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Foreign Soldiers should stay out of Timorese Politics

Press release from La’o Hamutuk
11 March 2010

See update below, 25 March 2010
Australian Parliament discussion, 31 May 2010.

Soldadu estranjeiru sira tenke hado’ok an husi Timor nia direitu politika

Komunikadu imprensa husi La’o Hamutuk
11 Marsu 2010

Hare atualiza iha kraik, 25 Marsu 2010

La’o Hamutuk calls on the military and civilian commanders of Australian and other foreign soldiers in Timor-Leste to direct their soldiers to avoid involvement in local politics, including asking Timorese citizens their political views or encouraging them to identify with one political grouping or another.

We recently received the attached letter from Mr. Mateus Fernandes Sequeira, Chefe do Suco of Lore I (Lautem District), which describes Australian and New Zealand military observers inviting local residents to a community meeting on 23 February. After arriving by helicopter, the soldiers asked the residents to raise their hands if they like the AMP government better than the previous one. In addition to this being none of Australia’s business, coercing people to publicly express their political leanings in this newly sovereign nation is dangerous and destructive. It can lead to violence or retaliation, undercutting the “stabilisation” that the International Stabilisation Force (ISF) is ostensibly here to secure.

The Constitution of this young democracy guarantees its citizens the right to support any legal political party they want, and to keep that preference private if they choose to. This is especially important given the history of Timor-Leste, where people were often killed, arrested or tortured for their political beliefs during the illegal Indonesian occupation, and where sectarian differences have led to violence.

If Australian soldiers don’t understand this, we suggest a thought experiment: Imagine that Indonesian soldiers landed in an isolated village in rural Queensland, called local residents together, and told them to raise their hands if they liked Kevin Rudd’s government better than John Howard’s. If you think this isn’t appropriate in your country, it’s not appropriate here.

When ISF first came to Timor-Leste in 2006, there were many reports of Australian soldiers pressuring Timorese citizens to align with or against a particular leader or faction. In the crisis atmosphere, and with the soldiers’ inadequate orientation and inexperience, this was regrettable but perhaps understandable. However, after nearly four years here, they should know better. We hope that the incident in Lore I is an isolated case (although we have heard otherwise), and encourage the commanders of foreign troops here to make sure that nothing like this happens again.

La’o Hamutuk, the Timor-Leste Institute for Development Monitoring and Analysis, is a Timorese civil society organization founded in 2000. We monitor and report on activities of international agencies, systems and institutions in Timor-Leste to try to make them more aware of and responsive to the needs of the people of this country. More information is available from our office in Farol or on our website.

La’o Hamutuk bolu atensaun ba komandante militar no sivil husi soldadu Australia no soldadu estranjeiru sira iha Timor-Leste atu fo ordem ba sira nia soldadu hodi evita involvimentu iha politika rai laran nian, inklui husu sidadaun Timor-Leste nia vizaun politika ka enkoraje Timor oan sira hodi identifika an iha grupo politika ida ka grupo seluk.

Ami foin dadauk ne’e hetan karta ne’ebé ami tau iha anexu, husi Sr. Mateus Fernandes Sequeira, Chefe do Suco Lore I (Distritu Lautem), ne’ebé hateten observador militar husi Australia no Nova Zelandia konvida komunidade lokal sira ba iha enkontru komunitariu ida iha loron 23 Fevereiru. Depois soldadu sira too ho helikopteru, sira husu ba komunidade sira hodi foti liman karik sira prefere governu AMP diak liu kompara ho governu anterior. Atu hateten katak hahalok ida ne’e laos asuntu Australia nian, obriga povo hodi publika sai sira nia espresaun politika, ne’ebé sira adere ba iha nasaun soberania foun liu ne’e, hanesan perigu no hanesan estragus. Hahalok ne’e bele hamosu violensia ka vingansa, hakotu “Stabilizasaun” ne’ebé Forsa Stabilizasaun Internasional (FSI) hare nudar razaun ida iha ne’e hodi asegura.

Konstituisaun iha demokrasia nurak ida ne’e garantia nia sidadaun sira nia direitu atu suporta partido politiku ruma ne’ebé legal tuir sira nia hakarak, no kaer metin katak inklinasaun ne’e ba ema ida-idak nian karik sira hili ba. Buat ida ne’e espesialmente importante ne’ebé hetan husi istoria Timor-Leste nian, povo dala barak hetan oho, kaptura ka hetan tortura husi sira nia inklinasaun politika nian durante okupasaun ilegal Indonezia nian, no wainhira iha grupo politika ne’ebé la hanesan sei hamosu violensia.

