Movement Against the Occupation of the Timor Sea
Movimento Kontra Okupasun Tasi Timor
Dili, East Timor
Complete our struggle for independence by defining the maritime territorial extent of our nation.
Obtain recognition from Australia that we are a sovereign, independent nation, with the rights and duties that accompany that status.
Ensure that the birthright of the East Timorese people -- our natural resource entitlement -- will benefit current and future generations of citizens of our nation.
Be a good neighbor to Australia, and encourage Australia to be a good neighbor to us.
Last month, the Australian government released new offshore areas for companies to bid for permits to explore for petroleum. These include territory that is much closer to East Timor’s coast than to Australia, which East Timor’s government claims as part of our national territory. Your government wrote that “Australia does not accept the East Timorese claim to the extent that it overlaps areas over which Australia exerts jurisdiction. Australia has exercised exclusive sovereign rights over this area for an extended period of time, and has notified East Timor that it will continue to do so."
We appreciate your honesty in admitting that your current exploitation of contested areas is a direct continuation of Australia’s support for and profiting from Indonesia’s illegal occupation of our land. But we do not appreciate your brute-power approach. It is not up to Australia alone to “accept” East Timor’s claim -- this is a matter to be resolved through negotiations or, if negotiations do not succeed, by an impartial legal process. It is a question of right, not might.
Unlike Australia, we are not a “lucky country.” One third of our people gave their lives for our independence, resisting and eventually overcoming a brutal invasion and occupation by Indonesia. Although your government finally came to our assistance when independence was almost assured in 1999, we remember that between 1975 and 1998 Australia gave diplomatic, military and political support to Indonesia’s illegal annexation. One significant factor in Australia’s deciding to abandon our people, who had helped you so much during World War II, was that you believed Australia would have easier access to Timor Sea petroleum under an Indonesian-controlled regime. Australia still bears the shame that you were more interested in oil money than human lives.
Although we cannot forget, we are ready to move on. Now that East Timor has achieved independence, we want respectful, friendly and mutually beneficial relations with our neighbors. We expect and hope that Australia and Indonesia have the same wish.
We do not ask for reparations from those who helped occupy and destroy our territory and our lives. We accept conciliation in the pursuit of justice for many of the individuals and governments who committed or abetted crimes against humanity inflicted on our people. But we cannot and will not compromise the sovereignty that so many East Timorese struggled and died for over the last quarter-century.
Australians think of yourselves as generous toward East Timor, and we believe that most Australian people genuinely want to help, and are rightfully proud of the role you played in InterFET. It is in your interest, as well as ours, that East Timor succeeds as a democracy, with economic, political and social conditions which will allow our people to enjoy peace, justice, and adequate levels of health and education. As well as making our lives better, this will prevent the need for refugees to flee to safer lands, or for the international community to mount another crisis response intervention.
But when it comes to the Timor Sea, your generosity rings hollow. Since our liberation in 1999, Australia has been collecting money from the Laminaria-Corallina oil field, far closer to our shores than to yours. Your government has taken in more than US $1 billion in revenues from this area, and we have received nothing. During the same period, AusAID programs in East Timor have cost you about $100 million, with some additional expenses for your soldiers here (although you would have pay and feed those soldiers even if they stayed home). During 2003, the Commonwealth collected about US $172 million from Laminaria-Corallina, more than twice our government’s entire budget.
In reality, East Timor is the largest international donor to Australia. The relatively small amounts you spend to help us do not compare with the amount you are stealing from our resource birthright. We face a $126 million deficit during the next three years because Bayu-Undan is later than international advisors predicted, but the Laminaria revenues could fill that deficit ten times over, freeing us from dependence on foreign aid or becoming trapped in a vicious cycle of debt.
Australia is a wealthy country, with a high standard of living and vast amounts and variety of natural resources. East Timor, on the other hand, suffers the legacy of centuries of colonialism and war. We have only one significant material resource -- the petroleum deposits under our part of the Timor Sea. Our people are dying of malaria and tuberculosis; many of us have not had the chance to learn to read; our roads, housing, water, electricity and other services are far below what any Australian would tolerate. We are just beginning to develop our economy, as we prepare for future generations when our oil and gas has been used up.
Although maternal mortality is 150 times higher in East Timor than it is in Australia, we do not ask for your charity. We only want what is rightfully ours under international law.
Timor Sea Treaty
Under pressure from your government, oil companies, and the United Nations, our Government signed and ratified the Timor Sea Treaty in our first day and year of independence. Many of us believe that this is a bad treaty, not sufficiently protective of East Timor’s rights and resources. We see the Timor Sea Treaty as a direct descendent of the illegal 1989 Timor Gap Treaty, when your government profited from our suffering by conspiring with Indonesia to sell our resources.
