East Timor (81397-GM-R9999)
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East Timor: Action Still Needed
Tragedy struck East Timor again in 2006-2007, five years after the island territory achieved its independence following twenty-four years of brutal occupation by Indonesia during which more than a quarter of the original population of less than 700,000 perished from the combined effects of the war.
Renewed violence erupted in April and May of 2006, as rival East Timorese security forces turned on each other. There was also an outbreak of violence in August 2007 in the wake of Parliamentary elections. Such violence underscored the divisions that emerged after the territory’s long quest for freedom, and the unhealed wounds that remain. While the manifestations of the continuing crisis in East Timor are political and institutional, poverty and associated deprivations, including high unemployment, especially among youth, also contributed to the crisis. These issues must be urgently addressed. The world, which ignored East Timor for so long and contributed so much to its suffering, should be patient and find constructive ways to assist East Timor in the challenges ahead.
The UN Security Council responded to East Timor’s plight, as did an international peacekeeping force led by Australia, New Zealand, and Portugal. A renewed United Nations assistance mission was constituted, and should be generously supported by the international community for as long as needed.
It is now accepted that the original United Nations transitional mission in East Timor should have continued with strength. Instead, it was far too short in duration, scaling down drastically after less than three years once East Timor became independent in May 2002. The same mistake should not happen again. The current UN mission should be fully supported, stressing institution-building and social and economic development, consolidating stability and enhancing a culture of democratic governance.
Historical responsibility cannot be overlooked. Throughout Indonesia’s 24-year-long occupation of East Timor, the United States staunchly backed Jakarta both with arms shipments and by blunting criticism in Congress and the United Nations. But wanting to save money on peacekeeping, the Bush Administration pushed for the withdrawal of UN troops as soon as East Timor became independent in 2002.
Health is a crucial issue in East Timor. Standards remain low, aggravated by the fact that more than 150,000 people were displaced in 2006. Most of the population remains highly vulnerable to respiratory and gastrointestinal diseases, in addition to malaria, dengue fever, tuberculosis and leprosy. Despite some improvements, the health situation remains worse than in all other Southeast Asian countries. Life expectancy currently (based on 2004 data) is 49, and under 5 mortality rates are the highest in the region. Only 24% of births are attended by skilled medical personnel. Malaria incidence has increased threefold since 1999. Some signs of improvement are due to the fact that the Ministry of Health undoubtedly is the most efficient ministry in East Timor. More health awareness information is available locally; local clinics have been opened, enabling doctors and nurses to reach poor households more successfully. Fully 87% of the population now has some access to health care, so a basis is being developed for future improvements in health conditions.
Especially in light of the renewed crisis, it is crucial that the United States maintain and expand its relatively modest financial contributions to East Timor’s development, including health.
Therefore, be it resolved that The United Methodist Church, its members, local churches, annual conferences, central conferences and general agencies:
1. recognize our continuing moral and religious duty to assist East Timor in its reconstruction and development, with special emphasis on child mortality and maternal health;
2. call on the United States government and other governments to support a continuing United Nations presence, including for peace keeping, as warranted by conditions in East Timor;
3. exhort the executive and legislative branches of the United States Government and the United Nations to take all steps within their respective powers to reduce the suffering of the people of East Timor and promote the new nation’s development, and continue to stress the need for justice for the victims of crimes committed throughout the 24 year Indonesian occupation of East Timor as well as during the events of 2006;
4. urge United Methodists, including the General Board of Global Ministries and the General Board of Church and Society, to continue to make the issue of East Timor a priority for social justice and mission purposes, and to support constituency education, direct relief efforts and related projects in East Timor; and
5. direct that The United Methodist Church, immediately following 2008 General Conference, 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 congressional representatives, and all appropriate ecumenical colleagues.
As National Coordinator of East Timor Religious Outreach, I have recently returned from East Timor and have been passionately involved in this issue for 15 years. I also serve on the California-Nevada Annual Conference Board of Church and Society, where East Timor has long been a social justice priority. This...