UK Government 'must compensate' East Timor

By agency reporter
July 16, 2008

A Catholic advocacy and development agency has called on the British government to fulfil its responsibilities to the people of East Timor, following a quarter-century of violence during which the UK supplied arms to Indonesian forces that illegally occupied East Timor until 1999.

The call from Progressio comes as the world’s first bilateral truth commission returns its findings to the Indonesian and Timorese presidents - that 'gross human rights violations' were committed by Indonesian forces during East Timor’s vote for independence nine years ago.

Catherine Scott, Progressio’s Regional Manager for Asia said: “The UK turned a blind eye to the atrocities in East Timor. It should compensate for the role it played in tacitly supporting the Indonesian occupation by supplying arms during a 24-year ordeal for the Timorese in which at least 100,000 people were killed. The British government must also provide greater levels of material assistance to help the poverty-stricken people of East Timor recover and move on”, she says.

The Truth and Friendship commission’s report – the result of a joint initiative by the governments of Indonesia and East Timor to investigate human rights violations which occurred as Indonesia withdrew from East Timor – squarely blames the Indonesian army for “an organised campaign of violence”. It concludes that Indonesia bears “institutional responsibility” for the atrocities that left an estimated 1400 Timorese dead in 1999 alone.

The commission also found that “systematic, co-ordinated and carefully planned” violence took place, including “murder, rape, torture, illegal detention and forcible transfer and deportation”.

Despite its findings, Progressio believes the report – which is designed to “enhance friendship” between the two nations rather than apportion blame – falls well short of what is needed to help the Timorese people build a successful future.

Catherine Scott said: “Although it’s some crumb of relief to victims and human rights workers seeking justice that the Indonesian security forces have been blamed as the chief culprits, we must not forget that this Truth and Friendship process was designed to overshadow the UN’s own investigators who recommended that an international tribunal be set up to deal with the most serious organisers of the violence.”

The real issue, says Scott, is the “climate of violence and impunity” the East Timorese became accustomed to under 24 years of Indonesian repression.

“The bitter divisions which still exist in the country today have their roots in Indonesian divide and rule tactics”, Scott says. "Years of unresolved conflict have simply pushed the possibility of reconciliation further into the future.”

She concludes: “There can be no future peace and prosperity in East Timor without justice for the ordinary East Timorese people" . “Justice must be done and be seen to be done. Only then will East Timor be able to begin to address 24 years of neglect in all areas of it social and economic development. The UK has a key role to play in that long-term recovery”.

Progressio is an international Catholic advocacy and development agency working in 11 developing countries to help tackle the root causes of poverty.

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