U.S. Policy Toward East Timor




History and

Santa Cruz

US Policy

East Timor Action
Network (ETAN)


The Indonesian invasion and occupation of East Timor is considered one of the worst atrocities of this century. Without the military and diplomatic aid of the US Indonesia would not have been able to invade and occupy East Timor.

The United States supported Indonesia for so long because it was the fifth most populous nation in the world, home to half of the regionís total population. Indonesia also controlled several sea lanes connecting the Pacific and Indian Ocean. Many US companies had important investments in the large amounts of oil and gas in the region as well. Furthermore, at a time of heightened communism, Indonesia was anti-communist.

Indonesia launched its 1975 invasion of East Timor hours after Indonesian dictator Suharto and US president Ford and US secretary of state Henry Kissinger met. The US doubled Indonesianís military aid following the meeting. . The US also blocked the United Nations from taking any action in support of East Timorese independence. During the peak of genocide in the late 1970's the US provided Indonesia with equipment.

Despite documents of severe human rights violations, including torture, execution, and detention/imprisonment of East Timorese for expressing their political views, the State Defense departments of US continued sending military aid to Indonesia.

After the Santa Cruz Massacre occurred involving American military weapons, Congress shifted the US policy in regard to Indonesia. Fifty-two US senators wrote to President Bush asking US support be given to United Nation resolutions on East Timor. A bipartisan effort from Congress was in support of East Timorís independence.

In 1992 Congress cut off Indonesia military training aid. In 1993 the State Department took back its pro-Indonesian (Jakarta) stand from before. It sponsored a resolution criticizing Indonesian abuse in East Timor.

In 1993 the Senate Foreign Relations Committee adopted an amendment by Senator Feingold on arms sales to Indonesia based on the improvements of human rights in East Timor. The bill to which the amendment was attached did not reach the senate floor. However, the State Department did impose a ban on the sale of small and light arms to Indonesia.

Before President Clintonís meeting with Suharto in 1995, bi-partisan groups of legislators from the House and Senate sent letters urging Clinton to back resolutions in support of improving human rights in East Timor. Letters like these continued to be sent requesting that Clinton take a pro-active stance in advocation for Timorese independence.

In 1997 the Congress passed a law requiring the United States government to state in military contracts to Indonesia that any weapons it received from the United States would not be used against East Timor. By 1999 all military ties had been severed with Indonesia.

Today there are strict bans on International military education, training and on foreign military financing for Indonesia, as well as a bill providing 22,000,000 dollars in economic assistance to East Timor.