I am very glad to have this opportunity to address the Seanad on the question of East Timor. I know there is great concern in Ireland at the situation in East Timor and at the gross abuses of human rights which have been reported from the territory. The Dili massacre, the disappearances, the torture and ill-treatment of political detainees, the extra-judicial executions by Indonesian forces engaged in counterinsurgency operations have been documented by such respected organisations as Amnesty International and Asia Watch.
The concern in this country reflects, I believe, a very deeply held feeling of Irish people for the victims of human rights abuses and injustice wherever they occur. A decade ago, Irish people were justifiably enraged at the appalling human rights abuses perpetrated on the people of Cambodia. In recent years, Irish people have clearly shown this same concern in the case of the terrible misfortunes which befell the people of Somalia. More recently, the human rights abuses and the humanitarian needs in former Yugoslavia, the Sudan and Angola have struck deep chords in Irish people. The same chord of concern touched people here when they learned about the human rights situation in East Timor.
I would like to avail of this opportunity to inform Members of the Seanad of the considerable efforts the Government has made in recent years to bring our concerns at the situation in East Timor to the attention of the Indonesian authorities and to those international for a with influence.
I do not need to rehearse in detail the history of East Timor for the Members of the Seanad, most of whom will already be well informed on the recent history of the territory since its invasion by Indonesia in December 1975 and its annexation as the 27th province of Indonesia in July 1976. These illegal acts were condemned by UN Security Council and General Assembly resolutions in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Indonesia was called to withdraw from the territory by the UN which continues to regard Portugal as the administering power.
Since their occupation of the territory there have been consistent and well documented reports of persistent and gross human rights abuses by the Indonesian armed forces there. It has been estimated that some 200,000 East Timorese — out of an original population of 650,000 — have died from starvation, hostilities and disease stemming from the conflict.
The plight of the people of East Timor returned to the world headlines in November 1991 when Indonesian security forces opened fire on a crowd of peaceful demonstrators in the capital, Dili. Reports from sources in East Timor put the number killed in this shooting at between 200 and 300 people. A further 200 people who disappeared after the massacre have not yet been accounted for.
It was this incident more than any other which shocked public opinion throughout the world and particularly here in Ireland. The Government has consistently condemned human rights abuses in East Timor and we have used all avenues open to us to bring this concern to the attention of the Indonesian authorities and to seek action at international level.
Bilaterally, we have conveyed our concerns directly to the Government of Indonesia. I myself wrote to the Foreign Minister of Indonesia last year. My Department has taken up the matter with representatives of the Indonesian embassy. Officials from my Department have also frequently met with individuals and representatives of groups here in Ireland and abroad concerned with the human rights situation in East Timor. We have also joined with our European Union partners in condemning human rights violations in East Timor. I maintain close contact on this matter with my colleague, the Foreign Minister of Portugal.
The question of East Timor is the subject of ongoing talks between the Foreign Ministers of Portugal and Indonesia under the auspices of the UN Secretary General who was given a mediating role by the General Assembly in 1982. The last round of talks between the two Foreign Ministers took place in New York last September. On that occasion they considered possible confidence building measures as a means of fostering an atmosphere propitious to addressing the substance of the question of East Timor.
After that meeting, the Secretary General reported to the Security Council that he was moderately encouraged by the substance and tone of the discussion. The two Foreign Ministers are due to meet again in Geneva in May. I very much hope that the positive tone of their talks last September will continue at their next meeting. In addition to sponsoring these talks, the Secretary General has committed himself to monitoring the human rights situation in East Timor and a UN special representative visited Portugal and Indonesia in January of this year in preparation for the next round of talks.
We believe that this mediating process under the auspices of the Secretary General is the best means available to resolve the substantive question of East Timor. Together with our European Union partners we have regularly expressed our support for the Secretary General's unstinting efforts. With goodwill on both sides we would hope that this process will lead to a just, comprehensive and internationally acceptable solution to the question of East Timor.
