East Timor - The Way Ahead
Speech by the Hon Alexander Downer MP, Minister for Foreign Affairs, to the Rotary Club of Sydney
Sydney, 30 November 1999
(Check Against Delivery)
It is a real pleasure to be able to address this gathering at the Rotary Club of Sydney. I admire greatly the work which Rotary does in Australia and overseas. Your ideal of service is an important one for business and the professions to keep in mind as together we face the forces of globalisation, and economic and technological change. It is important for all Australians to meet these challenges in the international arena with confidence. Rotary can do much to help us achieve this objective through the work that it does in all its avenues of service - at the club level, in vocational work, in service to the community and in the advancement of international understanding, goodwill and peace.
Australia's relationship with East Timor provides an excellent example of where Australia has confidently met an important challenge in our region. I would like to use the opportunity of my address today to talk about that relationship.
In doing so, I want to focus primarily on the future of East Timor. This is an important juncture in the process that will lead to the emergence of East Timor as a new, independent nation in our region. It is, therefore, an appropriate time to reflect on the tasks that still await us on what will no doubt be a long and difficult road to recovery for the new nation of East Timor.
The Tasks Ahead in East Timor
begin by saying that Australians can be proud of the role we have taken in relation to East Timor. Firstly, we helped to initiate the process that allowed the East Timorese people to decide their own destiny. Secondly, Australia worked to assist the effective implementation of the Tripartite Agreement of May 1999 between Indonesia, Portugal and the United Nations on the future of the territory. Thirdly, we pressed Indonesia to halt the violence that so tragically erupted in the territory, and when it was clear that the Indonesian security forces were unable to do so, Australia organised the INTERFET multinational force. Finally, under the mandate of the United Nations, we have led INTERFET, and helped with the associated humanitarian relief operations, with great effectiveness and unquestionable integrity.
And our efforts have been noted and appreciated on the world stage, especially in our own region. In this regard, I welcome the fact that the Commonwealth Heads of Government in Durban acknowledged the contribution of Commonwealth and other countries to INTERFET's success in restoring peace and security in East Timor.
We need now to look to the future of East Timor. And there, despite all the suffering, there is great cause for hope.
What we have today is the reality of the 30 August ballot in which a clear decision by almost 80 per cent of East Timorese was made against autonomy within Indonesia, after a vote whose legitimacy has never been subject to any credible challenge. We have a people who are firmly on the road to independence. Much remains to be done on that journey and Australia is committed to assist the UN and the people of East Timor along the way.
The road-map for that journey, at least until 31 January 2001, is provided by UN Security Council Resolution 1272, adopted on 25 October. This historic resolution, which I warmly welcomed, authorised the creation of the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET). UNTAET is charged with establishing an effective administration and has a wide range of duties. These include providing security and maintaining law and order, assisting in the development of civil and social services, ensuring the co-ordination and delivery of humanitarian assistance and rehabilitation, supporting capacity-building for self-government - which will include drafting a constitution and organising elections - and establishing the conditions for the sustainable development of East Timor. It is a formidable and demanding list of tasks.
Australia has warmly welcomed the appointment of Mr Sergio Vieira de Mello as the Head of UNTAET with the position of Special Representative of the UN Secretary- General. Australia is committed to assist Mr Vieira De Mello and his colleagues in the performance of their complex and difficult tasks. It is noteworthy that Resolution 1272 recognizes that, in developing and performing its functions under its mandate, UNTAET will need to draw on the expertise and capacity of Member States, UN agencies and other international organizations, including the international financial institutions. The Resolution also sets up a trust fund to support the work of UNTAET.
Australia hopes that the international community will provide generous support to UNTAET and the Trust Fund, in cash, kind and expertise. Just as INTERFET now comprises 17 diverse countries, the rehabilitation and development of East Timor is a truly regional and international issue. I will speak later about Australia's commitment to assist the people of East Timor.
Resolution 1272 requests UNTAET to cooperate closely with INTERFET with a view to replacing INTERFET as soon as possible with UNTAET's military component - the Peacekeeping Operation, or PKO. I have told the UN Secretary General that Australia would be prepared to lead the PKO if he requested that we do so, but that Australia would go along with whatever decision he made on its leadership. This decision is clearly the responsibility of the Secretary General and his alone.
Australia's primary concern has been that a competent and experienced officer, one capable of securing wide international support for the PKO, be appointed to the Commander's position. We look forward to an announcement of the appointment in the near future. I have personally confirmed to the Secretary General that, while Australia would be an active member of the PKO, we are expecting to have a lower profile and a reduced number of troops in East Timor once the PKO is in place.
The Resolution stresses the need for UNTAET to consult and cooperate closely with the East Timorese people in order to carry out its mandate effectively and we have particularly welcomed Mr Vieira de Mello's constructive moves in this direction since he took up his duties in Dili on 17 November.
Resolution 1272 also stresses the importance of reconciliation. For our part, the Australian Government sees the creation of UNTAET as marking a real turning point for the people of East Timor in their long and difficult journey towards recovery and independence. It provides a genuine opportunity to turn away from the divisions of the recent past and enter an era of reconciliation and nation-building. Reconciliation will take courage but Australia believes that it is essential for the future that the people of East Timor enter the 21st century united in a society governed by democratic institutions. They can be absolutely confident of continued assistance from Australia to achieve this goal.
Similarly, Australia considers that it is critical to the future stability and economic development of East Timor that it and Indonesia let the past go and develop a broad relationship, based on mutual respect and a mutual interest in stability and development - in other words that Indonesia and East Timor live as good neighbours.