Karik soldadu Australiano sira la komprende ida ne’e, ami sujere hanoin esperimentu ida: Imajina katak soldadu Indonezia sira tu’un iha suku izoladu ida iha fatin rurais Queensland nian, sira halibur komunidade lokal sira, no hateten ba sira atu foti liman karik sira prefere governu Kevin Rudd nian diak liu kompara ho Governu John Howard nian. Wanhira ita boot hanoin katak ida ne’e la apropriadu iha ita boot nia nasaun, ida ne’e mos la apropiadu iha ne’e.

Wainhira FSI fou-foun tama mai iha Timor-Leste iha 2006, iha relatoriu barak kona-ba soldadu Australia sira ne’ebé fo presaun ba sidadaun Timor-Leste hodi alinha ba hamutuk ka kontra lider individual ida ka grupo ida. Iha atmosferu krize, no ho soldadu sira ne’ebé orientasaun la adekuadu no laiha esperiensia, ida ne’e tristeza boot maibe dalaruma ita komprende ba. Maske, depois besik tinan hat nia laran iha ne’e, sira tenke hatene diak liu tan. Ami espera katak insidente iha Lore I ne’e hanesan kazu izoladu ida (mesmu ami rona kazu sira seluk). No ami enkoraje komandante sira husi forsa estranjeiru sira iha ne’e atu garantia katak kazu hanesan ne’e sei la akontese tan.

La’o Hamutuk, Institutu ba Monitor no Analiza ba Dezenvolvimentu Timor-Leste, nudar organizasaun sosiedade sivil Timor-Leste ne’ebé hari’i iha 2000. Ami tau matan no halo relatoriu kona-ba atividade ajensia, sistema no instituisaun internasional sira iha Timor-Leste hodi koko halo sira sai hatene liu no responde liu ba nesesidade povo sira iha nasuan ida ne’e. Informasaun liu tan bele hetan iha ami nia servisu fatin iha Farol ka iha ami nia website.

Update, 25 March 2010

The press release above stimulated much discussion and coverage in the Timor-Leste and Australian media, including an article in the Sydney Morning Herald Diggers caught in 'political' outrage.

On 25 March, the Canberra Times (see below) reported that the Australian Defence Force has decided to cancel the research project in the interest of better relations with the Timorese community.

See La'o Hamutuk statement (English) below.

Atualiza iha 25 Marsu 2010

Komunikadu imprensa iha leten hamosu diskusaun barak no hasae iha media sira iha Timor-Leste no Australia, inkluindu artigu Sydney Morning Herald Diggers caught in 'political' outrage.

Iha loron 25 Marsu, Canberra Times (hare kraik) fo reportajem katak Forsa Defesa Australia nian kansela ona projeitu peskiza ho interese ba relasaun diak ho komunidade Timor-Leste.

Hare Komunikade imprensa La'o Hamutuk nian.

Unofficial translation from handwritten Tetum by La’o Hamutuk.


No. 01/ADM/SL.I/III/2010
From : Chief of Suco Lore I
To :
Issue : Recommendation

Based on this recommendation, as Chief of Suco of Lore I, I inform that on 23 February 2010, military observers from Australia came to conduct a socialization in our Suco Lore I, Aldeia Vailana (on the coast).

As Village Chief I don’t agree or accept with some of the words that they spoke at that moment. Because at that moment they asked our community which government is better, the previous government or the current AMP government. Then they also asked of our community that whoever accepts the AMP government should raise their hands.

Because of this, we as leaders of the community see that this can create conflict.

Their invitation letter to us is attached.

( Mateus Fernandes Sequeira )                          

Atu hare karta original, hili iha ne'e.



Baseia ba recomendação ida ne’e hau nudar Chefe du Suco Lore I hato’o katak iha dia 23 de Fevereiru 2010 observador militar husi Australiano mai halo sosializacão iha ami nia suco Lore I, aldeia Vailana (iha tasi ibun).

Hau nudar Chefe du Suco la dun konkorda/aseita mak lian fuan balu nebe mak sira fo sai iha momento ne’e ba. Tamba sira iha momento ne’e husu ba ita nia comunidade katak governo anterior ho governo AMP agora dadauk ne’e ida nebe mak diak liu depois husu mos ba ita nia comunidade para se mak aseita governo AMP foti liman.

