Representative of UN Secretary-General on Internally Displaced Persons Shares Findings of His Mission to East Timor

DILI -- On the final day of his five day mission to East Timor, from 26 February to 1 March, the Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General on Internally Displaced Persons, Dr. Francis Deng, took the opportunity to share the findings of his visit thus far.
The visit of the Representative to East Timor is being undertaken at the request of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, which at its special session on East Timor requested the Representative and a number of its other special mechanisms to undertake missions to East Timor. Building upon the work of others, including his colleagues the Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, the Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women and the Special Rapporteur on Torture, who undertook a joint mission in November, the Representative is focusing on the displacement crisis that occurred in the lead up and following the popular consultation by the people of East Timor.

The Representative has been examining issues of protection and assistance in all phases of displacement -- protection from arbitrary displacement, protection and assistance during displacement, and during return or resettlement and reintegration. In addition to the need to understand the circumstances under which displacement occurred, the Representative has been placing emphasis on the current situation, in particular on concerns connected with the processes of return and reintegration.

In exploring these issues, the Representative has met with officials of the United Nations Transitional Authority for East Timor (UNTAET) in the human rights, humanitarian, peacekeeping and political spheres, representatives of individual United Nations and other international organizations working with the displaced, local non-governmental organizations and Church leaders. The programme of the visits has also included visits to Aileu and to Batuguade, in the later case to observe the return of displaced persons from West Timor yesterday.

A number of additional meetings, including with the East Timorese political leadership, are scheduled for today. At this stage, it is possible to highlight a number of the findings and issues that have emerged from the Representative's discussions thus far.

To begin, it is important to note that mass displacement began in the months leading up to the popular consultation and that those affected often continued to be subjected to threats to physical security, including life, after having fled. In the days and weeks after the announcement of the vote, a further 500,000 persons fled within in East Timor, mostly going into hiding in the hills, while some 240,000 persons fled or were forcibly relocated, mostly to West Timor, in conditions of continued physical insecurity and often in locations to which international humanitarian personnnel could not have access.

The present plight of the displaced varies depending upon these patterns of displacement. Most of those persons who fled into the hills in East Timor have since been able to return to their places of origin, but they often have found their homes looted and destroyed and thus are deprived of basic necessities. And while over 140,000 persons returned from outside East Timor, there remain an estimated 100,000 displaced persons in camps and encampments in West Timor, for whom the process of voluntary return continues to be confronted by a number of obstacles, including concerns about their security upon return. In this connection, the weekly reunion visits of returnees with displaced persons in West Timor that have been facilitated by the international community in cooperation with the Indonesian autnorities should be resumed as a matter of priority.

Supporting durable solutions, encompassing both protection and assistance, is nan urgent challenge. The perpetrators of gross violations of human rights and humanitarian law must of course be brought to justice, however effective mechanisms of law and order need to be established in order to avoid a situation where individuals take justice into their own hands. The safety of returnees must be assured, including through increased international civilian presence in areas of return. Issues of property restitution and compensation need to be addressed. Special attention needs to be paid to the particular protection and assistance needs of women and children. Above all, there is a need to support the process of reconciliation, including in particular the role of civil society in fostering social harmony and a collective vision for the nation.

Since the displacement crisis affected virtually the entire population, there is also a need for comprehensive reconstruction and development, including in particular the rebuilding of infrastructure, employment, education and other social services, for which sustained international cooperation will be required.

The Representative will present a report elaborating the findings and recommendations of the mission to the Commission on Human Rights at its forthcoming session in Geneva. This report will be available upon release on the website of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights: http://www.unhchr.ch/

For further inquiries, contact Ms. Erin Mooney tel. +41.79 217 3043 or +41.22.917.9280.