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									First Asian Conference on the UN and NGOs       Session 2

                                    SESSION 2

                 THE UNITED NATIONS

                   DR. MAKMUR KELIAT
                   JAKARTA, INDONESIA

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                         INDONESIA, EAST TIMOR AND
                            THE UNITED NATIONS

         he paper aims to analyze Indonesian position on the East Timor question in
         the context of the United Nations’ (UN) deliberation. In essence, the paper seeks
to give answers to the following questions: why did Indonesia shift its position on the
East Timor; what were factors that drove the country to hold referendum in East Timor
on August 30, 1999; and what lessons one could pick up from the East Timor question?

        Indonesian foreign policy does not exist in vacuum. Its historical background as
an independent nation-state and the geographical location of the country have greatly
influenced the way Indonesia exercises its foreign policy. If viewed from its social and
cultural attributes, Indonesia is a very diverse society. From the western to the eastern tip
of its territory, various ethnic and races with different religion and distinctive culture
have lived in the country. Dozens of major groups lives in Indonesia with over 350
languages. To a large extent, Indonesia can be seen not only as a multi-ethnic nation but
a multi-nation state as well.

        The unique features of Indonesian society have brought about a huge task for the
government. The main challenge that always lies ahead of the government is how to
convince its citizen, whose cultural and historical backdrop were so diverse, that the idea
of state represent the idea of nation. In the Indonesian context, accordingly, the
establishment of state indeed precedes the establishment of nation. This, in consequence,
has made nation building is almost like unfinished and painstaking business for the

         The task of nation building has become more enormous because of historical
legacies left over by colonial powers. In this regards, it is worth mentioning that most of
territorial boundaries Southeast Asia, including Indonesia, had been mapped by colonial
countries. These maps were basically drawn to separate colonial jurisdiction with a view
to avoiding clashes among them. When these colonized countries gained independence,
the territorial jurisdiction of most countries in the region were largely based on the maps
drawn by their colonial masters. Nevertheless, these boundary lines were poorly
demarcated and were also largely different from each other. Moreover, Indonesia
inherited a peculiar government structure from its Dutch colonial masters in which the
boundary line of ethnic jurisdiction has overlapped with political jurisdiction at local
government level. As a result, the interface between ethnic and territorial conflict have
come to exist since Indonesia gained its independence in 1945.

       Geographic location also plays important role in shaping Indonesian perspective
on external world. Indonesia consists of thousands of islands and located between Asian
mainland and Australia. This has made the country very sensitive to developments in its
periphery and surrounding seas. There is always a fear that the areas may be used to
Indonesia’s disadvantage. That is also one of the reasons why from the early period of its
independence, Indonesia strived to gain international recognition for its status as an

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archipelagic country through the international law of the sea. This principle has enabled
the country to have control and jurisdiction over the waters connecting the outermost
points of the country’s outermost island. It is also conceived that the said principle would
unite its diverse people, land and water as a single entity and maintain its political and
territorial integrity. In this way, Indonesia intends to minimize external threat emanating
from the sea and contain separatist movement.

        The permanent features of Indonesian society, its historical background and
geographical location have brought about a number of unique implications for
Indonesian security perception and for the implementation of its foreign policy. First,
Indonesia ever since 1945 has molded the country’s perception on the strategic
consideration of the surrounding area. The struggle to fight for integration of Iran and its
rational for policy of confrontation against Malaysia were partly based on the sense of
vulnerability that the surrounding area could pose a threat to Indonesia. Secondly,
Indonesia feels that internal threat, in the form of separatist movement and ethnic conflict,
has become more imminent compared to external threat. The policy makers, especially
under the Suharto regime, believe that the potential of external threat can be countered if
sources of internal threat are uprooted through accelerating its economic growth. Third,
in order to minimize external threat, Indonesian foreign policy has been designed to
avoid external interference through adopting the so-called “an independent and active
foreign policy”.

         To some extent, Indonesian security perception seemed to have shaped its initial
position on the East Timor question. Indonesia under Suharto government may have
thought that East Timor would be under communist oriented government had Indonesia
allowed the area to become independent country. This perception began to take its shape
when the new government in Portugal, following Caranation revolution in 1974,
promised to grant self-determination to East Timor. However, the political grouping in
East Timor disagreed with each other on how to govern the East Timor. While several
groups, particularly the UDT and the APODETI, favored integration with Indonesia, the
FRETILIN stood for complete independence. In this regard, Indonesian government
perceived that some supporters of FRETILIN strongly believe in communism. No matter
whether this is true or not, but it is worth mentioning that Suharto had come to power by
not allowing communism to live in Indonesia.