Since the Dili massacre in 1991 the human rights situation in East Timor has been on the agenda of the annual session of the United Nations Human Rights Commission. Although Ireland is not at present a member of the commission we attend the annual sessions as observers and our delegation is active in the work of the commission as well as within the European Union. At this year's session Ireland played an active part in ensuring that the statement made by the European Union to the commission reflected our national concerns. The statement noted that since last year's session of the commission the Indonesian Government had undertaken a number of steps particularly by inviting the representative of the UN Secretary-General and by extending an invitation to the commission's special rapporteur on summary and arbitrary executions. The statement also calls on the Indonesian authorities to comply fully with the decisions of the UN Commission; it calls for better access to East Timor for human rights bodies and the international media; it urges that those members of the security forces responsible for the Dili massacre be prosecuted, tried and punished; and it calls on the Indonesian Government to account for all those still missing.
At the conclusion of this year's session an agreed chairman's statement on the human rights situation in East Timor was issued. This noted with concern the continuing allegations of human rights abuses in East Timor while recognising the positive measures taken by the Indonesian Government to improve the situation. A matter of preoccupation to the commission was the incomplete information concerning the number of people killed and persons still unaccounted for as a result of the Dili massacre on 12 November 1991. The commission called on Indonesia to continue its investigation on those still missing and the circumstances surrounding the matter. The commission also expressed its encouragement at the greater access recently granted by the Indonesian authorities to some human rights and humanitarian organisations as well as to international media.
Of considerable importance is the fact that the commission has requested the UN Secretary-General to report to it on the human rights situation in East Timor and that the matter remains on the commission's agenda.
Arising from concerns expressed by Deputies in the Dáil in March, discussions have taken place in my Department with the Australian Ambassador. Officials of my Department have outlined to the ambassador the concerns of the Government at the human rights situation and have asked the Australian Government to use its influence with Indonesia to achieve an improvement in that country's record in East Timor. The ambassador confirmed his country's concern about human rights in East Timor and said that Australia was using all its influence with Indonesia to raise individual human rights cases. This policy of constructive engagement was outlined by the Australian Prime Minister, Mr. Paul Keating, when he met the Taoiseach during his visit to Ireland last September.
Australia recognises Indonesia's sovereignty over East Timor and this has, in their view, enabled the Australian Government to pursue its concerns for human rights and the economic development of the East Timorese people in a constructive and effective manner with the Indonesian authorities. The Australian Government has pointed out that this recognition does not, of course, imply approval of the circumstances of the Indonesian acquisition of East Timor. The Australian Government firmly believes that the development of a more substantial relationship in recent years with Indonesia has assisted their efforts to maintain dialogue on these issues, a dialogue in which Australia's views are clearly conveyed to the Indonesian authorities at the highest level. In this respect, the Australian Government has long emphasised to the Indonesian Government the need for a process of reconciliation with the people of East Timor.
The question of trade sanctions against Indonesia because of its policy on East Timor has been raised from time to time. As Senators will be aware Ireland is not in a position unilaterally to introduce trade sanctions against Indonesia. These are matters for the United Nations acting under Chapter VII of the UN Charter or for the European Union in accordance with Article 228(a) of the Maastricht Treaty. At present, while the dialogue is under way between Portugal and Indonesia under the auspices of the UN Secretary-General, I do not believe there would be sufficient agreement within the UN or in the European Union to impose sanctions on Indonesia. Nonetheless, I recognise the concern that has been expressed about the reported use of military equipment supplied to Indonesia by some of our partners in the European Union and I intend to take up this issue with them.
It will be clear from what I have said that the Government has an active and developed policy on East Timor which seeks to use all the resources at our disposal to bring pressure to bear on the Indonesian authorities. There have been some signs recently of Indonesian awareness of the damage that the activities of its security forces in East Timor are doing to its international reputation and of the need to take action. The Government will continue to work bilaterally, within the European Union and at the United Nations, to ensure that justice is done and that the people of East Timor can live in conditions of peace and stability.