Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 24 Jun 1998

Vol. 156 No. 4

Private Members' Business. - East Timor: Motion.

I move:

Bearing in mind that the territory of East Timor has been illegally occupied by Indonesia since 1975 resulting in the deaths of over 200,000 East Timorese; bearing in mind that the human rights situation in East Timor has deteriorated since the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Bishop Carlos Belo and Dr. Jose Ramos-Horta in December 1996; in light also of the recent collapse of the Suharto regime, Seanad Éireann calls on the Minister for Foreign Affairs to:

— press for the implementation of the 1997 UN Commission on Human Rights Resolution on East Timor;

— press for effective on-site UN monitoring and;

— use every means at his disposal to ensure that the temporary regime of Mr. Habibie acts to release the acknowledged Timorese leader Xanana Gusmao and to hold an internationally monitored plebiscite on self determination for the indigenous people of East Timor.

I am especially pleased the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Tom Kitt, is in attendance because I know of his genuine concern in this area. I recall being on the barricades with him on this issue in previous years. A succession of very good Ministers have also taken responsibility in this area.

It is appropriate the Seanad should debate this motion because this House has always had a special interest in the affairs of East Timor. It was raised for the first time close to the original tragic invasion of the island of East Timor by our former distinguished colleague, the then Senator Mary Robinson, subsequently President and now fulfilling an important role as the UN Commissioner for Human Rights. I recall subsequently signing a motion for Mrs. Robinson in the company of Senators Ryan and O'Toole. It is especially satisfying to recall that on each of these occasions there was unanimous support from all sides of the House on a non-partisan basis. It is clear this will happen again this evening. I welcome the absence of an amendment to the motion.

We are a small country but we have played, and can continue to play, a significant role in the resolution of this situation. It is very heartening to note the role played in Irish public life by conscientious and idealistic political lobby groups. In this instance the work of the East Timor Ireland Solidarity Campaign must be mentioned. I salute the work of Tom Hyland, who is in the Chamber this evening, on which I have spoken at length previously. I do not, therefore, intend to rehearse all the details of the remarkable story of his involvement in the matter. However, it is worthy of note that no less an authority than Professor Peter Carey of Oxford University, in a statement on the collapse of the Suharto regime which was carried on the international wire services, paid special tribute to the work of Tom Hyland and indicated that he had played a significant role in the downfall of the Indonesian dictator.

This by any standards is a remarkable achievement. Indeed, I have often wished that some Government would take note of this kind of work in a practical and imaginative manner. Seanad Éireann would be greatly enhanced in its debates on international human rights issues if a future Taoiseach was to have the vision to nominate Mr. Hyland to this House as one of the Taoiseach's eleven. Previous Taoisigh have had this kind of vision and nominated, for example, people of an independent cast of mind from the North of Ireland. It would send a significant signal to people like the dictator Suharto and his successors that the Irish people take these kind issues very seriously.

I referred to previous debates. There is a certain grim satisfaction in seeing matters unfold in Indonesia and East Timor very much as some of us predicted over the years. It is approximately seven years since I predicted that the Indonesian dictatorship would disintegrate from within for economic reasons due to the staggering scale of corruption surrounding Suharto and his circle. This was at a time when virtually all nations were pursuing what they perceived as their own economic self interest in the Pacific rim area and were not inclined to be over critical of the human rights abuses of the Suharto regime. I am glad to say that from time to time, especially in the work of former Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Spring and the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Andrews, Ireland has taken a stronger line in this matter than any of our European or international allies.

Now the situation predicted has come about and, even from self interested motives, it is important that Ireland demonstrates solidarity not just with the oppressed peoples of East Timor but also with the equally oppressed people of Indonesia. A visit to East Timor was arranged for me a year or two ago. I was illegally removed from an aeroplane by the Indonesian secret place. It was a foolish action because it concentrated attention on people who would otherwise have been rightly regarded as fairly insignificant. When I returned home I was complimented on my courage. I did not display any; the people who displayed courage were the Indonesian people who organised our tickets and who probably could have been traced by the secret police.

We have witnessed the fall of Suharto and his replacement by Mr. Habibie. I do not, however, believe that this is the end of the matter. Habibie is clearly a transitional figure. Nevertheless much appears to be changing. Even the impersonal forces of fate and destiny, called ironically by the Greeks the Eumenides, or the kindly ones, played a role with the helicopter crash on 5 June in East Timor which removed from the scene as if by divine intervention the entire senior Indonesian military leadership in East Timor, including some spectacularly unsavoury persons who had been involved in widespread human rights abuses and torture. Let me remind the House that this torture included slicing the flesh of civilian captives in front of their fellow villagers and rubbing chilli powder into the wounds, burying people up to their necks in the blazing sun until they died from heat stroke, literally tearing children from the wombs of their mothers and smashing the heads of infants off blocks. One recalls also the massacre at Dili itself which the world, thanks to the work of people such as John Pilger, Max Stahl and of course our own Tom Hyland, now recognises at last and deplores.

However, the misery is not completely at an end. While we in Dublin were celebrating Bloomsday on 16 June, a young man, Herman Soares, aged 21, was shot by Indonesian soldiers while collecting wood with his cousins, dying en route to hospital. This led the next day to a demonstration of about 3,000 people who accompanied a black sedan carrying the body of Soares. Led by students from the University of East Timor they sang and prayed as they made their way to the Governor's office and then to the provisional parliament building. A few dozen students occupied the parliament building briefly and strung up banners critical of the Indonesian military. One banner read "Demilitarise Timor — When?" East Timorese students also demonstrated in the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, where last month protesters took over the national parliament after security forces shot at least four student demonstrators. It was these deaths that triggered the protests and riots which were instrumental in forcing President Suharto to step down after 32 years in power.

The murder of Herman Soares was not unusual. What marked a difference was the uncharacteristic response of the Indonesian military authorities who apologised for the shooting and announced that an officer had been detained for questioning. To many in East Timor Mr. Soares has become a martyr. His death sparked a series of protests which concentrated on a demand for a referendum on the status of East Timor. A member of the Timorese parliament, Florentino Sarmento, a former solider with the army of Portugal in Indonesia, said "I think it is understandable because we have been living under oppression for so long, so the students are coming out."

It was also highly unusual that despite the political turbulence few Indonesian soldiers were visible on the streets of Dili, a marked contrast to seven years ago when Indonesian army troops shot dead more than 50 people in a similar protest. Greater press freedom has also emerged and the fact that the soldiers stood back and allowed students to occupy the parliament building would have been unthinkable a few short months ago.

The deputy chief of the East Timor Military Command, Colonel Mudjino, was quoted by Agence France Press as saying “What happened was a mistake by the armed forces and I have ordered a thorough investigation. We have apologised to the family, to the Bishop and the public in general. In essence our personnel were at fault. There was no reason for shots to be fired since the soldiers only suspected the victim of stealing wood.”. Mr. Soares was in fact gathering wood to provide ballast for his truck which he was driving with his cousin, Olandino Soares. Olandino, who has already lost two of his own brothers in the conflict, is quoted as saying “It is better to let the military go to their own country, if they stay here they will kill us”.

I note from today's Irish Times that the Indonesian Foreign Minister, Mr. Ali Alatas, who we in Ireland will remember for his undignified behaviour when confronted by Deputy Spring in New York, has said that his government was ready to give East Timor special status in an attempt to find a lasting solution to the issues. President Habibie is also to meet Nobel Prize winning Bishop Carlos Belo.

