Thursday, 7 December 1995
Seanad Éireann Debate
Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Spring): I am glad to have the opportunity to speak on East Timor. It is 20 years to the day today since the invasion of East Timor by Indonesia. It is, therefore, opportune for me to express again on this occasion the Government's deep concern over the continuing violations of human rights in East Timor. The continuing problem of East Timor has been highlighted once again by the occupation of the Russian and Dutch embassies in Jakarta overnight by what I understand to be 100 East Timorese and other Indonesians.
From recent reports I have received I understand the increased presence of Indonesian military forces in East Timor is still creating a general climate  of fear, mistrust and intimidation. A large section of the population of East Timor considers the behaviour of the Indonesian security forces as the main obstacle in the way of reducing tensions. The security approach currently pursued by the Indonesian armed forces seems to be contributing to a growing sense of anti-Indonesian resentment and to heightened nationalistic East Timorese feelings, especially among young people.
The difficult economic and social situation in East Timor, which is characterised by high unemployment rates as well as by social tensions created by the influx of newcomers from other parts of the Indonesian archipelago, provides a sense of hopelessness about their future for the indigenous population of East Timor which is especially acute in the case of young people. This is one of the understandable reasons they are becoming more radical and aggressive and why a number of them try to leave East Timor, sometimes in a dangerous and precarious fashion by sea and in other instances, as we have witnessed in recent months, by applying for political asylum at various diplomatic missions in Jakarta before departing for Portugal. I would pay tribute to Portugal for the alacrity with which these asylum seekers have been accepted for settlement in Portugal.
Members of the House will probably be aware that during this week the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mr. José Ayala Lasso, is visiting Indonesia and East Timor. I welcome the direct involvement of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and I await his report with great interest following his fact finding mission there. I understand that Indonesia has also taken steps to invite the Special Rapporteur on the Question of Torture and the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention to visit East Timor when it is necessary for them to do so in order to fulfil their duties. The Government will continue to support initiatives taken by the UN to ensure respect for human rights in East Timor.
 Members of the Seanad will be aware of the article on East Timor which I contributed to The Irish Times on 13 July 1995. In that article I outlined the following objectives which remain valid: Ireland wants to see a political solution for East Timor based on the principles of international law and justice; Ireland wishes to see the people of East Timor enjoying their full human and political rights; Ireland calls for a halt in the supply of arms to Indonesia which could be used as instruments of oppression in East Timor; and, Ireland calls for the release of Mr. Xanana Gusmao and other political prisoners in East Timor.
Overall we want Indonesia to cooperate fully with the UN, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the UN Commission for Human Rights and with international non-governmental organisations. As I stated some months ago, I believe these objectives have overwhelming public and political support in Ireland, including in this House, where the plight of the people of East Timor has evoked a concerned and sympathetic response. As Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs I will continue to work to ensure that concern and sympathy are translated into effective action at international level.
The Government has supported and continues to attach importance to the ongoing talks between the Foreign Ministers of Portugal and Indonesia which take place under the auspices of the UN Secretary General. The next round of talks is scheduled for mid-January 1996. The Government has also welcomed the first all inclusive intraTimorese dialogue meeting which took place in Austria last June and we hope that further meetings of this new forum will take place.
It would be appropriate for me to state in the Seanad, in the light of recent events, that I deplore unreservedly that a Member of this House, Senator Norris, together with a Member of the European Parliament and others were prevented from visiting East Timor last month on what was a mission of goodwill,  peace and prayer to commemorate those killed a the cemetery in Dili over four years ago.
Mr. Lanigan: I appreciate the opportunity to speak on this issue today, the twentieth anniversary of the illegal attempted annexation of East Timor by the Indonesian Government. I compliment the Tánaiste for the work he has done on behalf of the people of a country far from us. I join with him in complimenting Senator Norris on the work he has done on behalf of the East Timorese people and I also compliment the East Timor Support Group led by Mr. Hyland.
It may appear inappropriate to some that we in a troubled island should discuss problems in places as far away as East Timor, but we must at all times respect the value of human life. Some people call them Christian values but they are human rights values which have nothing to do with Christianity or any other religious values. They concern the demands of people to be treated as individuals with the rights they should have.
We are approaching the end of the era of the colonial system. The Portuguese have been praised by the Tánaiste for their efforts but we must acknowledge that East Timor was a Portuguese colony. The Portuguese were the instigators of the problems. They stepped aside and allowed the Indonesians to invade, murder and kill. If what we have seen and heard is true, the world should be sad and remember what was done in East Timor. Mr. Gusamo, even from jail, is suggesting the way out of this impasse. I heard Mr. Jon Pilger describe him as the Mandela of East Timor. I hope he will be able to lead the East Timorese people into a renewal of the statehood which they had many years ago.
Last week the Seanad criticised Shell for its unbelievable attitude in Nigeria and it has not yet bowed to international public opinion on what it has created in areas of Nigeria. In this debate, we must look at the role of Exxon, an American company which  has the economic strength to do something. In 1995, an agreement was signed by the Indonesians with the United States based Exxon group which provided for an estimated US$40 billion dollar investment in an offshore gas project, a joint effort between Australia and Indonesia, in a Timorese area. If Exxon, Shell and other multinationals were not involved in such disputes, these situations would not occur.