Australia is very pleased that Xanana Gusmao, a statesman of national vision, common sense and compassion has clearly supported, in both word and deed, reconciliation among East Timorese and a new co-operative relationship with Indonesia. It is a cause for optimism in the future of our region that the new Government of Indonesia has also taken the same approach. Australia is committed to support the development of such a co-operative climate.
Reconciliation does not mean that the human rights abuses which have so tragically taken place in East Timor are ignored and forgotten. Investigation and the bringing to justice of the perpetrators of serious crimes is a necessary part of the healing and reconciliation process. By international agreement, the investigation of abuses is a responsibility of the United Nations. Australia will assist in whatever ways are appropriate to facilitate those investigations.
The UN's Economic and Social Council, as the responsible body, approved a mandate for the UN Commission of Inquiry in East Timor (CIET) on 15 November. Members of the Commission arrived in East Timor on 25 November and are proceeding with their important work. In addition, three UN Rapporteurs (for Torture, Summary Executions and Violence Against Women) visited East Timor from 6 to 10 November. They are preparing a joint report to the UN General Assembly.
I also take this opportunity to note that the Indonesian Human Rights Commission, KOMNASHAM, a body that Australia has consistently supported and encouraged, has produced a strongly worded report from its preliminary investigation into human rights abuses in East Timor and has announced its intention to question senior military figures. These developments are positive and highlight the changes within Indonesia that support the end of a culture of impunity, and should assist in promoting a co-operative investigatory effort into the abuse of human rights in East Timor.
The task of reconstruction in East Timor is clearly a very great challenge and will require a significant and co-ordinated effort over many years. I noted with interest the recent report of the World Bank which called for a three year reconstruction effort in East Timor worth up to US$300 million. The UN assessment of humanitarian aid requirements for the next nine months or so puts the bill at over A$300 million. The overall costs of reconstruction and development are still being assessed but are likely to be upwards of A$100 million per year for several years.
These figures give some idea of the scale of the effort which will be required to help East Timor along the road to recovery.
I was pleased to announce on 22 November that Australia will contribute an additional $60 million this financial year to assist East Timor's humanitarian and reconstruction needs. Together with the $14 million previously committed, this is the largest ever contribution Australia has made to an international humanitarian crisis. Funding will be provided to meet many different needs, including repatriation and resettlement, and programs addressing basic education and health needs. $3 million will also be provided for refugee and local communities in Indonesian West Timor to support emergency health, nutrition and water and sanitation programs.
Assisting East Timor's humanitarian and reconstruction needs is an area where business can make an important contribution too. I wish at this point to support the efforts made by the Prime Minister who recently wrote to a number of industry associations and companies inviting them to support the very worthy cause of the reconstruction of East Timor. In this regard, Mr Howard noted that Australian companies are well placed to play a role as they come from a nation with a strong, diversified economy. The UN-funded reconstruction effort in East Timor will provide commercial opportunities for Australian companies. But there is also a place in this effort for the fine Australian tradition of business philanthropy.
In my own portfolio, AusAID is working with companies wishing to donate goods and services to achieve effective outcomes in East Timor. I encourage you and your business and professional colleagues throughout Australia, and indeed the world, to consider whether there are ways in which you can help fulfil the Rotary ideal of service at the international level by donating goods and services to the people of East Timor.
Relations with Indonesia
As we think about ways of building Australia's relations with what will become the independent nation of East Timor, let us also remember the important work that must be done in our relations with Indonesia. There have been some serious tensions, but I firmly believe that the removal of East Timor as an irritant from the bilateral relationship with Indonesia can only improve ties between our two nations in the longer term - and improve Indonesia's international standing more broadly.
Australia wants a sound and constructive relationship with Indonesia. I am heartened by the indications we have received from the new Indonesian Government that it wishes to see the relationship revived in a measured and careful way. We share that desire. As neighbouring countries, Australia and Indonesia should aim to enjoy a bilateral relationship which is constructive and mutually beneficial. We have broad-ranging ties, including commercial relations, educational exchanges, government-to-government co-operation in technical fields and the whole range of people-to-people links which give so much substance to the relationship.
The underlying strength and durability of the relationship has been demonstrated by the fact that, for the most part, these aspects of the relationship have held up well despite the events of the past few months. This lasting strength and durability provides a sound basis for renewing and revitalising the relationship.
Ladies and gentlemen, the process of self-determination in East Timor has been the cause of much sadness. Too many innocent lives have been lost, too many lives shattered.
But amidst all the sadness, there is cause for hope. A people braved intimidation of the worst kind, and overwhelmingly voted for independence - and the 30 August ballot is now an internationally established fact that can never be overturned. We are witnessing the birth of a nation, perhaps the first of the new millennium.
Australia has played a very constructive, and wholly creditable, role in the process that has led to self-determination for the people of East Timor. Australians should take pride in that, just as they rightly take pride in the work done by Australian men and women in INTERFET. We saw an opportunity to allow East Timorese to decide their own future, and we helped them realise that chance. And when those who lost the ballot sought to overturn it through violence and intimidation, we put Australian lives on the line to end that suffering.
Now the international community is faced with the task of working with the people of East Timor as they continue their journey towards recovery, reconciliation and independence. Let all of us in the international community take up the challenge to do what we can to assist the United Nations and the people of East Timor as they chart their course in the days and weeks and months ahead.
Let us keep the final destination firmly in our sights, and work together to ensure that the new, independent nation of East Timor comes into being with the best possible basis for taking its place in our region and the world.
Copyright Commonwealth of Australia | Disclaimer | Privacy