However, what is missing from the report is the sinister connection which Alatas is attempting to establish between the granting of special status — which in any case is quite inadequate at this point — and the release of the Timorese leader, Xanana Gusmao, to recognition by the international community that East Timor is part of the integrated territory of Indonesia. This is an astonishing and cynical piece of impertinence on the part of Alatas. It is not possible to mitigate one breach of human rights with another. Moreover, the question must be asked in terms of his suggestions that the substantial elements of this special status can be discussed with Portugal. This suggestion breathtakingly eliminates from such discussion the representatives of the very people most centrally involved, the East Timorese themselves. I therefore call tonight for the direct involvement of representatives of the East Timorese people in any such negotiations.

With regard to Mr. Habibie, although there have been some concessions with the release of prisoners etc. there have been no substantial political reforms. The new President, B. J. Habibie, has said that he will wait until 1999 before calling new parliamentary elections. This is mainly so that he can place his own people in positions of power and strengthen his position in the government. The military see him as a caretaker President and he wants to stay in power until 2003 when the next Presidential elections are due.

The economic crisis in Indonesia continues to be harsh, with reports of food shortages coming in from the outlying provinces. There is also a certain amount of infighting going on within the military. One example of this is the fact that the head of the armed forces, General Wiranto, appointed General Johnny Lumintang as head of Kostrad, the strategic reserve command. Lumintang, however, is a Christian and this was found to be unacceptable to the Islamic generals. This indicates that the armed forces are not loyal to the Republic of Indonesia but have loyalty to regions in Indonesia or to other Islamic generals.

All the signs indicate that although Suharto is gone the regime remains essentially the same. Mr. Habibie is a crony of Suharto and most of the other cronies also remain in power. The armed forces are still the main force in Indonesian political life and do not want to give up this position which allows them the biggest say in the day to day running of the economy.

With regard to the island of East Timor itself and its current situation, there are still about 20,000 Indonesian troops occupying the island. The Timorese themselves are demonstrating on a daily basis both in Jakarta and Dili for a valid act of self determination so that they can decide their own future. Under international pressure Habibie has released about 14 East Timorese political prisoners but scores more remain in prison. Many international leaders, including a Freeman of the city of Dublin, President Nelson Mandela of South Africa, have lobbied for the release of Xanana Gusmao. Mr. Habibie now offers to release Gusmao and reduce the number of Indonesian troops in East Timor in exchange for the international community accepting East Timor as part of Indonesia. Naturally, the Timorese have rejected this as blackmail. Xanana Gusmao should not be in prison and the Indonesian troops should not be in East Timor in the first place. However the fact that Mr. Habibie wants the international community to "accept" Timor as part of Indonesia is a first admission by the Indonesian government that they know the international community does not accept Indonesian control over East Timor.

The three main demands of the Indonesian people and their leaders are: the immediate and unconditional release of Xanana Gusmao; the withdrawal of Indonesian troops from the territory; and a plebiscite or referendum by the people of East Timor on the issue of self determination.

The East Timorese resistance forces have offered a generous peace plan. Phase one consists of nine steps which are as follows: a call for an immediate end to all armed activities in East Timor — Fretilin has already offered a ceasefire which was rejected by the Indonesians; the reduction of Indonesian troops to a maximum of 1,000; the removal of all heavy weapons; the release of all political prisoners; the gradual reduction of Indonesian civil servants in East Timor; the introduction of UN specialist observers in human rights and political rights; an objective census of the population to ensure that only indigenous East Timorese rather than transmigrants can vote in any referendum; the establishment of a Human Rights Office; and an end to military control of the media and political censorship.

Phase two consists of four steps to take place over the next five to ten years. First, Portugal and Indonesia to normalise relations; second, the legalisation of all political parties; third, the appointment of a permanent EU representative and finally local elections to be held under the auspices of the UN.

As a third phase, within 15 years the people of East Timor should be allowed a democratic decision between full independence or integration with Indonesia.

I second the motion.

Ten years ago I was approached by a young woman who worked for Trócaire who wanted to talk to me about East Timor and I had never heard of the place. Subsequently this House debated the imminent Gulf War and I mentioned East Timor as an example of an invasion of a sovereign state by another power which did not generate the same heat as the invasion of Kuwait. Members of this House asked me afterwards where East Timor was and I was unable to tell them precisely.

The extraordinary thing was that East Timor was invaded in the early 1970s and until the late 1980s the world and its media turned their backs. I agree with Senator Norris that a large section of the world would still have turned its back if it was not for the extraordinary efforts of Mr. Tom Hyland and the East Timor Ireland Solidarity Campaign. This campaign has now got international recognition as an extraordinarily effective campaign which has used constructively the willingness of successive Ministers for Foreign Affairs to use the EU to bring pressure to bear.

There are fundamental issues which need to be addressed about the nature of the Indonesian regime. This regime came into power and subsequently massacred at least half a million if not one million of its people. It was approved by the western world and for many years it was regarded as a place of stability in Asia and as a model of development. Now it is neither stable nor developed. It has turned out to be what many of us who knew Indonesia knew it would always be — corrupt, rotten at the core and a military dictatorship. That military dictatorship, which was put into power with the explicit support of western Europe and North America, proceeded to invade East Timor and decided unilaterally to annex it. It has no more right to be in East Timor than Germany had to be in France or Denmark during the Second World War or Israel has to be in the West Bank — that will probably upset Senator Norris.

I agree with the Senator.

There is no moral or legal basis for any of these things.

To the great credit of a succession of Irish Governments, we have taken a reasonable lead in this regard and we continue to do so. However, it is extremely important to ensure that no type of mealy-mouthed intermediate compromise is foisted on the people of East Timor. We have enshrined in our Constitution in the past month the principle of consent. We have said this is the principle which we, as a State, believe is the way to settle disputes about sovereignty and the nature of government in areas where there is a dispute. We cannot say the principle of consent, which is the correct principle, applies to six counties of this island but somewhere far across the world a different set of global geopolitical strategies means we cannot do something as simple as ask the indigenous people of an area what is their view on how they should be governed.

We have been good until now on these global issues. However, there are gaps in our morality in terms of our policy in the area of arms exports. I want to quote from a document published by AFrI about licences to export military equipment, particularly licences awarded to a company called Moog in my home area. Moog has been awarded licences by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment. Licences were scrutinised and approved by the Department of Foreign Affairs to sell military equipment to Singapore. Singapore is a well known staging post for dubious arms sales.

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, which is the best authority on these matters, says there are only two countries to which this equipment could be sold. One of those two countries is Indonesia. We undermine the moral position we have justifiably claimed for ourselves by allowing a firm in this country to get involved in the export of military hardware to a regime such as that in Indonesia. I invite the Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Tom Kitt, to address the morality of our armaments industry.

British Aerospace is also involved in supplying weapons to Indonesia. There would be a sick irony if, in a time when we are attempting to demilitarise part of this island which has suffered from conflict for 30 years, British Aerospace became a more extensive contractor to Shortts in Belfast and we expanded an armaments industry in Belfast when we are trying to get rid of armaments on this island.

Moog has adopted a moral position on this issue. In the AFrI report, "A Supplement to AFrI's ‘Links' Report", it states: "we are aware which particular pieces of equipment are destined for a defence application, and we do not rely on the ‘dual use' approach". In other words, it is saying it is not a hypocrite because it knows what it sells. It believes the Government should put together a convincing policy about such matters and it will obey the law. It is not that a company in Cork is attempting to hoodwink anyone. It is being open, honest and truthful and it is selling to a market which is available to it. It is up to the Minister and the Government to tell Moog what to do.

