Skip to main content

(New York) Human Rights Watch today charged that Western governments were not doing all they could to stop the violence spreading across East Timor in the wake of the vote in favor of independence there last week.

"Indonesia seems bent on leaving East Timor the same bloody way it went in," said Sidney Jones, Asia director of Human Rights Watch. "Western governments will be complicit in the killing if they fail to use any and every means possible to force the Indonesian government to either stop the militia violence or allow international peacekeepers in."

Jones dismissed as "nonsense" the suggestion that the militias—created, supported, and armed by the Indonesian army—were beyond Jakarta's control or that they were acting at the behest of "rogue" elements of the armed forces. "The only evidence one needs of Jakarta's involvement is that some 15,000 army and police are in East Timor doing absolutely nothing to stop the terror, arrest the perpetrators, or protect the victims."

"This shows every sign of being planned and coordinated beforehand," she said. "The Indonesian army may be trying to teach a lesson not only to the East Timorese but to the people of Aceh and Irian Jaya. The lesson is: if you seek separation from Indonesia, even if support for separation is overwhelming, we will destroy you, and no outside power will come to your aid." She said it was absurd to explain the violence simply in terms of the pro-Indonesia militias being poor losers.

The increasing invective over the last week in the Indonesian press and on the part of Jakarta-based politicians against the United Nations, Australia, and the U.S. was serving to discredit those most visibly involved in the referendum process.

Human Rights Watch said Indonesia's major donors and trading parners, including the U.S., Australia, Japan, and the European Union should agree on coordinated and targeted sanctions, including suspension of direct budgetary support and other forms of non-humanitarian aid. That aid would be resumed if and when the violence was brought under control. Since it appeared that the Indonesian army had no intention of bringing the militias to heel, Human Rights Watch said, the leverage should be used to persuade President Habibie to accept an emergency international peacekeeping force.

Military training and transfers of equipment—such as U.S.$5 million in aircraft parts pending from the U.S.—should also be halted. At the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit convening in New Zealand later this week the crisis in East Timor, and coordinating sanctions should be a top priority.

The main arguments against a peacekeeping force thus far have been that Indonesia would never agree (and without Indonesia's agreement, the Security Council would never approve), and that it would take too long to deploy. Australia, New Zealand, Portugal, and the United Kingdom have been reported at various times to be considering such a force that some have termed a "Coalition of the Willing," the bulk of whose forces would almost certainly have to come from Australia. If Indonesia gave a green light, a rapid deployment would probably be possible. But as of Sunday afternoon New York time, there was no evidence that the Indonesian government had changed its stance of rejecting international peacekeepers.

In the meantime, East Timorese are being attacked in the schools and church compounds where they have sought refuge, most international journalists have left, and by Sunday evening Dili time, the militias were in control of most of the territory.

"The international community paid for this referendum to happen," said Jones. "It sent more than 1,000 expatriate staff to Dili as part of the United Nations Mission in East Timor and hired more than 4,000 local staff, all of whom are in serious danger of militia attack because of their UNAMET association. Its failure to even try to use maximum leverage has turned these people into sitting ducks for militia gunfire."

Your tax deductible gift can help stop human rights violations and save lives around the world.

Region / Country

Most Viewed