World Issues Wake-Up Call for Australia:
Stop Stealing East Timor’s Resources and Trampling on Its New Independence
Media Release from the East Timor Action Network/United States
Contact: John M. Miller, 718-596-7668; 917-690-4391
Karen Orenstein, 202-544-6071
January 26, 2003 -- To mark the Australian national holiday, Australia Day, the East Timor Action Network/U.S. (ETAN) today demanded that the Australian government honor the national sovereignty and resource rights of East Timor.
This week, East Timor's supporters around the world are phoning, faxing, and e-mailing Australian diplomatic missions to urge a speedy and fair resolution of the maritime boundary between the two countries.
“This is the 21st century, not 1788. The Australian government needs to wake up and realize that it is no longer acceptable to seize territory or resources belonging to another people,” said Karen Orenstein, Washington Coordinator for ETAN. “Australia must respect East Timor’s sovereignty.”
”What is at stake here is billions of dollars that rightly belong to East Timor under international law. The world is watching how Australia treats East Timor in boundary negotiations,” said John M. Miller, spokesperson for ETAN. “Australia should negotiate in good faith a permanent maritime boundary with East Timor according to existing international principles and within three years.”
“Australia’s claim that it cannot afford to meet monthly for negotiations, as East Timor requested, but only twice a year is laughable. Who is the Australian government trying to fool?” asked Orenstein.
"Australia will lose any good will it generated in 1999 if it cheats East Timor out of the tens of billions of dollars of petroleum revenue," added Miller.
“It would be painfully ironic if East Timor remains the largest contributor to Australia’s government budget over the next four decades,” continued Miller.
The Laminaria-Corallina field, which is twice as close to Timor as it is to Australia, is now mostly depleted after generating more than (US) $1 billion in revenues for the Australian government; not a cent has gone to East Timor. If international law were obeyed, some 60% of the oil and gas entitlement that Australia is claiming would belong to East Timor.
Spokespeople on this issue are available for interviews (call 718-596-7668).
See http://www.etan.org/action/issues/tsea.htm for additional info
Substantial oil and natural gas deposits lie under the Timor Sea between Australia and East Timor. The fate of tens of billions of dollars of revenue depend on a boundary agreement.
East Timor is among the poorest of the world's countries, suffering from very low levels of basic services and high unemployment. East Timor is currently struggling not to go into debt to international financial institutions as it needs to cover a US$126 million financial gap between 2005 and 2007. Yet between 1999 and today, the Australian government has received more than US$1 billion in oil and gas revenues that would belong to East Timor under a fair boundary settlement.
Last November, a global coalition wrote Australian Prime Minister John Howard urging his government to set a firm timetable for establishing a permanent maritime boundary between East Timor and Australia. The letter, signed by representatives of 100 organizations from 19 countries stated, “We have been troubled by your government's callous disregard for East Timor's sovereignty and rights, which seems contrary to the deep concern for East Timor expressed by so many Australians…Australia's own long-term national interests are best served by a stable and prosperous East Timor....”
The two countries held their first negotiating session last November, more than a year after East Timor requested it. They will not meet again until April..
In October 2002, East Timor enacted a Maritime Boundary Law, claiming a 200 nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone in all directions, based on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. Where neighboring claims overlap, as is the case with East Timor and Australia, countries must negotiate a permanent maritime boundary, usually halfway between their coastlines. In March 2002, Australia gave formal notice that it was withdrawing from international legal mechanisms - the International Court of Justice and the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea - to resolve boundary issues that cannot be settled by negotiation. East Timor’s soon-to-be Prime Minister called this withdrawal an “unfriendly” act. The withdrawal prevents the new nation from bringing Australia to those forums to contest its refusal to engage in timely and cooperative boundary negotiations.
Australia Day commemorates the first permanent British settlement in Australia in 1788. Many Australians decry the holiday as celebrating an often brutal colonial history that elevates 215 years of white rule over 60,000 years of indigenous culture. The Australian government can and should begin reclaiming the holiday for justice and fairness by pledging to honor the sovereignty and resource rights of East Timor.
La'o Hamutuk, an East Timorese NGO, recently issued a global call for worldwide pressure on Australia on this boundary issue.
The East Timor Action Network/U.S. supports human dignity for the people of East Timor by advocating for democracy, sustainable development, social, legal and economic justice, and human rights, including women's rights. For more information, see ETAN's web site at http://www.etan.org.