Electronic sensor equipment. The Department of Foreign Affairs has this report because AFrI is good at ensuring that such reports are widely circulated. I appreciate the Minister does not know but there is plenty of information on this subject.

The company wants a logical licensing policy. It is not fooling anyone or pretending this is something else. The Government gave it a licence to sell equipment which has ended up in Indonesia and which will, therefore, be used for the wrong reasons. It is up to us not to besmirch our excellent moral position on East Timor by being involved in any way in the export of arms to that most despicable régime.

I compliment Senator Norris for moving this motion and I join with him in praising the East Timor Ireland Solidarity Campaign and Mr. Tom Hyland. Were it not for the work carried out by such groups and NGOs, many of the problems about which we are concerned would not be brought to the attention of the media, the Government or the Parliament. The situation in East Timor has been brought to the attention of the people by Senator Norris and Mr. Tom Hyland.

It is easy to ask why we should worry about East Timor when we have problems in Ireland. I remember talking to a Congressman in the United States about the problem in the Middle East and he told me to get out of his office and try to solve the problems in the North of Ireland instead of annoying him about the Middle East.

The problem of East Timor goes back to before it was invaded in 1975. I am sorry the role of the Australians has not been brought to the fore because they have played a more insidious role in what has happened in East Timor than the Americans or anyone else. Were it not for the support of the Australian Government, the Indonesian Government would not have been able to carry out genocide in East Timor for many years. The Australians are heavily to blame for many of the reasons associated with trade relations between larger countries and their near neighbours.

East Timor is a country rich in minerals. Like in many other countries, multinational companies or big neighbours attempt to side with genocidal groups because of the potential for financial reward. The potential for financial reward for Australia in getting involved with Indonesia and forgetting about the East Timorese is huge, but we must not forget the role of the British in this. The British arms industry is to blame for much of what has happened in East Timor.

If one reads Mr. John Pilger's new book, Hidden Agendas, one must conclude that the Australians have very short memories. In “Anzac Day”, which forms part of a chapter in that book, Mr. Pilger outlines the heroic efforts of the East Timorese to prevent the Japanese from taking over the region.

With regard to the British and the arms trade, in the chapter "Flying the Flag: Arming the World" Mr. Pilger states that in 1898, Hilaire Belloc wrote in The Modern Traveller:

Whatever happens, we have got

The Maxim gun and they have not.

That is exactly what happens in the world today. The smaller countries do not have the modern equivalent of the Maxim gun and the poor must fight the arms dealers.

According to the book, in 1905 Vickers paid Sir Basil Zaharoff £86,000 as their chief salesman and made him a millionaire. He "understood the connection between arms and power, diplomacy, spying and bribery, and flying the flag, regardless of whose flag it was". The comparison between 1905 and 1998 is a fair one. Zaharoff said "I made wars so that I could sell arms to both sides" and "I must have sold more arms than anyone else in the world".

Now there are three big arms suppliers in the worlds: America, Britain and France. The arms dealers in these countries have no moral qualms about where those arms are sold. The British Foreign Secretary, Mr. Robin Cook, who was preaching against arms sales to the Indonesians when he was Labour Shadow Spokesperson, is now selling arms in that area. A recent survey suggested that less arms were sold during the years the Tories were in power than when the Labour Party has been in Government. However, it must be said that when the then former British Foreign Secretary, Mr. Douglas Hurd, alluded to higher motives, stating that under the UN Charter all sovereign states have the right to self defence, so there is nothing wrong with selling arms to friendly countries to allow them to defend themselves, he was referring specifically to Indonesia.

According to Mr. Pilger, Indonesia's military dictatorship, one of the most bloodthirsty in the twentieth century, gets most of its arms from Britain — Hawk ground-attack aircraft, Sea Wolf and Rapier surface-to-air missiles, Tribal class frigates, Marconi and other battlefield communications equipment, sea-bed mine-disposal equipment, Saladin, Saracen and Fernet armoured vehicles, Tactica "riot control" vehicles — with water canon optional — and a fully equipped institute of technology for the Indonesian Army. No less a person than His Royal Highness, Prince Charles, got into the act when he suggested that minor wars do not count as long as we can sell to the people who are conducting them.

The Australians could create an atmosphere in Oceania in which they could do something about Indonesia. The British could stop this war in the morning if they wanted to. On the Irish involvement, whereas there is a moral imperative to do something about the invasion of East Timor by Indonesia, there is very little we can do except keep bringing the problem to every forum possible. A debate in the Seanad will not make that much difference, but we have seen in the past that the more places in which such problems of major world concern are referred, the better.

I will conclude by reciting a short poem by an East Timorese.

Names without faces

Hearts stabbed

with memories

of the tears of children

shed for their parents .

More than death

made them utter their last word

in every tear the cruel spectacle .

the whimpering of a mother

without energy

upon her body are etched

the blemishes of anguish


The rags

which cover her

in tatters

in the dim of her own flesh

cruelly scorned

by the Indonesian soldiers

one by one

on top of her

Inert, the body of a woman

becomes a corpse

insensitive to the justice

of the dagger

which has liberated her from life

and in the meantime .

blows of the rifle butt


in the tear drops

of the very same children

A father pays the price

for the last ‘no' of his life

and .

the tears dried

in the memories of the children

replaced by the sweat of the struggle .

It should be remembered that the sweat of the struggle of the people of Indonesia will continue irrespective of whether the new Government thinks it has changed. The people of East Timor will continue their struggle against repression. I hope tonight's debate will make some difference to their plight.

It is apt that today, because of the motion in the name of Senator Norris and the Independent Group, Members of this House should again have the opportunity of reflecting on the subject of East Timor. The Indonesian President, B. J. Habibie, recently held talks with the leaders of the Roman Catholic Church in East Timor, Bishop Carlos Belo, in Jakarta on the future of the island of East Timor. We await with hope news of the outcome of these talks, but it is a hope tinged with the knowledge of the brutal atrocities which have been and are still being inflicted on the indigenous people of East Timor by the Indonesian Army at the behest of its Government. We must remember not only the genocidal policy pursued by the Indonesian Army in 1975 resulting in the death of 200,000 Timorese, that is one-third of the total population of the island, the massacre of over 100 unarmed civilians in a graveyard at Santa Cruz in 1991 and the daily ongoing violation of human rights, but also the ongoing systematic state run programme of indoctrination. This process has involved the replacement of their native tongue. It involves four year old native Timorese children entering school being told that their capital is Jakarta, their president is Habibie and their being made repeat these mantras until they believe them. This form of indoctrination extends right up to the island's only university, where nobody graduates unless he or she passes a special paper on the president's political thoughts.

What hope we have for a better future for East Timor stems from the departure of General Surharto but, as Senator Norris noted in his motion, President Habibie's regime may well turn out to be a temporary arrangement. Certainly, some of Habibie's political thoughts and actions in the past do not lead us to be optimistic about his humanitarian credentials. Indeed, President Habibie was one of the main financial beneficiaries of President Suharto's crony capitalism. His company possessed a monopoly in supplying aircraft to the military — planes no one else would buy. It is perhaps not wishful thinking to suggest that these very planes have been used by the Indonesian army in their operations against the Timorese people.

