responsible should be brought to justice, and called on UNTAET to "respond robustly" to the militia threat.

In early November 1999, the special rapporteurs on violence against women; torture; and extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions visited East Timor. Their report, released in December, linked grave human rights abuses, including murder and rape, to the Indonesian army and the militias it created. In November, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights coordinated the visit of the five ICIET commissioners.

The UNICEF office in Dili took a lead role in addressing children's rights issues. Its main concern in this regard was the problem of children separated from their parents during the conflict; reports of hundreds of East Timorese children taken to Java in late 1999 were still being investigated as this report went to press. UNICEF also took a strong interest in juvenile detention and worked for regulations on adoptions by foreigners of East Timorese children.

UNHCR had a large office in Dili and together with the IOM had supervised the return of more than 170,000 East Timorese by September 2000. While heavily criticized in the first few months for failing to take adequate precautions to protect returnees who might be accused of militia connections, UNHCR's preparations improved as the year progressed.

International Financial Institutions

From its Joint Assessment Mission of October 1999 onward, the World Bank played a critical and positive role in East Timor. The bank was instrumental in securing commitments from donors at the Tokyo and Lisbon conferences and worked intensively with CRNT leaders to hammer out a budget that reflected CNRT priorities. The World Bank became the unlikely champion of village-level democracy through its Community Empowerment Project in which local councils, each composed equally of men and women, were elected to decide on distribution of development funds at the village, district, and subdistrict levels.


Australia played a decisive role in assisting East Timor. Australia assumed a critical leadership position in September 1999 in assembling the International Forces for East Timor (Interfet) under General Peter Cosgrove, and continued to play a leading part within UNTAET peacekeeping operations. Darwin, Australia was part of the mission area for UNTAET, and for many months was the only direct air link between East Timor and the rest of the world. It was from Darwin that most supplies were brought into East Timor, and Darwin provided training facilities for civilian police and other parts of UNTAET. The Australian government seconded hundreds of personnel to work in virtually every field of development, including democratization, and arranged for the design and construction of East Timor's first parliament building.

The government took a strong interest in the investigations into the 1999 violence. In mid-2000, it quietly turned over to the Indonesian Attorney General's Office all files on investigations conducted by Interfet into militia crimes, with witnesses names removed.

United States

The key contributors for the U.S. on East Timor were the State Department, including ambassadors to the U.N. and Jakarta, Congress, and President Clinton. In November, U.N. Secretary Richard Holbrooke and Stanley Roth, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and PacificAffairs, made a highly publicized visit to the refugee camps in West Timor and pressed for an agreement between UNTAET and Indonesia on the repatriation of refugees. Holbrooke throughout the year raised the need to disarm and control the militias and end cross-border incursions. He was a major force behind Security Council Resolution 1319.

The State Department's Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, and Ambassador Robert Gelbard in Jakarta, provided strong support for investigations in Jakarta and Dili into the East Timor violence, securing funds from Congress to support the prosecution efforts in both capitals and to help with training of East Timorese police and the establishment of a criminal justice system.

In May, some members of Congress introduced language into the foreign aid bill for fiscal year 2001 forbidding direct U.S. military sales to or training programs for the Indonesian military until East Timorese were repatriated from West Timor and militia attacks against East Timor had ended. The bill was still pending in October. In September, a bill was introduced that would enable the U.S. to increase support for activities in East Timor as the country moved toward independence, including support for human rights, the rule of law, and reconciliation processes. Congress had not acted on it before adjourning in October.

European Union

At the December 1999 international donors' meeting, the European Commission pledged 60 million euros over a three-year period for East Timor's reconstruction. Also in December, the European Parliament voted to extend the arms embargo against Indonesia imposed on September 16,1999 after the post-referendum violence. On January 17, 2000, the embargo expired without debate. The United Kingdom quickly resumed sales of Hawk jet fighters to Indonesia. All member states, however, remained individually bound by the European Union's (E.U.) Code of Conduct regarding arms exports. The E.U., with Portugal holding the Presidency from January 1 through June 30, 2000, followed closely the investigations into the 1999 violence and the situation of East Timorese refugees in West Timor. The E.U. repeatedly expressed concern about Indonesia's failure to disarm the militias, including in a Presidency statement on September 7, following the killing of humanitarian workers in West Timor.

Southeast Asia

The Philippines and Thailand supplied successive commanders of the UNTAET peacekeeping forces, and Southeast Asian countries were well represented both in those forces and in the civilian police.

Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid was given an enthusiastic reception by a crowd of thousands when he visited Dili on February 29. He appeared generally committed to normalization of relations with East Timor, but many members of his administration, particularly Foreign Ministry officials who had served in previous administrations, were willing to make few concessions to the normalization process.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations, ASEAN, invited Xanana Gusmao and Jose Ramos Horta to attend its annual summit meeting in Bangkok in July.

Relevant Human Rights Watch


Forced Expulsions to West Timor and the Refugee Crisis, 11/99

Human Rights Watch World Report 2000

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