        This strategic consideration can also offer an explanation of why Indonesia did
not pay special attention on East Timor before the 1974. No significant political conflicts
occurred in the area before 1974 and as a result East Timor was largely neglected in the
strategic calculation of the Suharto regime. In addition, the New Order government was
largely preoccupied with efforts to consolidate its power. The main agenda of Suharto
regime from 1966 up to the early 1970’s was how to purge its political opponents and
entice foreign investment to spur Indonesian economic growth.

         The second factor that shaped Indonesian initial position on the East Timor
question relates to the nature of international political system. When Indonesia launched
its military operation in 1974, the cold war was still in its height. Under this circumstance,
Indonesia may have thought that there would be no international repercussion of its

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military action particularly from developed countries of which Indonesia have built
strong economic cooperation.

        To some extent, the way the UN response to the Indonesian military action
exemplifies this point. It is true that following the invasion, the UN directly became
involved in a number of ways. In this regard, two resolutions were adopted by the
Security Council i.e., resolution 384 in December 1975 and resolution 389 in April 1976
respectively. Both the resolutions recognized the right of the people of East Timor to
self-determination and deplored the intervention of the earned forces of Indonesia in East
Timor and called upon the government of Indonesia to withdraw its forces from the
territory. The General Assembly also adopted a series of similar resolution. However, till
1999 no real action was made by the UN Security Council to force Indonesia to withdraw
its troops from East Timor. The reason behind the UN inaction may lie in the strategic
calculation of the United States. It is likely that Suharto government was still considered
important to support the strategic interests of the US vis-a-vis the Soviet Union in the
South East Asian region. The argument that East Timor was part of Indonesian territory,
therefore was hardly disputed seriously by the United States and other developed

        However, with the dissolution of Soviet Union in 1991, this luxurious slowly
disappeared. The US no longer needs to deter the Soviet Union and the country has
acquired larger opportunity to use the Security Council to promote its global interests.
The end of cold war has also encouraged international community, especially from
developed countries, to promote the importance of human rights. In the context of East
Timor question, the validity of Indonesian argument, therefore, were greatly challenged.
The situation Indonesia is facing became more difficult because of two additional factors.
First, the Indonesian Armed Forces had frequently violated human rights in the East
Timor. Another factor is the economic crisis in 1977. Financial meltdown plaguing
Indonesia in the mid 1997 had ignited political crisis to the effect that Suharto was forced
to step down and replaced by his protege, B.J. Habibie in May 1998.

        Nevertheless, the decision to hold referendum in East Timor in August 1999 was
largely taken by Habibie. Though Indonesia was under international spotlight because of
series of violation human rights by its Armed Forces in the area, international actors at
this particular point of time never put the option of referendum forward. In this regard, it
is worth mentioning that Indonesian Foreign Ministry itself in various occasions released
numerous statements saying it preferred to give East Timor an extended special
autonomy. Therefore, till today there is no single explanation of why Habibie took such a

       In general there are two different explanations. The first one is focused on
Habibie’s personal motive. According to this analysis Habibie is said to have personal
ambition in the East Timor question. By offering the option of referendum, he is eager to
be known as peace loving and democratic person in the eyes of international community.
The second explanation is largely based on miscalculated strategy of Habibie
government. It is said that the government had been over confident that the majority of
East Timorese would vote for integration In this context by putting forward the idea of a

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referendum, Habibie’s government is stated to have intention to achieve two objectives at
once: gain legal recognition from the international community, particularly the United
Nations, while at the sometime gaining credibility from developed countries, whose
financial aid is urgently needed by Indonesia to overcome its economic crisis.

        Irrespective of these two conjectures, it has become the fact that almost 80
percent of the East Timorese voted against autonomy within Indonesia. The reason for
this loss is simple actually. Indonesia had not recorded an impressive record of protecting
human rights in East Timor. Hence, the referendum inevitably resulted in an outcome
much different than what the government might have hoped. In this context, Indonesian
government, the TNI (Indonesian Armed Forces) in particular, seems to have won the
battle but not the war. In a way, one could also say that the results of the referendum were
a clear victory for the ballot over the bullet. In short, the government failed to win the
hearts of the East Timorese.

        The result of this referendum immediately ignited a heated debate among political
elite in Indonesia. The question confronting the entire nation at that time was should
Indonesia allow the East Timorese their independence, or should the country, by hook or
by crook, attempt to maintain the province as an integral part of Indonesia? There was no
clear answer to this question and this is natural because Habibie’s option of referendum
did not gain strong support, either from the military and foreign ministry.