Nevertheless, the first sign of movement from the new regime is to be tentatively welcomed as a first step in at least addressing — and it is nothing more than that — the rightful claim of the Timorese people to self determination. Of course, the proposal that would seem to be now on the table from President Habibie to release the separatist guerrilla leader, Xanana Gusmao, and grant East Timor "special status" in return for international recognition of the Indonesian annexation of East Timor in 1976 has rightly been rejected by exiled vice-president of the National Council for the Timorese Resistance, José Ramos-Horta, and by the Portuguese government — the former colonial power in the island. The idea of giving the disputed territory a "special status" within Indonesia along the lines of that already existing within the Republic of Indonesia in exchange for an end to the conflict between the government and the pro-independence groups would seem to be aimed at encouraging the international community to recognise Indonesia's illegal annexation of East Timor.

In this respect I am sure the Minister of State and the Minister for Foreign Affairs will stand by and uphold, in whatever forum they can, the rightful and just claims of the Timorese people to self determination. What the Timorese people simply want is Indonesia's withdrawal from East Timor and a referendum to decide for themselves on the future of their own country. It is a clear and simple message and one we must not tire of repeating again and again in this House until the people of East Timor are free. We who are free have the duty of standing in solidarity with the people of East Timor in speaking truth to power. In this respect it is heartening to hear of the continuing student protests in Jakarta and Dili over the holding proposals put forward by President Habibie on the future of East Timor.

Finally, I would like to address the broader question of what leverage western states and particularly the United States and the European Union — and Ireland as a member of the European Union — now have vis-a-vis Indonesia. What has been particularly disturbing is the west's reaction to the economic melt-down in Asia, particularly in the way the IMF bail outs have been targetted. The private losses of foreign creditors seem to be socialised because, under the bail outs, their debts are transferred to the government and must be repaid by the taxpayers. All this is dangerous because it will result in a backlash of resentment and anger from hardworking Asians. This is the moment for the west, in particular the United States and the European Union, to use its financial leverage to push for a strategic vision in the region which incorporates reforms in democracy, respect for human rights, rule of law, transparency and accountability.

The United States and the European Union, through their stabilising and supportive role in the region at this time, are in a position to force the inclusion of the East Timor question into the ASEAN regional forum and to encourage a dialogue on human rights and democracy. Indeed, for all the megaphone diplomacy we have heard from south east Asian leaders about Asian values and Asian human rights, it is not surprising now to hear their sudden eloquent silence on the subject. These allegedly Asian values were nothing but a smokescreen for the ideologies of developmentalism and crony capitalism. Now the time is ripe for a comprehensive security agenda for peace and stability with a formula of conflict resolution acceptable to all parties to be openly and genuinely discussed in the region. I hope this is a conversation to which we can make some contribution and one which will crucially involve the resolution of the East Timor conflict at its centre.

I thank Senator Norris for putting forward this motion. I am reminded that when I was in Opposition I attended a conference organised by the Portuguese government which was also attended by Senator Norris, Senator Henry, Senator Lydon, yourself, Sir, and others from Senator Doyle's party. Irish parliamentarians, particularly Senator Norris, have taken an interest in this issue and have campaigned on it for many years. Some, like myself, have done so both in Government and Opposition. I am pleased, therefore, to be here to respond to a debate on this very important issue. Senator Norris has been a consistent champion of the cause of East Timor and I congratulate him on the work he has done. As Senator Lanigan said, debates such as this are important. We may feel we are not being listened to but they are important in the overall scheme of things.

Reference was, quite rightly, made to Tom Hyland. I add my thanks to Tom Hyland, who with a small number of people, has maintained the East Timor support group. Ireland has a strong reputation as a supporter of human rights. That reputation is real and I am very proud of it. We have that reputation because of people like Tom Hyland. His work, which is done quietly and efficiently, encapsulates the strong feeling of solidarity in the Irish people with oppressed people throughout the world. There is a historical reason for that genuine feeling of solidarity and support for people who are suffering under oppressive regimes. Tom Hyland's work is a classic example of that. I have worked closely with Tom both in Government and Opposition. I met him again recently and I am pleased he is in the House this evening. I rarely get a chance to thank people like Tom Hyland. I do so now and I encourage him to continue his work, which has been recognised internationally.

The recent upheavals in Indonesia and the ousting of General Suharto last month as President of Indonesia after 32 years have focused attention once again on the question of East Timor. This is an issue which has dogged the international community for too long and has given rise to a high degree of ill-will and at times confrontation between Indonesia and those countries who wish to see justice and human rights upheld in this distant island. It is because the East Timorese people themselves have been oppressed so grievously and have undergone so much tribulation in recent years that everything possible must now be done to bring their suffering to an end. The Government accordingly welcomes the debate which is taking place today and looks forward to hearing views and opinions from other Members of this House. It is the Government's intention to take all such views fully into account in the further development of its policy on the issue. There is wide cross-party concern and interest in this subject and quite rightly so.

Following the fall of President Suharto, a new administration headed by President B. J. Habibie has taken over the reins of power in Jakarta and has already expressed a certain willingness to seek a negotiated solution to the issue of East Timor. Only time will tell of course whether this new administration does in fact possess the political will and wisdom to negotiate a solution which will be acceptable to all parties — not least to the East Timorese people themselves. Nevertheless, a window of opportunity may now be opening up as a result of the upheavals in Indonesia which may allow this long-standing problem to be dealt with in a fair and equitable manner. We must do all in our power accordingly to encourage the Indonesian Government to demonstrate more clearly its willingness to meet its obligations under the relevant resolutions of the United Nations and to grant to the East Timorese people their rights under international law.

I am heartened in this respect by the latest news reports that President Habibie has arranged a meeting today with Bishop Carlos Belo, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning opposition leader in East Timor. I will in a moment give Senators the latest up-date on that meeting. I understand that President Habibie has offered special autonomy status for East Timor and the release of all political prisoners in return for recognition of Indonesian sovereignty. It is for the East Timorese people to decide whether it is in their best interests to accept or reject. The Indonesians appear to be moving in the direction of seeking a peaceful negotiated settlement to the issue — something which never happened under the regime of former President Suharto and which the outside world must do all it can to encourage.

Senators will be aware that on 25 June 1996 the European Union adopted a Common Position on East Timor. This Common Position committed the EU to seeking the achievement by dialogue of a fair, comprehensive and internationally acceptable solution to the question of East Timor, which fully respects the interests and legitimate aspirations of the Timorese people, in accordance with international law.

Particular emphasis was placed in the Common Position on the need for the Indonesian Government to adopt effective measures to improve human rights in the territory by implementing fully the relevant decisions of the UN Commission on Human Rights. This EU statement of position does not, however, refer to the right of the people of East Timor to self-determination or independence.

In recent weeks EU partners have turned their attention more closely to the question of East Timor. Following the call by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Andrews, on 27 May for the release of the resistance leader Xanana Gusmao and other political prisoners, the UK Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office travelled to Jakarta and succeeded in meeting with the prisoner himself. At the General Affairs Council in Luxembourg on 8 June, Ministers made a further appeal for the release of Xanana Gusmao and for the early reinstatement of the postponed visit by the EU troika of ambassadors to the East Timorese capital, Dili. This visit has now been rescheduled by the EU Presidency for 27 to 30 June.

The European Council meeting at Cardiff on 15 and 16 June also discussed the question of East Timor. It called on Indonesia to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms and sought the release of all political prisoners, including Xanana Gusmao and others from East Timor.

