Indonesia (East Timor): Seize the moment

On 8 August 1999, the people of East Timor are due to participate in a ballot to determine the future status of the territory. This 'popular consultation' process is the product of 5 May 1999 Agreements between the governments of Indonesia and Portugal, negotiated under the auspices of the United Nations (UN). The choice they will face is whether to accept or reject the offer of special autonomy within the Republic of Indonesia. If the East Timorese people vote to accept the special autonomy option, Indonesia's sovereignty over East Timor will be recognized; if they reject it, a process will begin, under UN authority, which will lead to independence for the territory. A UN Mission known as the UN Assistance Mission to East Timor (UNAMET) has been established in East Timor by the Security Council to implement the popular consultation; its task is a large and complex one. An Amnesty International delegation visited Indonesia and East Timor in May 1999 to assess the human rights situation in East Timor and its likely effect on the implementation of the 5 May 1999 Agreements; this report details its findings. Amnesty International takes no position on the actual outcome of the proposed ballot on 8 August 1999. Rather, the organization's concerns relate to human rights aspects of the environment in which the popular consultation process takes place. It is in everyone's interests that the process succeeds. However, Amnesty International's research points to ongoing serious human rights violations in East Timor which could jeopardize that success. The organization offers its assessment and recommendations in a positive spirit, in the hope that it will assist all parties to the Agreements to fulfil their obligations to the East Timorese people. Human rights violations in the run up to any electoral process can have a severe impact on that process and on the ability of individuals to exercise their basic rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly. All East Timorese people must be able to participate in the consultation in an atmosphere which is free from intimidation, threats and violence. Amnesty International is concerned at the ongoing high level of human rights violations and atmosphere of almost total impunity in East Timor. Supporters and those perceived to support independence are the primary target of human rights violations, although widespread fear and insecurity is impacting on the lives of all East Timorese people. This situation persists, despite the Indonesian government's promise in the 5 May 1999 Agreements to ensure a secure environment for the popular consultation process - a promise it has so far failed to keep. During its mission to Indonesia and East Timor, Amnesty International collected evidence of a distinct pattern of violations, directly linked to the Indonesian authorities, which began well before the 5 May 1999 Agreements were signed, and have continued since then. The political progress at the international level has not been matched on the ground. In fact, the situation in East Timor deteriorated as rapidly as the international political process moved forward. Responsibility for that deterioration lies squarely with the newly-formed militias in East Timor, and with those who have assisted and protected them, namely the Indonesian military forces based in the territory, and to a lesser extent, the Indonesian police. Amnesty International's delegation found evidence of: · a general atmosphere of insecurity and intimidation arising from the continued high level of human rights violations; · a distinct pattern of human rights violations the victims of which are overwhelmingly supporters of independence for East Timor including: - extrajudicial executions: at least 34 people have been extrajudicially executed by civilian militias and the Indonesian security forces since 5 May 1999; - illegal detention: over 280 people have been illegally detained by police, military and militias since January 1999; - torture and ill-treatment: the majority of people taken into custody by the police, the military and the militias have been tortured or ill-treated; - 'disappearances': credible reports of 'disappearances' continue to be received and past cases remain unresolved; - forced relocations: thousands of people have been forced from their homes as a result of operations by the militias and the Indonesian security forces. · the responsibility of the new militia groups for the majority of these violations but with clear support and involvement of the Indonesian military and, to a lesser extent, police; · the involvement of the Indonesian authorities in a general, well organized campaign, of which the human rights violations referred to above are a part, to threaten and intimidate the population into supporting autonomy and to disrupt the participation of certain groups in the popular consultation process; · the failure of the police to fulfil its role under the Agreements to investigate human rights violations and abuses and to enforce law and order; · the failure of the Indonesian authorities to fulfil other key obligations within the Agreements, including ensuring the neutrality of the security forces; · human rights abuses committed by the pro-independence armed opposition group Falintil. The popular consultation process being embarked upon has human rights at its heart. Basic human rights are at stake, notably the rights to self-determination, freedom of opinion, expression and assembly, and the safeguards of due process of law. This is recognized in the Agreements, which state clearly 'A secure environment devoid of violence or other forms of intimidation is a prerequisite for the holding of a free and fair ballot in East Timor. Each violation which takes place undermines the popular consultation process and represents a violation of the 5 May 1999 Agreements. The prospect of a peaceful future for the East Timorese people is threatened by the nature and scale of these violations. With less than seven weeks before the ballot is scheduled to take place, a rapid and dramatic improvement in the security situation is required. On 22 May 1999 the UN Secretary General identified six preconditions which have to be met in order for the consultation process to be implemented: - bringing armed civilian groups under strict control - the prompt arrest and prosecution of those who incite or threaten to use violence - a ban on rallies by armed groups - ensuring freedom of association and expression for all political groups - the redeployment of the Indonesian military forces - the immediate institution of a process of laying down of arms by all armed groups to be implemented well in advance of the holding of the ballot These preconditions have not yet been met, and unless and until they are, Amnesty International fears that the cycle of human rights violations in East Timor will continue, threatening the already fragile chances of a peaceful future, free from the fear of human rights violations which has characterised the last 23 years. The organization's report includes recommendations to all parties to the Agreements, which, if implemented, would substantially improve the human rights situation in the territory. At a minimum: · the Indonesian authorities must take immediate measures to disarm and disband the pro-integration militias; · Indonesia must fulfil its commitments under the Agreements to ensure a secure environment for the popular consultation to take place; to guarantee the absolute neutrality of the Indonesian security forces; and for the police to take sole responsibility for maintaining law and order; · as part of its duty to maintain law and order, the Indonesian police must investigate all allegations of human rights violations, including threatening and inciting violence, and bring to justice those responsible including members of the militias, the Indonesian military and the police; · all UNAMET members must have a clear mandate to monitor and report on human rights violations by all sides. UNAMET must also bring violations to the attention of the Indonesian authorities and, as appropriate, the pro-independence and pro-integration sides; · Falintil must respect international humanitarian law. The opportunity exists to bring an end to the insecurity and distress which has blighted the lives of many East Timorese for too long; it may not come again and must not be squandered now.

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