Canadian Church Leaders’ Statement on East Timor

Friday, September 03 1999

Representing people of faith in both Canada and East Timor, we rejoice the people of East Timor have clearly indicated their desire to be a free and independent state. They have endured many injustices in getting to this day. We have the highest regard for the people of East Timor, and for the courage which they showed in the overwhelming turnout during the consultation, in spite of the intimidation and violence which took place.


Canadian churches, both Protestant and Catholic, have been involved with the people and issues of East Timor for a number of years. Most recently, the Canada-Asia Working Group, an inter-church coalition, facilitated an ecumenical delegation to East Timor in October, 1998. Members of this delegation included Msgr. Schonenbach of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops and Moderator Bill Phipps of the United Church of Canada. Canadian churches have also expressed their support for the people of East Timor through prayer and financial support.

In East Timor, the churches have played a central role in the struggle for freedom and for peace. Churches have also played a mediating role during conflict, bringing together both those who support autonomy within Indonesia and those who support independence. Bishop Carlos Belo was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1996. Currently, the Moderator of the Protestant Church in East Timor, Rev. Arlindo Marcal, is a guest in Canada, hosted by the United Church of Canada.

The situation in East Timor

We have been gravely concerned about the intimidation, violence and human rights violations which have been taking place in East Timor, and have indicated this to the Canadian government on a number of occasions. We have also expressed serious concerns regarding Indonesia’s handling of the security situation in East Timor and have stated that Indonesia’s responsibility for security in East Timor should be revoked. The ongoing violence and intimidation perpetrated by paramilitary groups has proven Indonesia’s inability or unwillingness to honour its commitments to maintain security. We condemn the injustices which have taken place–intimidation, murder, rape, kidnappings, house burnings and torture — and mourn for the victims.

Looking forward

We recognize that this referendum is only one step in a long journey towards independence for East Timor. In particular, we believe that there are several issues which must be addressed to enable the people of East Timor to move forward:

  1. A peacekeeping force must be established in East Timor immediately.Security will continue to be an issue and this force could prevent further violence. This is a request which churches in both Canada and East Timor have made for some time. The recent bloodshed and intimidation perpetrated by paramilitary groups has only proved the need for this, and it is tragic that so many have been injured or killed already.
  2. Governments as well as the UN must continue to pressure the Indonesian government to fulfill its commitments made in the May 5 UN agreement regarding the transition process for East Timor. This includes honouring the outcome of the referendum. We implore the Canadian government to use all avenues at its disposal to hold Indonesia responsible for its commitments and the actions of its personnel.
  3. Human rights violations must be addressed and the perpetrators brought to justice. In particular, many violations have occurred during the lead up to the ballot process. Indonesian authorities have done nothing to respond to these violations, and in many cases Indonesia personnel have stood by while violations were taking place. Canada and the international community at large must commit to seek justice for these abuses.
  4. The people of East Timor will need assistance and support from the international community to enable them to rebuild their country, to develop independent structures and systems, and to recover from the violence and oppression which they have experienced for more than 24 years.

While we celebrate with the people of East Timor, the international community must not forget the injustices which they have experienced, nor their need for our ongoing support and attention. This vote for independence is one step in a journey. As Canadian churches, we are committed to continue our relationships of solidarity with the people of East Timor and to assist them as they move towards independence.

Rev. Arlindo Marcal Moderator, Protestant Church of East Timor

Rt. Rev. Bill Phipps Moderator, United Church of Canada

Msgr. Peter Schonenbach, Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops

Michael Peers, Primate, Anglican Church of Canada

The Canada-Asia Working Group (The Canada-Asia Working Group is a coalition of national churches, including the Anglican Church of Canada, the United Church of Canada, the Presbyterian Church of Canada, the Mennonite Central Committee, the Canadian Society of Friends, the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace and the Scarboro Foreign Mission Society)