Along with our partners in the EU, Ireland is particularly supportive of the role of the United Nations and of the efforts being made under the auspices of the UN Secretary-General in an attempt to resolve this difficult issue. Such efforts include the intra-Timorese dialogue which brings all the parties in East Timor together in order to find common ground which might help to resolve the disputes between them. Furthermore, we welcomed the appointment last year by the Secretary-General of Mr. Jamsheed Marker as his special envoy on East Timor and we are ready to support any appropriate initiative taken by the Secretary-General on the issue.

Senators will be aware that at the Commission on Human Rights in Geneva we actively supported the proposal to assign a programme officer of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to be located in the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, or preferably in East Timor itself. Negotiations are taking place currently with the Indonesian Government on the assignment of such an officer. Under the terms of the chairman's statement agreed at this year's session of the Commission on Human Rights, Indonesia has committed itself to the early assignment of such an officer — with access to East Timor — within the framework of technical co-operation between the two sides.

Members of the Government have availed of every opportunity to raise the issue of East Timor with their counterparts. During his visit to Lisbon two weeks ago the Taoiseach had a detailed and useful exchange of views with the Portuguese Prime Minister, Mr. Guterres. The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Andrews, also had an extended and fruitful exchange of views on East Timor and Indonesia with the Portuguese Foreign Minister, Mr. Gama, during his official visit to Lisbon earlier this year. The Minister expressed the Government's continuing deep concern at the situation there and our readiness to help in any way possible, including in relation to the intra-Timorese dialogue. I reiterate the Government's willingness to host a meeting of the intra-Timorese dialogue here in Ireland should it be so desired by all the parties concerned. I conveyed this information personally to the Indonesian Foreign Minister, Mr. Ali Alatas, when I met him in London at the ASEM summit last April.

In considering a situation like that which exists in East Timor at present and in attempting to find a solution which may achieve a wide level of support, I feel there are two tasks which should be undertaken which can help greatly in the search for a just and peaceful settlement. One is to examine the historical roots of the problem in question which can give us valuable insights into its causes. The other, which is more important, is to seek to take advantage of all relevant events happening in the present which may be utilised for the achievement of a settlement.

Historically, East Timor has faced the problems of traditional underdevelopment which have been combined with acute economic and political obstacles. At the time of its decolonisation, I understand that East Timor possessed only one high school and one technical school and that the illiteracy rate stood at a truly astounding 92 per cent of the population. There were reported to have been only 12 university graduates and not much more than 20 miles of paved roads in the entire colony at that time. In 1975 the radical Fretilin party came to power and was considered by the Indonesian authorities to pose a threat to the stability of the surrounding region. While short-comings in the decolonisation process may have been responsible in part for this outcome, the result, as we know, was the brutal invasion of the territory by Indonesia in December 1975 and its subsequent illegal annexation.

The massacres and repression of the civilian population which occurred at that time and which have continued to take place during the more than 22 years of Indonesian control which followed are well documented. These atrocious abuses of human rights must be brought to an end and the Timorese people must never again be subjected to such brutal treatment.

The Government has no difficulties with the text of the motion tabled by Senator Norris. According to all the reports we receive, it seems undeniable that the human rights situation in the territory continues to be deplorable. Ireland has always been to the forefront in condemning the shocking violations of human rights which have occurred so regularly in East Timor. Senators will be aware that we were among the strongest supporters of the resolution on East Timor adopted by the Commission on Human Rights in Geneva last year. Among the demands contained in that resolution was the assignment of a programme officer from the Centre for Human Rights to the UN office in Jakarta with unhindered access to East Timor. It is appropriate that we should repeat that demand in this House.

I have already expressed the Government's strong support for the call to release Xanana Gusmao and all prisoners held for political reasons not just in East Timor but throughout Indonesia. We can also offer our support for the holding of a plebiscite conducted in a free and fair manner which would demonstrate accurately the democratic will of the East Timorese people. It must be stressed, however, that it would be unwise to predict the results of such a plebiscite in advance. The results of such a plebiscite would be an important element, but not the only one, in deciding the future of East Timor. Regional stability and other factors arising from the relevant United Nations resolutions would also have to be taken into account.

I offer my good wishes to the people of East Timor in their struggle to demand their basic human rights and to achieve the civil liberties to which every human being has an undeniable claim. As a step towards attaining these ends we hope that the new administration in Jakarta will maintain and reinforce the moves — admittedly small so far — which it has promised to take on the path to democracy and greater social justice for all the people under its control. The most likely means of achieving peace with justice for the people of East Timor lies with Indonesia's acceptance of democracy in a fair and open manner for its own people and institutions. We must encourage the Indonesian Government and people in every way we can to follow that course.

For too long the East Timorese people have suffered from persecution and oppression. I hope they will not be denied for much longer their fundamental freedoms. We offer them our full support in their courageous struggle.

Senator Ryan referred to the AFRI report, with which I am familiar, having raised some of the issues raised by it with the previous Government. As the Senator is aware, we do not manufacture arms and, therefore, we do not export them.

It is true that we produce dual use goods — for example, computer equipment. The Senator mentioned a company in particular and electronic sensor equipment which goes to Singapore and on to Indonesia. I will ask the officials in the Departments of Enterprise, Trade and Employment and Foreign Affairs to investigate the matter.

An international news agency report from Jakarta today reads:

Outspoken East Timorese Bishop, Nobel laureate Carlos Belo, held landmark talks with Indonesia's new President B. J. Habibie here Wednesday and said he had won a pledge for a "gradual" troop withdrawal from the troubled territory.

"They will study the issue and little by little they will withdraw," Belo told reporters after an almost two hour meeting with Habibie held in the presidential palace at the president's initiative.

Foreign minister, Ali Alatas, who sat in on the talks, was more reticent, saying only: "The Armed forces. . .yes the role of the armed forces was included in the conversation."


Though no timetable was given, the withdrawal pledge was seen here as a major move by Indonesia, which under the leadership of former President Suharto had for 23 years doggedly rejected any concessions on the issue, despite the heavy damage to its foreign policy.

But western diplomats told AFP this week that the Indonesian military, which is believed to have suffered more than 20,000 casualties in the territory, would be "more than glad to leave as long as East Timor remains a part of Indonesia".

Current Indonesian troop strength in the territory is estimated by diplomats to be from 15,000 to 20,000, while only a handful of armed rebels remain.

Belo emerged from the meeting in an upbeat mood, heaping praise on Habibie and saying he now hoped for "a new starting point" for his people.


"The main thing we talked about was how to improve the situation in East Timor. On how to lift the dignity of the East Timorese and the president agreed with the majority of the things we proposed to him," he added.

This report is balanced and gives us some hope. The international campaign must go on as well as the work of Tom Hyland's group. I welcome this debate and look forward to hearing the contributions of other Senators. We will continue our efforts. It has been acknowledged that successive Irish Governments have played an important role in trying to advance the cause of the people of East Timor. I assure this House that at this important time there is a window of opportunity. We will redouble our efforts to bring this problem to an end and restore the rights of the people of East Timor.

I remember when the Minister of State supported this cause in Lisbon. The Government's support for the assignment of a programme officer from the High Commissioner for Human Rights' office to the Indonesian capital of Jakarta or preferably East Timor would not only be welcomed by the people of East Timor but by the Chinese minority in Indonesia who have suffered appallingly in the past few months and have become scapegoats for the difficulties there. I am sure the Minister of State has seen reports of the terrible treatment of Chinese women. Two or three hundred of them have declared they were raped. Security forces stood by while atrocities were perpetrated against them. I hope the Minister will promote the assignment of a programme officer from the High Commissioner's office to Jakarta as soon as possible.