Ireland can join in a small way with the other members of the international community in showing our abhorrence of the genocide which the Indonesians have carried out on the East Timorese. I thank Senator Norris and the Tánaiste and, although we can do very little, our voice in criticising what is being done to the East Timorese people will be heard in the international community.
Mr. Enright: Today is a very important day and I am delighted that the Seanad has this opportunity to discuss what is happening in East Timor. People living under democratic Governments throughout the world must remember 7 December 1975 with a sense of disgust, shame and outrage. This is the date on which the invasion of East Timor by Indonesia commenced. The attack on Dili that day saw the commencement of acts of brutality towards the people of East Timor which have continued over the past 20 years.
At the time of the invasion in 1975, over 2,000 people were murdered by the Indonesian army and there have been similar slaughters in the intervening period. At Lakmanas in 1976 over 1,000 people were killed. Huge numbers of people have been publicly executed in villages and towns on an ongoing basis in the meantime. The massacre which took place at the Santa Cruz cemetery in 1991, where between 200 and 300 people were gunned down, showed the outrageous conduct of the Indonesian armed forces.
The United Nations is carrying out an investigation and Mr. Ndiaye visited East Timor in July 1994. His report was submitted to the 51st Session of the  United Nations Commission on Human Rights. That report outlined two options — a consensus or a motion criticising what was happening in East Timor. I regret to say that consensus was achieved; it would have been much better if a critical motion had been put forward, which I am confident Ireland would have supported. I do not wish to criticise the United Nations but it is not good enough to get consensus when such brutality, murder and slaughter are being carried out. Nations such as Ireland should be much more critical and forceful remembering what we suffered as a nation. I am glad that small nations such as Ireland have been to the forefront while some of our neighbours have stood idly by as these slaughters continued.
This is an important day and I am pleased that the Seanad took the opportunity to discuss what is happening in East Timor. I hope our views will be conveyed to the Indonesian Government as we greatly oppose its conduct.
Mr. Norris: I am grateful to the Leader of the House for making time available today, and also to the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Spring, for attending today's session. I am also very pleased — if I am correct in identifying him — to see a senior adviser from Iveagh House who has had a long and distinguished career with special expertise in the area of Far Eastern affairs, which shows the seriousness with which the Department of Foreign Affairs is taking this matter, for which I am grateful.
The Tánaiste in his confrontation with Dr. Ali Alatas provoked a great deal of favourable comment among those committed to human rights around the world. It was rather entertaining that Dr. Alatas, in hectoring the Tánaiste, asked him how he could possibly know anything about East Timor never having been there. That line was also parroted in an outrageously foolish letter from the Indonesian Embassy in London which made the same point about Patricia McKenna, MEP, and  myself. On the one hand they will not let us in and, on the other, they ask how could we possibly know anything because we have not visited. They also said that the presence of persons such as myself and Patricia McKenna, MEP, is likely to excite the local people to acts of violence. This has never been my experience in any other country and it suggests that something very odd indeed must be going on in East Timor if my presence would excite the population to acts of violence.
Today is the twentieth anniversary of the invasion and illegal annexation of East Timor by military agents of the Indonesian dictatorship. The matter has been the subject of numerous United Nations resolutions, starting with the general resolution 3485 of 12 December 1975 — which was immediately after the invasion and shows the international community reacting with great speed and concern — and including both Security Council and General Assembly resolutions. All these make absolutely clear the condemnation of the international community and the fact that the Indonesian Government is in clear, flagrant and continuing breach of international law.
Moreover, over the past 20 years, the crime of genocide has been committed by the Indonesians against the Timorese people. Out of a population of 600,000, one third have died through mass executions, famine, forced labour and the operation of concentration camps. To all this, until recently, the West has turned a blind eye in pursuit of its own perceived economic self interest. However, due to the work of popular movements, such as the East Timor Ireland Solidarity Campaign, this conspiracy of silence can no longer be maintained.
A few weeks ago, to coincide with the fourth anniversary of the Dili massacre, on 12 November a small international group, which included myself and Patricia McKenna, MEP, attempted to enter East Timor to be present at a peaceful commemoration ceremony. In  an act of air piracy, the Indonesian Government acting, according to officials with whom we dealt, on direct instructions from Dr. Alatas removed us from the scheduled flight to Dili when it landed at Bali in transit to Timor.
Our purpose in going to Dili was to ensure the massacre would be commemorated in a peaceful and dignified manner by lighting candles in memory of those slain. The entire might of the Indonesian army was brought out against a group of peace campaigners, armed only with candles to prevent the simple and gentle ritual of lighting a flame of peace. Despite their advantage of might they signally failed, as some of our group got in and brought back the candles which had been lit, one of which I have with me today. The bullying action of the Indonesian authorities not only failed to extinguish the light we sought to ignite but fanned it into a bright flame, transmitted across the globe by the interest of the news agencies.