The Timor Sea Treaty is now law, and we recognize that East Timor, as a sovereign nation, should follow the law and keep its word. The signers of the Timor Sea Treaty were “convinced” that it would “provide a firm foundation for continuing and strengthening the friendly relations between Australia and East Timor,” but this has not been the case.
We are disappointed that Australia has not kept its word to respect our independence and to work in good faith for a permanent maritime boundary. Your actions and your diplomacy belie the Treaty’s status as an interim agreement, “without prejudice” to a future seabed delimitation. Although we do not suggest unilateral abrogation of the Timor Sea Treaty, we urge Australia to restore your good name by replacing it with a boundary as quickly as possible.
Negotiation and Justice
Thirty years ago, Australia and Indonesia delimited the seabed between your two nations (albeit intruding into our territory as well). You began negotiations in March 1970, and signed the “Agreement between the Government of the Commonwealth of Australia and the Government of the Republic of Indonesia Establishing Certain Seabed Boundaries” in May 1971 and a supplemental agreement in October 1972, after less than three years of discussions. Delimitation of the East Timor-Australia boundary should not take even this long -- it is a much shorter line, and much of the preliminary work has already been done.
The only obstacle is Australia’s unwillingness to come to the table in good faith, with the desire to reach a fair and just agreement. When your government wanted to negotiate the interim Sunrise International Unitization Agreement quickly, you asked to meet monthly and our government agreed, even though we are busy creating a new nation and have few human and material assets. But when our government asked you to meet monthly to resolve our mutual boundary, you plead lack of resources and refuse.
Two months before we became independent, your government withdrew from legal processes for resolving maritime boundary disputes. We learned from this action that you expect Australia to profit more from an inherently unbalanced bilateral process than if an impartial arbiter decides on the basis of law. In other words, you want no referee to ensure that the rules are followed, the game is fair, the clock keeps running, and good sportsmanship prevails.
Australian officials say that you “prefer negotiation to litigation”. At first, we understood this to mean that you prefer to use your greater size, wealth, experience and flexibility to bully us, rather than allow East Timor to employ internationally accepted legal principles, administered by a third party. But we now realize that even this was naïve -- that you do not even want to negotiate. It would be more honest to say that you prefer occupation by force to relating to East Timor as a sovereign nation.
We thought foreign occupation of our territory had ended in 1999. We did not expect to emerge from Indonesia’s bloody occupation of our land only to face Australia’s greedy occupation of our sea. We believed that Australia, with its democratic traditions and lofty ideals, would be more moral and less ruthless than Suharto’s military regime.
We ask Australia
It is not too late for Australia to re-establish a friendly relationship with East Timor. But time, like the Laminaria-Corallina oil reserve, is running out. We request the Australian government to take the following actions:
Respect our independent and sovereign state. Our government’s legitimacy and authority are equal to yours. We may be small and new, but we are just as much a nation as you are.
Negotiate a fair maritime boundary, including seabed and water column economic zones, with East Timor, according to contemporary legal principles as expressed in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, based on a median line. If both sides approach the process in good faith, it should take no more than three years to reach an agreement. We ask Australia to meet monthly or as often as East Timor’s government requests, since your resources are far greater than ours, and our need for a solution is more pressing than yours.
Rejoin the maritime boundary dispute resolution mechanisms of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea and the International Court of Justice, so that East Timor and Australia will have boundaries consistent with the law if negotiations do not result in a just and prompt solution.
Stop issuing new exploration licenses in seabed territory that is closer to East Timor than to Australia. During each of the last three years, including last month, Australia offered such areas to oil companies, and your government signed one contract as recently as 23 February 2004. This is our property, and you have no right to sell it.
Deposit all revenues received by the Australian government -- including taxes and rents -- from Laminaria-Corallina, Buffalo, Greater Sunrise, and other petroleum fields that are closer to East Timor than they are to Australia into an escrow account. When a permanent seabed boundary is established, this account will be divided appropriately between our two nations. Australia has already received more than $1 billion U.S. dollars from Laminaria-Corallina and other fields since 1999, which should also be put into escrow.
Section Coordinators of the Movement Against the Occupation of the Timor Sea:
Tomás Freitas, Program
Nuno Rodrigues, Logistics
Sisto dos Santos, Socialization and Mobilization
Tomé Jerônimo, Outreach
Domingos Ati, Security
João Sarmento, Spokesperson
For further information: João Sarmento, +670-723-5043 or email@example.com
The Timor-Leste Institute for Development Monitoring and Analysis (La’o Hamutuk)