It is ironic that we discussed the ratification of the protocols to the Geneva Convention last night. The Second Protocol, Chapter II, Article 76 states:

(1) Women shall be the object of special respect and shall be protected in particular against rape, forced prostitution and any other form of indecent assault.

(2) Pregnant women and mothers having dependent infants who are arrested, detained or interned for reasons related to the armed conflict, shall have their cases considered with the utmost priority.

When one reads the reports of what is happening to women in East Timor, it is appalling that these conventions are being totally ignored. This also applies to the rest of the civilian population.

This has been happening since 1977. In 1988, a woman who described herself as Ms X — as members of her family were still living in East Timor — gave an horrific account of her treatment, which was published by the Catholic Institute for International Relations in 1990. Her husband was tortured and killed but she managed to flee to Portugal. She described how in 1977 a vehicle from the regional military command in Koramil arrived at her home with orders to arrest her because her husband was a freedom fighter. Her eldest son was two years old and her youngest son, who she was breastfeeding, was six months old.

She was taken to prison with her sister where she was treated appallingly. Her sister was taken from her and was brought back scarred all over from instruments of torture. Her skin was covered in dried blood and there were countless cigarette burns where the Indonesians has put out their cigarettes on her flesh as if she was an ashtray. Ms X was threatened and was told that if she did not tell the truth she would get the same treatment.

This continued in a most harrowing manner. It was ironic that the interrogators started to worry about the breastfed child and brought him back and forth to her in prison until he got so ill they wanted him brought to hospital. She insisted the child should be sent home to her father. She had the bad luck to appeal to one of the local majors who kept her captive and raped her repeatedly. She eventually managed to escape and went to live in Portugal.

This case happened 20 years ago and one might presume that the situation had calmed down. Unfortunately, today I heard of the case of Rosita Gomes Pereira. She complained to the local church and the International Committee of the Red Cross, presumably hoping that the perpetrators of her rape might be brought to justice. She gave a similar account to that of Ms X of her ordeal. On 1 May last she was raped by Indonesian soldiers in the Ermeria district where she lived. One held her from behind while the other raped her. She had a baby of approximately the same age as that of Ms X with her. She attempted to flee with the baby but was not in a position to get away from her torturers.

Rape has been recognised as a war crime and some people were brought to court following the atrocities in Bosnia. It is important that we ensure that those who commit these crimes against women in East Timor are also brought to justice. The East Timorese authorities have made no effort to bring rapists or those who sexually abuse, harass or force women into marriage or prostitution before the courts.

Women in some areas have had to endure forced sterilisation. This involves the medical profession and I was appalled to read in an article reprinted by Tom Hyland that the Indonesian medical profession have been involved in the killing of wounded people. Following the massacre of some people they were brought to a hospital which was surrounded by a large number of troops. The reporter, who was a paramedic, said he saw the Indonesian security forces use rocks to crush the skulls of wounded people. He went on to say that the Indonesians wanted to inject the wounded with sulphuric acid but it was argued that this would cause much pain and the victims would scream too much. They then asked the doctors in the hospital for some pills. The report says the doctors brought a jar of pills which were then given to some of the wounded. The victims started to lose strength, their breathing became weaker and they died quickly. He goes on to name those doctors and nurses who, he said, were involved in this.

It is appalling to read such reports in view of the fact that we passed the first, 1977, Protocol to the Geneva Convention yesterday, which talks about the protection of medical personnel, be they part of the armed forces, relief agencies or civilian doctors. I know they are in terrifying situations but to see the medical profession involved in such appalling activity makes one wonder how the situation in that country can be rectified. I hope the Government will do all in its power to rescue the civilian population from the appalling plight they are in. Any such steps would be very much welcomed on this side of the House.

We have debated the annexation of East Timor so many times in recent years and now we are doing so again. It is due entirely to Senator Norris, to whom I pay credit. As Senator Ryan said, ten years ago he did not know where East Timor was and I do not think many of us did either, although we knew where Indonesia was and we may have seen East Timor on the map. It is entirely due to Senator Norris's efforts that this matter has been raised time and time again in the Seanad. It is important that we debate this issue because some note is taken of such debates.

I want to pay particular tribute to Mr. Tom Hyland who has done sterling work for East Timor. He is a gentleman but he has a steely resolve which helps him to forward this cause. Mr. Hyland, Senator Norris, the Minister of State, a number of other Senators and I attended a conference in Lisbon recently as guests of the Portuguese Government which, for the past 22 years, has been trying to do something about the situation in East Timor.

We would not have been discussing this matter so soon again if it were not for the downfall of General Suharto or, indeed, because of the murder of a young man there recently named Herman Soares. Every time there is a murder like this it seems to roll off the tip of the tongue and it appears as a small footnote in a newspaper. However, it means that another family is affected by a life that is taken. From our own situation we are well aware of the grief, pain and agony that one death can cause.

I am happy to support the motion and to call for the release of Xanana Gusmao. I hope the talks in which Bishop Carlos Belo and the new Indonesian President Habibie are engaged will produce some results. The only result we want, however, is self-determination for East Timor. That is what this is all about. In our own country we fought long enough for self-determination and we have it for most of the country at the moment; in fact, we will have it for all of the country after the peace agreement. These things can be achieved by peaceful means. I hope the ultimate result of all our discussions, debates and work for East Timor will be self-determination for the East Timorese people, deciding their own future.

We should do everything we can to support the attempts being made to solve the matter by the United Nations under the auspices of the Secretary General. The UN's efforts are being supported by everyone.

In previous speeches on this matter, as now, I am always reminded of the horrific sight of the Foreign Ministers of Australia and Indonesia shaking hands having signed an oil deal. As in the case of most takeovers of smaller countries by larger ones, it is not so much about self aggrandisement but about natural resources and power. It was a cruel act and the Australians in particular need to be taken to task because their country is supposed to be a democracy, yet they signed this oil deal with the repressive Suharto regime. They shook hands on it and hoped the East Timor problem would go away.

It is thanks to small people — and I include myself in that category — in various parts of the world and in parliaments who have highlighted such things over and over again that eventually mobilises the press and international opinion so that matters are gradually resolved.

The new Indonesian leader, President Habibie, will make an impression. The Minister of State said there was hope that prisoners would be released and that the army might be withdrawn from East Timor. There is still no mention of self-determination. I do not suppose it will happen overnight; not after 22 years of repression. It is a start, however, which we hoped for and must welcome.

As the Minister of State said, it is important to highlight this issue repeatedly. One can see the effects of it and more is wrought by the pen than the sword. We have seen that occur in South Africa, in the Six Counties and hopefully we will see it in East Timor in the future. People there will eventually be allowed to determine their own future. If at that stage they want to side with part of the Indonesian set up, that is fine, but they must determine that; not us or anybody else.

I think, though, that sometimes we are not hard enough on the larger powers who suppress the smaller ones. I mentioned that point yesterday in another debate in the context of the overthrow of President Allende of Chile. I know he was a Communist, but so what? He was democratically elected and his overthrow should never have happened. As regards their oil deal with Indonesia, we have not taken a strong enough line against the Australians. We must take a strong line. We are very good at espousing the cause of human rights, so let us espouse them all the way and hope that this will be the end of the East Timor problem.