Tan ida ne’e ami nudar lider comunitario hare katak ida ne’e atu kria konflitu.

Convite nebe sira fo ba ami iha anexu.

( Mateus Fernandes Sequeira )               

Click on each image to see it larger.         Hili desenho sira iha kraik atu hare boot liu.

25 March 2010

La'o Hamutuk blog entry
Australia cancels problematic military "research"

On 11 March 2010, La'o Hamutuk issued a press release Foreign Soldiers should stay out of Timorese Politics describing a "research" project conducted by the Australia-New Zealand International Stabilization Force (ISF) which had upset residents of Lore I in Lautem District. Click here for more about how ISF asked people to raise their hands to indicate if they like the AMP government more than the previous one, as reported by the Chefe do Suco of Lore I.

The relevant authorities reacted quickly, and Australian ambassador Peter Heyward invited La'o Hamutuk to his embassy the following day to discuss the issue with himself, New Zealand ambassador Tim McIvor and ISF commander Col. Simon Stuart. We learned that the Lore meeting was one of about 90 already conducted by ISF as part of a 2-3 year research project, and that the ISF considered it as civilian, academic research even though the researchers, working through double translation, were outnumbered by their uniformed, armed military escorts. We explained that this kind of activity could be expected to disturb people in remote areas who had decades of horrendous experiences with foreign soldiers asking political questions and the human right violations which ensued if they didn't like the answers.

On 25 March, the Canberra Times reported that the Australian Defence Force has terminated this 'research' project. La'o Hamutuk appreciates this prompt response to the concerns of the people of Timor-Leste, especially Lore I, which we brought to their attention.

25 Marsu 2010

Komunikadu Imprensa
Australia Kansela Projeitu Peskiza FSI nian

Uluk nia-nain, La’o Hamutuk hakarak hato’o apresiasaun bo’ot ba Governu no Forsa Militar Australia nian nebe ho nakloke simu kritika husi komunidade no sosiedade sivil sira wainhira bolu atensaun ba sira nia soldadu sira hodi evita involvimentu iha politika rai laran Timor-Leste nian.

Hafoin hetan protesta husi Chefe do Suco Lore I (Distritu Lautem) Sr. Mateus Fernandes Sequeira no ONG La’o Hamutuk tamba ho pergunta husi soldadu Forsa Stabilizasaun Internasinal (FSI/ISF) nia intervensaun ba direitu politika povo Timor-Leste nian. Iha loron 11 Marsu, komunikadu imprensa husi La’o Hamutuk no karta protesta husi Chefe do Suco Lore I hamosu diskusaun barak iha media sira iha Timor-Leste no Australia.

Chefe do Suco hato’o nia lamentasaun katak pergunta ne’e bele hamosu instabilidade iha komunidade nia le’et. La’o Hamutuk hateten katak direitu politika povo Timor-Leste nian laos asuntu Australia nian, maibe direitu privadu fundamental sidadaun Timor-Leste nebe hetan garantia husi Konstituisaun RDTL. Ami mos husu ba forsa estranjeiru sira tomak nebe iha Timor-Leste atu hado’ok an husi direitu politika sidadaun Timor-Leste.

Embaixadór Australia Peter Heyward, Embaixadór Nova Zelandia Tim Mclvor, no Komandante FSI Koronel Simon Stuart responde lalais komunikadu imprensa ida ne’e. La’o Hamutuk halo enkontru ho sira iha Embaixada Australia iha loron 12 Marsu. Sira rekonhese katak ne’e failhansu ida maibe sira realsa katak peskiza ida ne’e halao husi ema sivil ho akompanha husi militar FSI. Peskiza ida ne’e halao tiha ona enkontru komunitariu hamutuk dalas 90, durasaun peskiza ida ne’e ba tinan 2 too tinan 3 atu hare povo nia hanoin kona-ba asunto sira hanesan ekonomia, lideransa, justisa, edukasaun no seluk-seluk tan.

Iha loron 25 fulan Marsu, Canberra Times publika sai katak Forsa Defesa Australia nian kansela ona projeitu peskiza ida ne’e ho razaun katak kanselamentu ida ne’e bele hadiak liu tan relasaun forsa Australia nian no ho Stakeholders sira iha Timor-Leste.

La’o Hamutuk hare ida ne’e hanesan pasu positivu husi Australia hodi hatudu sira nia respeita direitu sidadaun sira nian iha Timor-Leste liu-liu ba komunidade sira iha Suco Lore I. Ami hanoin katak laos deit halo kanselamento ba projeitu peskiza ida ne’e nian, maibe mos iha preparasaun ba forsa Australia no Nova Zelandia nian iha futuru hodi komprende liu tan istoria no kultura povo Timor-Leste.

