What an inspiring event! The Timor Sea Forum was honoured to host H.E. Xanana Gusmão at a special event at the Pitt Street Uniting Church last Friday evening. As our Steering Committee Member Bob White said in his thanks to Minister Gusmão, the evening served to confirm our cause and invigorate our determination to see justice for East Timor on the issue of maritime boundaries.
Over two hundred people gathered in Sydney to hear Mr Gusmão speak. He began by highlighting the best of the people to people relationships between Australia and East Timor particularly amongst the veteran community. There is a website about that here.
He went on to talk about the troubled issue of maritime boundaries and consistent Australian positions of refusal to engage. The title of his speech, reproduced below, was "Wall of Silence".
There was also an update on the Compulsory Conciliation initiated under the United Nations three weeks ago. A point he made in his speech was that Australia and East Timor could avoid this process at any time by entering into genuine direct negotiations. How shameful that East Timor has to go to these lengths just to have a 'fair dinkum' engagement with Australia on maritime boundaries.
Steering Committee member Peter Jennings moderated a Q&A session at the end of the speech where Mr. Gusmão was very generous with his time and took care to answer our various questions.
Time to Right the Wrong and Draw the Line in the Timor Sea! We are more than ever standing in solidarity with East Timor and demanding justice from the Government of Australia on this issue.
Stay tuned for details on our next meetings.
Thank you to the visiting officials travelling with Minister Gusmão who shared the speech and some of the official photographs with us.
Here is the speech:
"Wall of Silence"
First President of our National Parliament, Francisco Guterres Lu’olo
Chief of Staff, F-FDTL, Colonel Falur Rate Laek
Ambassador of Timor-Leste to Australia, Abel Guterres
Consul-General of Timor-Leste to Sydney, Armandina Gusmão
Representatives of the RSL
Australian Commando Association, NSW
Thank you Sister Susan
Ladies and gentlemen
My Dear Friends,
Thank you for this opportunity to share our story about securing our sovereignty – the short video already told us almost everything - for us that means, securing our maritime boundaries.
We achieved our independence and sovereignty over our lands with the support of many of you.
And we know with your continued solidarity and support, we will achieve our full sovereignty over our seas.
I have just come from Perth where I was invited by the RSL WA Branch to participate in ANZAC day commemorations. I have travelled with a group of Timorese Veterans of our 24 year Resistance struggle who are here with me tonight.
We owe our freedom and our independence to our veterans and in your presence, I honour them.
I would also like to acknowledge and thank the RSL NSW who have hosted Timor-Leste veterans here this week during ANZAC commemorations.
Before I speak in detail about Australia’s refusal to talk to us about maritime boundaries, I want to tell the story of the deep and abiding bonds that were forged between our two nations in World War II.
During that war, around 300 Australian soldiers fought in the mountains and valleys of our country. They held down over 10,000 Japanese troops for almost a year.
These Australians were heroic and remarkable men. But these tenacious men would not have succeeded in their difficult mission, without the support of the Timorese who risked their lives to help them. They were protected, housed, healed and fed by the local population. President Lu’olo’s father is part of that story. And President Lu’olo told us that story for the first time just a few days ago at the Western Australian Museum. After the war his father was detained in Atauro because he helped Australian soldiers
When the Commandos left Timor in 1943 our people paid an awful price - up to 60,000 Timorese were killed during the Japanese occupation, which lasted until the end of the war. The Commandos believed Australia owed the Timorese a debt of honour for their support in World War II. These good men felt this debt deeply and tried to repay it by giving support to our people in many ways, including supporting our struggle.
Since the end of that war, deep and meaningful stories have remained alive in the memories of the 2/2 Commando Veterans that have been retold for future generations to remember.
One such story was shown Monday night on the ABC 7:30 Report. One of the surviving members of the 2/2 Commando, Keith Hayes, spoke of his experience in Timor and of how he was shot and bayoneted, and left for dead by the Japanese. He explained that had it not been for the kindness of a Timorese woman, Berta Martins, who hid and cared for him, applying traditional medicine to his wounds, he would not be alive today. I had the privilege of walking behind this honourable and remarkable man, in the ANZAC parade in Perth.
I am telling you this story because it speaks to the friendship forged between our people and our nation that prevails to this day.