This is an important debate. The Minister of State has expressed an interest in the East Timor problem over an extended period. It is important for us to discuss these matters. I am pleased the Government has accepted the motion and that all sides of the House can agree to it. It is important for us to demonstrate our solidarity on these matters. Ireland can be reasonably happy with its record in trying to promote the cause of East Timor internationally, irrespective of what Government was in power. We have tried to ensure that the human rights violations and genocide that has occurred there will not be continued. We hope it will be possible for East Timor to exercise self-determination and decide its own future. I welcome the news this evening from Jakarta and hopefully it is the dawn of a dialogue which will lead to a better future for East Timor. However, time alone will tell in that respect.

It is also important for us to outline what has taken place in the recent past. I do not intend to go back over the history of repression and genocide which has taken place in East Timor. The Minister of State referred to the 1975 invasion and we all know what happened subsequently, particularly the massacre at Santa Cruz, which was horrific. The world might not have understood what took place there but for the journalists who reported it. Some of them gave their lives to bring reports from the area.

It was a matter of some satisfaction that the House unanimously adopted the resolution passed in Lisbon at the conference which has been referred to earlier and which many of us attended. That resolution was assented to by all groups in the House. I had the privilege of meeting the then Secretary General of the United Nations, Dr. Boutros Boutros-Ghali, with an interparlimentary group to emphasise to him the need for the UN to keep pressing that its resolutions would be adopted. He was very sympathetic to our requests, but after the meeting we wondered how much could be achieved in the face of repeated and sustained resistance to any progress by the super powers and Australia. The US was also unhelpful. This all goes back to the factors Senator Lanigan mentioned. These were the economic importance of Indonesia as a region and the fact that it was then an economy experiencing rapid growth with very substantial trade. There was also the issue of the international arms trade. These issues were in the background when all the discussions took place and were largely responsible for our lack of progress.

I join with other Members in saluting the work done by Tom Hyland and the East Timor Ireland Solidarity Campaign group because without it this matter would not have received the prominence that it has and would not have been as dominant in Irish foreign affairs. He needs to be recognised for all his work.

We should also salute the fact that Bishop Belo and Dr. Ramos-Horta were conferred with the Nobel Peace Prize. That again emphasises the merit of the argument on behalf of the East Timorese people.

The Church of Ireland has been anxious about the matter of arms and the degree to which Ireland may be involved. So much so that the issue was raised at its general synod.

Unfortunately, the motion did not get through.

It is very difficult in the case of very large multi-national corporations, and where the Church has investment in those corporations, for people to know precisely what they are involved in, especially in terms of providing components for arms that might be used for very undesirable purposes in that part of the world. One can understand the difficulties that poses for people, even for the Government, to find out what companies are involved.

I have spoken about the economic importance and Senator Lydon and others have also referred to it. I am glad to see the Minister's speech emphasises that there is a need for human rights to be vindicated. It is essential that the violation of human rights which has taken place should be highlighted and that every action should be taken to ensure there are no further violations. That means there should be an independent verification system on the ground in East Timor. I note what the Minister said in his speech that somebody may be located in Jakarta with access to East Timor. It is very important that the Government repeatedly states at international level the need for an independent verification system in East Timor——

Hear, hear.

——to ensure human rights violations do not take place and that if they do they are reported widely.

Self determination is fundamental to all of this and it is the right of any people to freely exercise their right to it. If the circumstances in Indonesia change radically and there is a democratic state and the East Timorese freely and willingly assent to being part of that system then, as member of the international community, we are obligated to accept that decision. I do not wish to anticipate what the decision would be in changed circumstances. Irrespective of whether the decision would be to be part of Indonesia, it is up to the East Timorese to decide where they want to be and to whom they want to pledge allegiance. We should readily be able to identify with this scenario.

I agree with Members when they called for the release of Xanana Gusmao. He must not be used as a pawn in negotiations which attempt to achieve Indonesian objectives. It is very important that his release is a unilateral decision and not part of an overall package.

I ask the Minister and the Government when having future talks to ensure the implementation of the Lisbon declaration, the absolute right of the East Timorese people to be represented at talks about their future and that they should not be excluded from such talks. It is good that this matter has been given such prominence by the Irish Government. We should not underestimate the influence of our small population on the other side of the world to exercise some moral influence on the outcome of the situation in East Timor. We must recognise the sovereignty of East Timor and it should not be a spurious sovereignty based on an Indonesian trade-off involving Xanana Gusmao or others in that region.

Again, human rights must be subject to verification. I think it is important that we continue to raise our voice in whatever international fora are available to us to ensure this matter does not subside into the undergrowth of international diplomacy and is lost. I know that this will not happen. I am confident the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Andrews, and the rest of the Government will ensure that East Timor is kept in a prominent place in Irish foreign policy. I appeal to the Government to do that. We should not assume because we are a small and remote country on the other side of the world from East Timor that our voice is lost in the wilderness. Sometimes we may be breathing our sweetness on desert air, but on occasion people listen. If the Government listens to us and bring that message to the international fora, then there will be a beneficial effect. I welcome the motion.

I welcome this debate and thank my colleagues for taking part in such a wide-ranging discussion. I thank the Minister in particular. I already mentioned that I regard him as a very appropriate person to have replied on behalf of the Government to this motion.

I preface my comments by indicating my great respect for our diplomats, our foreign service in general and our professional civil servants in Iveagh House. Over the years I have learned to have a great respect for them because, by and large, we are well advised. In many areas of this difficult problem this is also the case. However, I think the Minister may have had a little help with his script. The Minister I know spoke in a more passionate manner when he talked off the record and there are some things in his speech that worry me considerably. He mentioned special autonomy status for East Timor. Let us knock that out of the water straight away on this ground. I have always held that East Timor was fundamentally important for a number of reasons, not just the intrinsic human rights issues of that localised region but because it was very likely that the issue could be won. When it was won it could create what the Americans always feared — a domino effect in reverse on behalf of human rights. I have been to Tibet and have heard the Chinese talking about the special autonomous region of Tibet. I hope to God that East Timor never achieves that lamentable and squalid state because under this diplomatic language is a further violation of the human rights of people.

On the last page of the Minister's speech it is stated: "The results of such a plebiscite would be of course an important but not the only element in deciding the future of East Timor". I was astonished by this statement. Is that what one might call a la carte democracy? He went on to state:

We are told regional stability and other factors arising from the relative United Nations evolutions will also have to be taken into account. In an historical survey we discovered that in 1975 the radical Fretilin party came into power and was considered by the Indonesian authorities to pose a threat to the stability of the surrounding region.

Where is the morality in that? This is precisely the argument the British authorities traditionally used in respect of Northern Ireland. Would Fianna Fáil, the Republican Party, accept that the British have a right to do what they like in Northern Ireland because they are concerned about the stability of the region? I strongly question that aspect of the Minister of State's contribution and he might pause for thought when he rereads his script.

I turn now to the intra-Timorese dialogue, which has a certain small significance. We should not be deflected — this is what the Indonesians want — into believing that problems in East Timor involve squabbles between political leaders who cannot agree with each other and that the Indonesian authorities must impose their views. There has never been a solid substantial attempt to involve the Timorese leadership in the resolution of this problem. It is time that such an attempt was made. Let us not be deflected into believing that this matter is merely a squabble between the Timorese people. Historical divisions in East Timor have been exacerbated and fomented by the Indonesians. Holding discussions which include only the Indonesians and the Portuguese is an outrage against the very people whose civil rights are under discussion.