Defence pulls plug on Timor research

Canberra Times, 25 March 2010
By Philip Dorling National Affairs Correspondent

The Australian Defence Force has terminated a social research project in East Timor after allegations that Australian soldiers and civilian researchers were interfering in East Timorese politics. The Defence Department yesterday confirmed that it had axed a two- to three-year program of community surveys being conducted by civilian researchers of the Defence Science and Technology Organisation.

According to Defence, DSTO's community operations research team has been conducting meetings in communities around East Timor ''seeking local views and attitudes on a range of issues affecting peace and stability in East Timor''. The results of the research were intended to contribute to the Defence Force's ''awareness of the security needs of the people and Government of East Timor''.

However, in February this year members of the DSTO team, accompanied by armed Australian Defence Force personnel, travelled to a village in eastern Lautem District and reportedly asked people at a meeting to raise their hands if they liked the present Coalition Government better than the former Fretilin government. Village chief Mateus Fernandes Sequeira subsequently lodged a complaint about the incident, saying such activity could create tension and conflict. The East Timorese human rights group, La'o Hamutuk, said earlier this month that calling on people to reveal publicly their political allegiances was ''dangerous and destructive'' in a society still recovering from decades of conflict and violence. East Timor's constitution guarantees the right to keep political views private. At a meeting with La'o Hamutuk on March 12, Australian ambassador Peter Heyward and International Security Force commander Colonel Simon Stuart said that more than 90 community meetings had been held as part of an ADF ''longitudinal study'' since mid-2008, and that the project would continue. They said there was no question of asking people to make a comparison between the present coalition and the former Fretilin government.

However, a Defence Department spokesperson yesterday confirmed that the community survey project had been terminated as ''an operational decision taken after reviewing the appropriateness of continuing the study''. ''Defence maintains that at no point during the community forum at Suco of Lore village on 23 February 2010 were participants asked to indicate political alignment by raising their hands, as was claimed by La'o Hamutuk,'' the spokesperson said. ''Defence does, however, accept that the translation process across three languages [English, Tetum and the local dialect] may have caused the confusion at the community forum ... At no point during any community forums have questions been posed by researchers about political alignment. Defence regrets this misunderstanding. ''In the interest of maintaining positive relationships with our stakeholders throughout East Timor, the study was ceased.''

The abrupt cancellation of the East Timor community operational research project comes as an embarrassment for DSTO, which featured the study together with similar research in Afghanistan in the first issue of its Defence Science Australia magazine, published this month. DSTO lead researcher Alison Hickman has highlighted the risks associated with social research in ''unconventional conflicts, such as stabilisation or counter-insurgency operations, where long-term objectives are not clear and there are less tangible indicators of success''. ''If the approach and principles of researchers are not correct in the way they conduct themselves, how they empower civilians, and in the techniques used to elicit information, then taskforce operations mounted on the basis of this information may be ineffective, or worse,'' Ms Hickman told the DSTO magazine.

Highly regarded East Timor expert Clinton Fernandes, of the Australian Defence Force Academy, said yesterday that the DSTO surveys appeared to be ''amateurish'' and that the Defence Force would have been better served by engaging advisers with close knowledge of local conditions and attitudes.

Issue discussed in Australian Parliament

In May and June, the Australian Senate Estimates Committee (Foreign Affairs, Defence & Trade) asked the Commander of the Australian Defense Force, Air Chief Marshall Houston, about this incident.

31 May 2010 (click here for transcript of entire hearing)

Senator TROOD­Thank you. This is also about East Timor but on another matter. This concerns an incident that occurred apparently on 23 February 2010 in East Timor in a village in eastern Lautem district which was the subject of a report in the Sydney Morning Herald headed ‘Diggers caught in ‘political’ outrage’.
Are you familiar with this incident?

Air Chief Marshal Houston­I think I am broadly familiar with where you are going but I would prefer it if you would give me more context.

Senator TROOD­The newspaper report referred to Australian soldiers deployed in East Timor asking East Timorese their political views apparently in violation of the country’s constitution or at least in violationof some ethical mores and perhaps in violation of a constitutional provision. Can you enlighten us about this particular incident?

The Australian ambassador in Dili assured La'o Hamutuk that Chief Marshall Houston did not mean that he thought that La'o Hamutuk had misrepresented the situation.

