Last week a choir of voices calling for Australia to engage with East Timor and determine a maritime boundary sung out loud and clear from locations around the globe. In what the Timor Sea Justice Campaign dubbed a "Week of International Solidarity", many thousands of people showed that they are prepared to stand up against injustice and stand with the people of Timor-Leste as they seek to finalize their sovereignty and establish, for the first time, their maritime border with Australia.
The choice of last week as the Week of International Solidarity was a deliberate one. It marked the 14th anniversary of Australia's withdrawal from the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice and the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea. On the 22nd of March 2002, less than two months before Timor-Leste's independence was restored, Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, cynically and secretly, declared reservations which would restrict East Timor's access to the"independent umpire" under international law.
The action was justified then and continues to be justified now by the current Government on the basis that negotiation is the preferred way to settle disputes. That sounds reasonable as long as you are willing to negotiate. To date the issue of maritime boundaries is not something the Government of Australia has been willing to discuss specifically and substantively with East Timor.
However, as demonstrated by the speakers at the various protests around Australia, the Coalition is now relatively alone in its policy of non-engagement on this issue. Labor, the Greens and several key Independents were outspoken in advocating for the initiation of negotiations and the need to 'get moving' in good faith and based on international law.
Here is a quick summary of events:
In Australia protests were held in Canberra, Adelaide, Sydney and Melbourne.
In East Timor a massive two-day protest was held attracting between five and ten thousand passionate participants.
Protests were also held in Jakarta, Yogjakarta, Kuala Lumpur and Manilla.
Participants in a online Protest initiated by ETAN came from around the planet - USA, Canada, Brazil, Portugal, various locations in Europe, Thailand and more. This campaign is ongoing.
The hashtags #medianlinenow and #HandsOffTimorsOil were trending across social media platforms.
In Afghanistan the 20 members of the g7+ indicated their support for the cause including this statement in their official communique:
"we support Timor-Leste’s call for recognition of its legitimate rights on border delimitations, under international law."
The Scottish Parliament moved a motion saying:
"the Parliament recognises the right of nations to legally binding maritime boundaries; understands with disappointment that, almost 14 years after the international recognition of Timor Leste as an independent state, the Australian Government has refused to agree permanent maritime boundaries with that country in accordance with international law ..."
Australian and international media reported on the events.
This is the beginning ... stay tuned.