One of my tasks had been to read a message from the distinguished Irish musician Bono of U2 and although prevented from reading it on East Timor I read it to the passengers in the international transit lounge of Denprassar Airport where we were detained. The message was simple, powerful and moving:
To the good people of East Timor on behalf of myself, Bono, and the band U2, on behalf of most scribes and poets, most music, film and object makers, both here in Ireland and around the world, please be sure that we know of your struggle and that even if we are not allowed to see you, know that we hear of you and that when we don't hear of you, we think of you all the more. There is no silence deep enough, no black out dark enough, no corruption thick enough, no business deal big enough, no politician bent enough, no heart hollow enough, no grave wide enough to bury your story and keep it from us. Love from a short distance, Bono.
 I appeal to the Tánaiste to give a commitment in three principal areas: first, to direct the Irish Ambassador in Australia, who is also accredited to Indonesia, to visit the East Timorese leader Xanana Gusamo illegally imprisoned in Jakarta; second, to get the EU Council of Ministers to establish an independent international inquiry into the situation in East Timor; and third, to examine the possibility of Ireland co-operating with Portugal in arraigning Indonesia under the genocide convention of the UN — this can be done to no cost to the Irish taxpayer as a result of an arrangement arrived at during a conference on East Timor held in Portugal last spring.
It became clear to us during our stay in Indonesia that violence against the Timorese has not abated. Young men are routinely and brutally interrogated, in particular being beaten on the lower back and stomach in such a way that visual evidence of brusing is kept to a minimum. This tactic has signally failed to break the spirit of the Timorese people. They constantly approached our members in Dili with the slogan “Independence or Death”. In Singapore a young Timorese gave me a copy of this poem which reflects the continuing situation:
Ms O'Sullivan: It is important that we mark this day, the 20th anniversary of the invasion of East Timor and the assault on Dili. We should not underestimate the power of small nations like ours or of public opinion on issues like these. It has taken a long time for notice to be taken of East Timor but there are indications that some progress is being made. We should pay tribute to the actions of the Tánaiste, Deputy Spring, Senator Norris and others in highlighting the importance of East Timor so that the world would take note of what is happening.
Since the invasion there has been a subjugation by terror of the East Timorese people by the Indonesians, including public executions, massacres and other acts of terror. There have been repeated condemnations by the UN General Assembly and other bodies but, as Senator Enright said, the bigger nations did not take action which could have been effective; the smaller nations have taken up the case, making it a world issue and giving it its current prominence.
The actions of the UN General Assembly and its officers have been frustrated on many occasions by the unwillingness of the Indonesians to yield control. I welcome the fact that the UN Commissioner on Human Rights, Mr. José Ayala Lasso, is in Indonesia at present trying to pursue the issue. I also welcome the ongoing discussions between the Indonesians and Portuguese which will be continued in January.
Nonetheless there are still difficulties with intervention on these issues. Atrocious, appalling, violations of basic human rights have happened in East Timor, yet the world does not seem to have made much of a difference. This must be confronted at UN level. The UN is examining its power of international intervention in issues like East Timor. There have been a number of examples in the recent past where the power of world opinion has not made a difference — one is French nuclear testing,  another is Nigeria, where, despite proposals from all over world, Mr. Ken Saro-Wiwa and his colleagues were executed. The basic question to which we must return is that protests are made, countries like Ireland make statements on the world stage yet these atrocities continue. I hope there will be a genuine effort to improve the power of intervention on these issues.
Small nations can make a difference, as was shown when the Tánaiste confronted Dr. Alatas. The intervention of Mr. Jon Pilger and others, who are willing to go into the country, take risks and confront the situation, makes a difference also. We must continue this. It must be frustrating for people like Senator Norris who attempt to find out what is going on and are turned back. The fact that he made the effort and despite being turned back, was able to make his statement and read Bono's moving message, attracts attention and affects world opinion. This appears to be the most effective way this small nation can make a difference. We must continue working and marking events, as we are today, continuing to impress upon the world that such human rights violations must be confronted effectively. I hope these efforts will continue to bring about changes and enable the nations of the world to intervene when human rights are being grossly violated and take the necessary action. I also hope the ongoing talks between Indonesia and Portugal yield fruit and that people continue to protest so that there will be a change for the better in East Timor sooner rather than later.
Mr. Sherlock: This debate has shown solidarity with the Timorese people on this, the 20th anniversary of the invasion of East Timor by Indonesia. Regrettably, Europe has so far not chosen to make East Timor its business. Although there have been honourable exceptions, the nations of Europe make distressed noises while continuing to export arms, conclude trade deals and maintain diplomatic relations with Indonesia. In  1996 Ireland will hold the Presidency of the EU and I and my party, which is now in Government, will be seeking to use that Presidency to put East Timor at the top of the European political agenda and to ensure the EU adopts a resolute and unified position in this matter. It is appalling that over 200,000 have been killed and many others maimed. I am glad of the opportunity to make this contribution.
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