       Indonesian ambiguous position following the referendum indicated this
complexity. Initially the government stated that the People’s Consultative Assembly (the
MPR), the highest political institution in Indonesia would decide the future of East Timor.
However, due to massive violence in East Timor after the referendum was held, the
statement released by the government was then modified. It stated that Indonesia would
allow an international peacekeeping force to enter East Timor. In this regard, it is
noteworthy that before this statement was released, the idea to impose martial law in East
Timor was mooted. The idea was proposed by military and rejected by the Cabinet before
being agreed to by President Habibie. Similarly, the military initially said peacekeepers
were not needed in East Timor, but at the last moment Indonesia decided to invite them
to the territory. These examples make it clear there are divergent views within the
government on the question of East Timor.

        Finally after more than 24 years under its territorial jurisdiction, Indonesia allows
East Timor to be put under international supervision. Indonesian government seemed to
have been faced with a dilemmatic option: let the result of the referendum stand and
continue to receive financial aid from the international community, or reject the results of
the referendum and become economically isolated from Western donors. Since Indonesia
is economically and militarily not in the position to resist the international community,
the country cannot reject the results of referendum.

        The East Timor question now has been solved. The area is only the historical past
of Indonesia. However, the idea of referendum has become a thorny problem for
Indonesia. It is worth mentioning that a similar idea has also been mooted in the Aceh
and Papua province. In this regard, the nagging question is should Indonesia accept the
idea to solve the problem in these two provinces?
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        There is no clear-cut answer to this question. No one doubts that we must respect
the concept of a referendum, which is based on the principle that the territory of a state
should be established with the consent of the governed. This is merely a different name
for the right to self-determination. Moreover, the idea of humanitarian intervention has
increasingly gained currency in the operation of the UN's activities in the post cold war
as clearly indicated by Kofi Annan's speech at the annual session of the UN General
Assembly as well as in his article "Two concepts of sovereignty" that appeared in The
Economist on September 18, 1999. It has been conceived that the political idea of
individual sovereignty is far more important that that of state sovereignty. This idea is
aired on the ground that there is possibility of state's violence against its citizen in the
name of state sovereignty. Hence, the so-called humanitarian intervention by the UN with
a view to protecting human rights from state's violence is considered as a must and being
socialized as an international customary law in the years to come.

        Viewed from the perspective of international law, the idea of humanitarian
intervention, either conducted by sending military forces or by combining it with the
establishment of international criminal tribunal, could be regarded as a justifiable act.
Based on the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights approved by the General Assembly
on December 17, 1966, all member countries of the UN are legally bound to respect for
the principles of human rights and in turn they can be considered committing crime if
they cannot stick to the letters of the covenant. Efforts to institutionalize a legal
framework through which violator of human rights will be punished, therefore, seems
desirable and attractive because there would be a strong proclivity for the denial of
human rights if a mechanism for legal enforcement is deliberately delayed.

        The idea of humanitarian intervention is also morally acceptable. This is exactly
analogous to our direct response when witnessing domestic violence is taking place
wantonly next side to our door. As a civilized human being, indifferent behavior is
certainly unacceptable or even deplorable. Naturally there are two appropriate responses
we will give when such a situation is taking place. One is reporting directly the case of
violence to the police or alternatively trying to stop it through taking personal initiative.
Keeping this analogy in mind, the proponents may argue that there is nothing wrong with
a series of humanitarian intervention already launched by the Security Council.

        All in all, the idea of humanitarian intervention has been conceived as a positive
development in the history of human being. It has been aimed at protecting civilians from
atrocities committed by state apparatus. In this context, it seems also necessary to
underline an additional benefit why humanitarian intervention seems to have obtained a
high ground.

        The benefit is that the idea can be used positively to deter the state apparatus from
indulging in human rights violation. It is believed that the violators of human rights,
especially state apparatus in developing countries, will be unable to draw a veil of state
sovereignty over atrocities and genocidal acts they have committed as they have now
become exposed to a severe punishment. In short, impunity is no longer possible as they
can be taken to International Criminal Tribunal.

