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East Timor

A Resolution of The United Methodist Church



   East Timor is part of an island on the far eastern end of the Indonesian archipelago, only 300 miles from Darwin, Australia. It had been under Portuguese control for some three centuries, unlike the other islands of present-day Indonesia, which were all Dutch colonies. During 19741975, following a coup and change of government in Portugal, East Timor was in the process of decolonization. There was a brief civil war between the newly formed political parties, which was subsequently won by Fretilin, the party favoring independence. But hardly had Fretilin declared independence for East Timor when, on December 7, 1975, Indonesia launched a massive invasion and annexed the half island. (Ninety percent of the weapons used by Indonesian armed forces were US-made weapons.) Twenty years later, Indonesia continues to occupy East Timor in spite of repeated United Nations resolutions deploring the invasion, affirming the right of the East Timorese to self-determination, and calling on the Indonesian government to withdraw its troops.

   The events in East Timor went unnoticed and unreported in the outside world because it was closed off to foreign presence until 1989. However, during the invasion and subsequent occupation, over one third of the population died from killing, starvation, or disease. Timorese culture was suppressed, local languages were discouraged, and the majority of population living in the mountains and forests was forced to come out and resettle in planned villages built by the Indonesian army.

   World attention was finally brought to the plight of East Timor when, on November 12, 1991, Indonesian troops massacred between 50 and 250 peaceful demonstrators at the Santa Cruz cemetery in Dili, East Timor. The number of dead has never been determined, because many people who disappeared on that day have not been found. This tragedy was witnessed by Western journalists whose reports, especially videotape taken by British journalist Max Stahl, helped to stimulate international efforts to bring about a just resolution to the problem of East Timor. In 1992, in protest of the massacre, the United States Congress eventually cut off military training (since reinstated by the Clinton administration, in 1994) and instituted a ban on small arms sales to Indonesia.

   In January 1995, a delegation from the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. and a representative of the Canadian Council of Churches visited East Timor to express solidarity with the churches and people of East Timor. The region is 90 percent Christian, predominantly Catholic, with a small Protestant minority. The population has come to identify being Catholic with being patriotic and supporting the East Timorese cause. The Roman Catholic Bishop Carlos Ximenes Belo is recognized and respected as the leader and spokesperson of the East Timorese people. It has been said that relations between Catholics and Protestants have not been good. The National Council of the Churches of Christ/Church World Service and Witness (CWS&W) delegation found this to be exaggerated, however, and witnessed many examples of Catholic-Protestant cooperation. The main Protestant church, the Christian Church of East Timor, has begun to find its voice and recently received membership in the World Council of Churches. Previously, it had been represented in religious fora only through the Indonesia Communion of Churches, which always spoke on its behalf.

   Human rights groups such as Amnesty International, as well as individual observers, have reported continued serious human-rights abuses against the East Timorese, including beatings, abductions, torture, rape, extrajudicial killing, and imprisonment for any acts of political expression. In addition, the Indonesian government has encouraged thousands of Indonesians from more crowded islands to migrate to East Timor. These transmigrations have displaced many East Timorese from their traditional homes and land, taken over much of the trade, and filled many of the civil service jobs. This has exacerbated the unemployment problem, particularly among the youth, and created social tension that has provided the military with justification for further repression.

   Following its visit to East Timor, the NCCC/CWS&W delegation recommended an advocacy effort that calls for the demilitarization of East Timor and supports a process that would lead to the determination of the political status of East Timor, with the full participation of the East Timorese people.

   Therefore, be it resolved, that The United Methodist Church, its members, local churches, annual conferences, central conferences, and agencies:

   1. Deplore the continuing occupation of East Timor and the resultant abuse of human rights and climate of oppression;
   2. Support the witness of the Christian Church of East Timor and the Roman Catholic Church, and other groups, in their commitment to human rights, peace, and restoration of the East Timorese national identity;
   3. Support the rights of the East Timorese to self-determination and call for the full participation of the East Timorese people in just resolution of the political status of East Timor;
   4. Urge the United Nations to intensify efforts to resolve the political status of East Timor;
   5. Support the East Timorese people and the East Timorese churches who struggle for justice, dignity, freedom from fear, and the preservation of their ethnic and cultural identity;
   6. Celebrate the membership of the Christian Church of East Timor in the World Council of Churches and its participation in ecumenical bodies in order that this East Timorese church may have an independent voice;
   7. Encourage, in the spirit of partnership, the Indonesian churches and the Communion of Churches in Indonesia to stand in solidarity with those who are oppressed in East Timor;
   8. Call on the United States government to cease military aid, including military training, and the sale of arms to Indonesia as long as it continues its de facto military occupation of East Timor; and
   9. Call on the United Methodists to make efforts in mission, education, witness, and advocacy to alleviate the plight of the East Timorese by:

    (a) making available through general boards and agencies resources regarding East Timor to assist United Methodist congregations in initiating programs in education, mission, witness, and advocacy;
    (b) working to increase awareness of the ongoing crisis in East Timor among U.S. policymakers, the general public, and United Methodist congregations through general boards and agencies and ecumenical bodies; and
    (c) supporting the East Timorese, both within East Timor and in exile, who are struggling to end the Indonesian occupation and attempting to achieve self-determination in their land
.
   Be it further resolved, that we urge the United States government and other governments to:

   1. Take legislative and administrative action to pressure Indonesia to comply with the United Nations resolutions on East Timor, to withdraw its military occupation forces from East Timor, and to cooperate with the United Nations in a process bringing about self-determination for East Timor; and
   2. Send copies of this resolution to the Secretary General of the United Nations, the President of the UN General Assembly, the President of the United States, all U.S. Senators and Representatives, and all appropriate ecumenical colleagues.

   ADOPTED 1996 See Social Principles, 69.




   From The Book of Resolutions, 1996. Copyright © by the United Methodist Publishing House. Used by permission.

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