In light of his comments about the common position of the European Union — there seems to have been a retreat of sorts from the position adopted by Ireland — will he be adhering to the position enunciated by the previous Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Spring, namely, that it was an absolute principle that the Timorese people should have the right to self-determination. There seems to be a contradiction between the supplied script and the position held by the former Minister. I doubt that is what is desired by the current Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputies Andrews and Tom Kitt. I intend no pun but it must be stated that our excellent civil servants, who are not Timorese, are somewhat timorous. It is the responsibility of their political masters to tighten the reins and say "This is what the people have decided, this is what the Oireachtas wants, so please proceed to do it".

It is extraordinary that the brave Timorese people have managed to essentially defeat the might of a sophisticated oppressor. I was saddened when the Minister of State said that:

Historically, East Timor has faced the problems of traditional underdevelopment which have been combined with acute economic and political obstacles. At the time of its decolonisation, I understand that East Timor possessed only one high school and one technical school and that the illiteracy rate stood at a truly astounding 92 per cent of the population. There were reported to have been only 12 university graduates and not much more than 20 miles of paved roads in the entire colony at that time.

So bloody what? What is the point of including such information in the Minister of State's script? Who cares? If the people are happy walking on uncobbled streets, rearing their families, doing no harm to anyone else and being in possession of their property, what business does the European Union have commenting on the state of the roads in East Timor? Everyone knows why the roads have improved in East Timor: it was not so that the Timorese could enjoy the view, it was so that the Indonesian authorities could move military vehicles around and massacre the population. Let us not have any old guff about the state of the roads because we know that is not important.

When in Beijing I was upset when some of our people there stated that the Tibetans had to be brought into the 20th century. They informed me that when they visited Tibet they saw people singing in the fields surrounded by flower-laden yaks. Is that not better than being enslaved and brutalised by the Chinese? It certainly provides a contrast to the massive dilution of the indigenous population in Tibet which I witnessed on a trip to China and Tibet last year. I was one of those responsible for writing a report on human rights at that time which did not please the Chinese. Is it not patronising and supercilious of western countries to cry crocodile tears about the state of the roads, flower-laden yaks, etc., in these countries? If the people who live in Tibet and East Timor are happy they should be allowed to enjoy their civilisations and environments, which were less affected by pollution before the construction of cement factories, etc.

East Timor is the stone in the shoe to which Ali Alatas referred because he knew they would be lamed by this issue. It is extraordinary that the Timorese people managed to defy the armed might of Indonesia. When listening to Members' contributions, I was struck by the similarities between East Timor and Ireland. God knows I have never been a supporter of the armed struggle in this country but I recall Séan O'Casey's character Séamus Sheilds, when a British "tommy" objects to the activities of snipers, saying "They wanted us to come out in our pelts and throw stones at them." Essentially, the Timorese came out in their pelts and threw stones at the Indonesians and they landed a number of strategic hits, without much help from the international community.

Senator Ryan referred to Israel and stated that I would not agree with him in respect of Palestine and the West Bank. Of course I agree with him, but there is a difference between the situation in Israel and that which obtains in East Timor. The West Bank was acquired as a result of a war of aggression against Israel. No one could pretend that East Timor declared war on Indonesia.

Another Member stated that the Australians have short memories. They do not; the Australian Government has no memory for anything at all. It is merely concerned about its interests and money and exploiting others. However, the Australian people have better memories. I recall creating hell in the Australian Parliament in Canberra by attacking the Foreign Minister, Gareth Evans. The response was astonishing because the Australian people were delighted because the majority of them do not support their Government's policy in this area. I am glad that policy is beginning to change.

Senator Lanigan took a few too many pot-shots at the British and his targets were somewhat diffuse. I wish he had taken a swipe at the loathsome Alan Clarke. The Senator was unfair to target Prince Charles because I doubt that he said what he was quoted as saying in respect of this matter.

I crave the indulgence of the Chair to make a final remark. When I raised the question of the French supplying Alouette helicopters and other machines of death to the Indonesians, I was informed by the ever cynical Mr. Juppé — who has since received his just reward from the French political system — that Europe and France had nothing to apologise for because it was an employment issue. I reminded him about Zyclon B gas, etc., and he went on to state that the European Union was not a human rights organisation. At that point he was correct because there was no human rights protocol in the foundation Treaties of the European Union. I campaigned and voted against the Amsterdam Treaty because I oppose any strengthening of the European arms industry, which is already in a state of overproduction — everyone knows where the resulting surplus of weapons is being absorbed — but at least that Treaty, for the first time in the history of the EU, contains a human rights protocolumn Thank God for that.

I thank the Minister of State but he and the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Andrews, must hold firm and adhere to their principles. If they just imagine that we are manning the barricades together, everything will be all right.

I remind Senator Norris that the normal reply time is five minutes, while his reply lasted 15 minutes.

I apologise. I have a notoriously poor sense of time.

I thank all Senators for their contributions but I will return to Senator Norris because he has taken my contribution apart, as is his prerogative. He rightly commended my colleagues in Iveagh House and I echo his praise — they are dedicated and committed people. He quoted the following remark of mine:

In 1975 the radical Fretilin party came to power and was considered by the Indonesian authorities to pose a threat to the stability of the surrounding region.

That is merely a factual statement.

Yes, but it is unfortunately linked to the comment about the considerations which should be taken into account in the plebiscite.

As to the plebiscite, we have always said that it is a matter for the people of East Timor. I assure the Senator that the Irish Government takes a strong position on the issue of self-determination and there is no question of our position not being the same as that of the last Government. If anything we need to redouble our efforts and we are doing that. This is the area of my colleague, the Minister, Deputy Andrews, and I support him in every way because I know of his personal commitment.

As the Senator is aware the Irish position is stronger than the EU position. He mentioned the EU statement I quoted but in a reply of this nature we always refer to the common position. I also said: "This EU statement of position does not, however, refer to the right of the people of East Timor to self-determination or independence", which is another factual statement. I reiterate that the Irish Government supports the right of the East Timorese people to self-determination. As to the plebiscite, I accept Senator Norris' analysis of some elements of my speech but I suggest that the reference to the plebiscite recognises the wishes of the people as well as the other regional factors.

The ousting of General Suharto provides an opportunity to make a determined effort and, on behalf of the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Government, I assure the Senator that we will be as centrally involved in this process as possible. We must try to achieve a negotiated solution and perhaps some of the language in my speech reflects diplomatic work we need to do at this point. In that sense we must take Indonesia's view into account but we acknowledge the changing environment in that country which we are trying to encapsulate in the Government's response to the motion.

I thank the Senator for raising this important matter. I do not think this will be the last time we debate it because during the debate I received an up to date report from an international news agency, as I mentioned earlier. We might question some of the comments in that report and I would not take everything in it at face value but all current reports share the sense of hope and opportunity. The Minister could not be here but he wishes to convey his continued interest in this subject. I assure the Senator that the Government will continue its efforts on the basis of the cross-party support in the House.

I thank the Minister and his advisers for his expanded reply. I particularly appreciate his response to the question raised by Senator Ryan, which was a positive and practical use of the Seanad.

Question put and agreed to.

Acting Chairman

When is it proposed to sit again?

At 10.30 a.m. tomorrow.

The Seanad adjourned at 7.45 p.m. until 10:30 a.m. on Thursday, 25 June 1998.