It is a friendship that was further strengthened during our independence struggle; it is a friendship that has survived the test of time.
And it is to this friendship that I and all Timorese, reach out to you in our new struggle – to secure sovereign rights over our seas.
Currently, we have no maritime boundaries with Australia – we have provisional resource sharing arrangements. These arrangements divide petroleum resources that under international law, belong to us.
And so, we look to the Australian government to sit down with us in a spirit friendship, as neighbours, to discuss defining our maritime boundaries.
To date, we have only been met by a wall of silence, while some articles defend the position of Canberra.
While in Perth, I delivered an address at Curtin University called “Marking Boundaries, Marking Friendship”, where I gave a detailed account of our long-running dispute over Australia’s refusal to talk to us and settle maritime boundaries.
I draw on the comments I made there in Perth, here in Sydney, tonight.
Securing maritime boundaries is of national interest for Timor-Leste. Our people struggled for 24 years for our independence to achieve sovereignty over our land.
While Australia has settled its maritime boundaries with its other five maritime neighbours, and prides itself on its ability to do so bilaterally, it refuses to talk to Timor-Leste about the remaining 1.8% of its boundary in the Timor Sea.
Sadly, our new nation was taken advantage of when we were at our weakest. We were a young nation and a people with little or no experience in governance. We were activists, freedom fighters and guerrillas. We were ‘babes in the woods’ when it came to negotiations and the world of petroleum resources. We lacked knowledge in complex issues, and experience in critical areas of state building. We knew nothing about that. That is why we accepted to transition for 2 years.
At that time, we were in no position to properly negotiate. Our country was weak, having been left in ashes after years of war. Our people were physically and emotionally scarred. We had barely started the immense challenge of building a new nation.
We had attained our freedom but we had no budget to run a country.
Australia took advantage of our vulnerability and we signed treaties - agreements on how to divide resources in the Timor Sea.
However, these are not agreements that mark maritime boundaries. We, the Timorese, have consistently called for the delimitation of our permanent maritime boundaries with Australia. We want certainty in our seas to know where our sovereign rights start and finish.
However, Australia has consistently refused to talk to us about maritime boundaries, refusing to settle the remaining 1.8% of its maritime boundary. Australia is huge, only 1.8% remains with Timor-Leste, they refuse to talk.
And in an affront to our dignity, Australia continues to maintain that it is generous in providing us with 90% of the revenue that has flowed from petroleum fields that under international law belong to us. So generous, so generous!
The picture showed Ali Alatas and Gareth Evans, while we were dying, above our resources, the JPDA and Bayu Undan is there.
So while the Australian government has settled maritime boundaries with other neighbours in accordance with international law, and the equidistant/relevant circumstance test, it refuses to do so with us. Unbelievable as it only represents 1.8% of all maritime boundaries of Australia.
Instead, the Australian government is blinded by its thirst for petroleum in reserves it claims for itself which are in fact so much more closer to Timor-Leste – and that should belong to us under international law.
In this blind thirst for petroleum, the Australian government is denying certainty to investors in the Timor Sea and preventing petroleum projects which well support the development of our small nation.
My dear friends,
Our relationship with Australia remains of critical importance to us. We do all that we can to ensure it stays strong and positive, despite this serious and costly dispute.
We continued to prioritise our relationship even after knowing that our cabinet rooms had been spied on by Australian intelligence services during the CMATS Treaty deliberations in 2004, 2005.
We continued to prioritise our relationship, even after the Australian intelligence services raided the office of one of our Canberra based lawyers and seized sensitive documents.
While we were successful in achieving landmark provisional orders against Australia in the International Court of Justice, in an act of good faith, we discontinued proceedings once Australia returned the seized documents.
And so, all Timor-Leste asks of Australia is to sit down with us and talk about our maritime boundaries in a spirit of friendship and goodwill.
Proof of this spirit of friendship and goodwill was evidenced this week when Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and I greeted each other at the Perth Dawn Service, without grudges, without hard feelings. We showed that if we have differences or problems, we can resolve them without hurting our relations. And I believe that at this point, the two countries are showing great political maturity.
We have already begun discussions with Indonesia. As everyone knows President Joko in his inaugural speech said it was also a priority of Indonesia to have maritime boundaries with its neighbours. So we have begun these discussions to agree on our maritime boundaries, but Australia remains a wall of silence, or perhaps I could say a wall of indifference.
