(New York)-- Human Rights Watch today called for immediate adoption of a resolution now under consideration by the U.N. Security Council that would enable immediate deployment of a multinational force in East Timor. But it warned that the lack of clarity over the exact role of the Indonesian armed forces needed urgently to be resolved either in the resolution or in subsequent protocols in order to forestall further atrocities.

The draft resolution authorizes the establishment of a multinational force under a unified command that would take "all necessary measures" to:

  • restore peace and security
  • protect and support the United Nations Mission in East Timor (UNAMET)
  • facilitate humanitarian assistance operations

Those measures could and should include disarmament of militias and arrests of those responsible for human rights abuses.

The draft underscores the continuing responsibility of Indonesia to maintain peace and security in East Timor "in the interim phase between the conclusion of the popular consultation"—the referendum held on August 30, 1999—and "the start of the implementation of its result." According to the May 5, 1999 agreement between Portugal and Indonesia, that process of beginning East Timor's transition to independence would begin as soon as Indonesia's People's Consultative Assembly signs off on the referendum results, possibly in November.

This means that absent a separate protocol on a phased withdrawal of Indonesian troops prior to action by the People's Consultative Assembly, the Indonesian army could continue to have a major role in East Timor for at least two months and perhaps longer. (There is now some question in Jakarta as to whether the assembly will in fact endorse the results, and if that were the case, the Indonesian army could be in East Timor indefinitely.) A protocol setting out a clear timetable for Indonesian army withdrawal is thus critical.

The resolution also stresses that Indonesian authorities take "immediate and effective measures" to ensure the return of refugees to East Timor. Over 100,000 East Timorese have now fled or been forcibly expelled to West Timor. "Immediate and effective measures" must include the disarming of army-backed militias now operating with impunity in West Timor just as they did in East Timor.

Human Rights Watch welcomed the emphasis in the resolution on bringing to justice those responsible for acts of violence and ensuring that the perpetrators of "flagrant violations of humanitarian and human rights law" bear individual responsiblity for their acts.