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        Could we draw a conclusion that the idea of referendum and humanitarian
intervention has no limit in its implementation? The writer argues in this paper that. the
right of self-determination is also political principle, although it has legalistic overtones.
As consequence, the idea is imbibed with the concept of power plays. In a country like
Indonesia, where nation building is a seemingly endless process, the idea of self-
determination could easily become self-defeating diplomacy. There is not a country in the
world whose diplomacy is aimed at reducing the size of its territory. The idea of
referendum also seems to be permissive to separatism and this is perilous to the
preservation of territorial integrity. The reason for this lies in the fact that Indonesia is
home to hundreds of ethnic groups. If the logic that a state should be established with the
consent of the governed is employed, then there would be the possibility for small ethnic
groups to separate from Indonesia. This can be considered extraordinarily dangerous,
particularly at this point in the country’s history when the spirit of separatism and
communalism is creeping into the minds of many people, as seen in Aceh and Papua

         Moreover the idea of referendum is very sensitive issue for developing countries.
The idea might be considered contravening the idea of territorial sovereignty. For many
Asian countries territorial sovereignty, territorial sovereignty is not the question of
number and size; it is basically a matter of national pride. This is why several countries
still claim to have sovereignty over the Spratly Islands, although they are merely a string
of tiny islands located in the South China Sea, far from the Chinese mainland. That is
also one of the reasons why many people are still of the opinion that territorial
sovereignty is not a divisible commodity.

        Similarly there is also paucity of the idea of humanitarian intervention. The idea
has a strong tendency to emphasize the view that the relationship between individual
sovereignty and state sovereignty is shaped in a zero sum game. To put it differently, the
proponents of humanitarian intervention tend to presume that the stronger the state
sovereignty, the weaker the individual sovereignty and vice versa. In consequence it has
tendency to oversimplify the essence of state sovereignty. In other words, it has a great
temptation to arrive at a misleading interpretation that state sovereignty needs to be
sacrificed for the sake of individual sovereignty. Let us highlight in what way this logic
needs to be scrutinized critically.

        There is no doubt that the original idea of state sovereignty as agreed upon at the
Westphalia conference in 1648 has become outmoded. It was conceived initially that
there was no higher institution beyond state. In other words, only state was said to have a
right to sovereignty. In this context, sovereignty connotes a monopoly of the use of force.
As such the behavior of state domestically --in relations to its citizens-- as well as
internationally --in relations to other countries-- was believed not to become subject to
legal punishment. To paraphrase Jean Bodin, "the sovereign who makes the laws cannot
be bound by the laws he makes".

        However, thanks to French revolution and the principle of respect for human
rights emphasized in the UN charter, such old view of sovereignty seems to have been
revised in the 20th century in the sense that there should be restrictions on the freedom of

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action of states in the international context and not in the context of domestic affairs.
This is clearly cited in the charter of the UN (article 2) in which states are obliged to
settle their dispute by peaceful means. To put it differently, the revision that has been
made and widely understood is aimed not to negate totally the idea of state sovereignty.
What motivated the framers of the UN charter by such a revision actually relates to their
obsession with the promotion and maintenance of world peace. Here lies the crux of the
whole problem of humanitarian intervention. What do we mean by peace? Does peace
exist if the freedom of the individual is superior than the sovereignty of the state? Is it
prudent to say that war and violence originate from the existence of state sovereignty?

        Peace is not a neutral concept. It is not unreasonable to say that efforts to promote
peace by one side could be seen by others as a menacing threat. Peace is basically a
contested concept in international relations. Moreover, war and violence have a longer
history than the modern-state system. It is true that the history of modern state system has
been closely associated with war and violence. However, we should not jump to a
conclusion that if states were abolished then war and violence would also cease to exist.
Indeed, to paraphrase Hedley Bull (1979), "the causes of war lie in the existence of
weapons and armed forces and the will of political groups to use them rather than accept
defeat". Based on this view, it is totally mistaken to say that state's violence arises from
the existence of state sovereignty.

        In consequence, as long as we still produce weapons, and attach importance to the
presence of armed forces, then war and violence will always become an inevitable part of
our life. For this reason, humanitarian intervention is not a panacea to war and violence.
If any it is only for a short-term solution. In this context, it is also worth mentioning that
though separatist movements have taken place in many developing countries, it does not
mean that they decline to accept the importance of state. On contrary, their primary aim is
how to create a new state by trying to change the geographical boundaries of state.

        Finally, we need to be aware that the monopoly of use of force inherent in the
concept of state sovereignty not only has brought about negative effects but also positive
ones. It is true that state apparatus has misused such a monopoly from time to time.

       But we cannot deny the fact that internal legal order is only conceivable and
workable if state is given a mandate to monopolize the use of force. Otherwise, there
would be anarchy. On the other way around, one could also say that individual
sovereignty cannot be enshrined without the presence of state sovereignty. The reason is
simple: there is no freedom without law.


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