The Australian Government knows its position is not consistent with international law. That is why in March 2002, only two months before our nation became independent, Australia withdrew from the binding jurisdiction of dispute resolution bodies in maritime boundary disputes, such as the International Court of Justice, under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. We did not even know they withdrew.
This means that we cannot ask an independent judicial umpire to settle a dispute between our two countries on maritime boundaries.
I remember when Indonesia and Australia talked about our resources Portugal took Australia to the ICJ, but not Indonesia because they did not recognize jurisdiction
However, in recent times, we were encouraged, when the Australian Government started to publicly emphasise the importance of a ‘rules-based global order’ to maintain international security. We said they are changing their policies.
We were further encouraged when the Australian Government insisted that other countries resolve their maritime boundary disputes in the South China Sea, in accordance, Julie Bishop and Malcolm Turnbull said, with international law and the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
And so this encouraged us to approach the Australian Government again after our repeated attempts had come to nought. In February this year, our Prime Minister, Dr Rui de Araújo, wrote to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull asking one last time for cooperation. Regrettably, we were again disappointed when the Australian Prime Minister refused to negotiate with us.
After yet another rejection, we were left with limited options. We then notified Australia that we would be using the Compulsory Conciliation provisions under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
Under this conciliation process, each state nominates two conciliators and then those four select a fifth conciliator to be the chair. The five independent conciliators will convene and hear from both Australia and Timor-Leste. Timor-Leste has already nominated two conciliators and Australia has until Monday the 2nd of May to nominate two.
This process has never been used before in the world. Timor-Leste is the first. However, the compulsory conciliation proceeding under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea has been designed specifically for the circumstances that Timor-Leste finds itself in.
This process can be initiated when no agreement has been reached between two neighbours and when one has excluded themselves from the binding jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice and the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea.
If no agreement is reached during this compulsory conciliation process, the conciliators will provide a report and recommendations to the United Nations Secretary-General and the Australian government will be required to negotiate in good faith on the basis of this report.
We have confidence that this process will be a positive and productive one and that we will be able to engage constructively with the Australian Government to settle our maritime boundaries, 1.8% of the whole maritime boundaries of Australia. Not too much. However, an important point to note is that Australia could agree at any time now to negotiate maritime boundaries and obviate the need for this protracted process.
It can! It is only goodwill, maybe a better understanding – I don’t know. We did not have many other options. If until Monday Canberra does not appoint, the Secretary-General will appoint. We will see. But we still have time, waiting, if there is a change of mind made by Australia, we keep hoping.
For our nation, it is a priority to achieve the final step in our struggle for independence: sovereignty over our seas as well as our lands.
Our struggle for sovereignty over our lands took 24 years and we never gave up, even during the darkest of times.
We are confident that we will prevail, because we have faith in the Australian people and their commitment to fairness and justice.
We are confident that the Australian Government can look, beyond its thirst for money and petroleum revenues, and recognise that its position, in the Timor Sea, is on the wrong side of history.
They will come to accept that they cannot tell other countries to respect international law, like in the South China Sea, while ignoring it in their own backyard, the Timor Sea, 1.8% of the whole maritime boundary of Australia.
Most of all, we have faith in the Timorese people. Right now we feel stripped of our dignity, as we are told that we cannot control what properly belongs to us. We feel stripped of dignity, as we are denied our sovereign rights under international law.
But the Timorese people are very patient, they saw off our Portuguese colonisers, and then defeated our Indonesian military occupiers, and now I am confident that we will also secure our rights to our seas.
So friends, it is a difficult time, but we have shown in the past that we can endure difficult times.
We have also shown in the past that it is when our relationship with the Australian government is troubled, our relationship with the Australian people is strongest.
We know, and we can see from the people here today supporting us, that the friendship between Australia and Timor-Leste is strong and will endure. We will continue to look to the Australian people for support as we build our nation and secure our future.
We have a long way to go before we develop our country but we have already come so far.
Working with the support of the Australian people, and other international friends, we have built a free and democratic nation, governed by the rule of law and respect for human rights and dignity.
Working together with your continued support and solidarity, we can build our nation and realise the dreams of our people.
We will together say to the Australian Government, "It is Time to Right the Wrong."
Thank you very much.