Air Chief Marshal Houston­Yes, I certainly can. I will respond very broadly. Those circumstances were misrepresented, I think, in that we had a couple of DSGO operational analysts who were in Timor Leste supporting the ISF on their business and these analysts and those who went before them had done regular soundings of how people in Timor Leste were feeling about the stability of the country. There was nothing political about it at all. It was more about how they felt things were in the country and there was nothing political about it at all. The activity of those analysts was misrepresented in the report that was in newspapers and perhaps misrepresented by some elements on the ground in Timor Leste.

Senator TROOD­Are you aware of a complaint having been lodged in relation to this incident?

Air Chief Marshal Houston­Yes, on a recent visit to Timor Leste I explained to the Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Guterres, the circumstances of this and that there was no political angle to it at all. My explanation appeared to be completely accepted by the Deputy Prime Minister, so it has been covered off at the highest level. I made it very clear that this was something that had no political angle to it whatsoever.

Senator TROOD­I am just struggling to understand precisely the circumstances as you understand them, which seem to be that inquiries were being made, or information was being sought, by some researchers but they were in the company of ADF personnel. Is that correct, as you understand it?

Air Chief Marshal Houston­I have not got a briefing on this. I was right across it about three months ago. What I would like to do is just go back and basically review the circumstances. I will come back to you tomorrow and explain it fully, if that is all right with you.

1 June (click here for transcript of entire hearing)

Air Chief Marshal Houston —Secondly, I would like to go to Senator Trood’s questioning of, I suppose, the incident involving the scientists who were involved in surveys in Timor. I was asked: what were these surveys about in Timor and was there a political aspect to them? I think that is broadly it, Senator.

My response to that is that Defence civilian researchers have conducted surveys in a number of communities around Timor, seeking local views and attitudes on a range of issues affecting peace and stability in East Timor. Questions have addressed community perceptions on issues such as violence, justice, governance and social infrastructure. The results of the research conducted by Defence civilian scientists have contributed to the ISF’s awareness of the security needs of the people and government of East Timor. Around 90 of these voluntary community surveys have taken place over the past two years. The program ceased on 18 March 2010.

The surveys were led by Defence civilian scientists. Australian soldiers accompanying the researchers were only present to provide logistical and security support. Engagement with the communities was established through the local chief, who set up the meetings and issued invitations to the village. At the start of a discussion, participants were reminded their presence was voluntary. They were also provided with information on the intended use of the survey and the limitations on the sharing of data. Local interpreters were used to facilitate consultation during community forums.

To ask questions about political affiliations would have undermined the purpose of the community forums. At no point during the community forum at Suco of Lore village—and I stress this—was a question posed by the researchers about political alignment. Participants in the forum were not asked to indicate political alignment by raising their hands. It is possible the translation process across three languages—English, Tetum and the local dialect—could have caused the confusion at the community forum at Suco of Lore village on 23 February this year. It is also possible internal discussions between community members had local political relevance. However, such comments were not translated back to the researchers. These voluntary community surveys met the guidelines outlined in the National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Human Research, published in 2007. Obviously we ceased those surveys when this matter came up. My judgment was that continuing the study was not operationally essential and the decision to cease the study was the most appropriate course of action.

After reading this testimony, La'o Hamutuk reminded the Australian ambassador that the ISF commander had declined to share his telephone number or email address with us, or to answer our open letter delivered to his office. On 7 June, the Ambassador provided us with Col. Stuart's email address.

With regard to consultation, ISF and Australian government officials met with La’o Hamutuk representatives on 12 March to discuss claims appearing in one of their media releases on 11 March. The ISF has encouraged La’o Hamutuk to seek dialogue and communicate directly should they have any further questions about ISF efforts in Timor Leste. Of course, as I mentioned to you, I discussed the matter with the Deputy Prime Minster, Mr Guterres, on my visit, which took place subsequent to all of this happening. That is all I have to say at this stage. I believe the Chief of Air Force will now like to add a couple of things to his remarks of last night.

Senator TROOD —I thank the CDF for his comprehensive response to that question.

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The Timor-Leste Institute for Development Monitoring and Analysis (La’o Hamutuk)
Institutu Timor-Leste ba Analiza no Monitor ba Dezenvolvimentu
Rua dos Martires da Patria, Bebora, Dili, Timor-Leste
P.O. Box 340, Dili, Timor-Leste
Tel: +670-3321040 or +670-77234330
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