Thailand Activists Support East Timor
Thai supporters of East Timor presented the letter below to the Australian embassy in Bangkok, Thailand on Australia Day, 2004.
CAMPAIGN FOR ALTERNATIVE INDUSTRY NETWORK
His Excellency the Ambassador
26th January 2004
First of all, we would like to join people from all over the world on the celebration of Australia Day, which falls on January 26th. Australia has set exemplary efforts to promote democracy and uphold human rights in its own country and internationally. We appreciate the generous development aid donated by the Australian government and its agencies to many countries in need around the world.
Yet, we have been disheartened by Australia’s unfair treatment toward one of their closest neighbors, East Timor. We understand with deep regret that before and since 1999, when East Timor became an independent nation, the Australian government has been reaping massive profits from the offshore oilfields which are located in the Timor Sea. We are aware that under international maritime law, the sea should be shared equally by the two nations. But since East Timor’s independence, Australia has taken A$1.7 billion from the exploitation of these oilfields.
We are aware that Australia and East Timor have initiated a process to determine these sea boundaries. Under international maritime law, establishing a clear maritime boundary along a median line between the Australian and East Timorese coasts could allow East Timor to claim to a far greater proportion of Timor Sea oil and gas reserves. Such a claim should be decided by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) through the provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
But in 2002 the Australian Government ruled out this option by withdrawing from the compulsory maritime boundary arbitration mechanisms of UNCLOS and the ICJ. This effectively prevents East Timor from seeking an independent resolution on the issue and ensures Australia can continue to negotiate the terms of the Treaty from a position of greater power.
The Thai government and Thai civil society actors have fervently awaited the independence of East Timor, which under 24 years of Indonesian occupation, experienced extreme suffering to its infrastructure and people. East Timor is among the poorest countries in the world, suffering from very low levels of basic services and high unemployment. Only 40 percent of East Timorese can read and write, life expectancy is just 48 years, and more than 1 in 10 children born today will likely die before reaching the age of five. East Timor's annual budget of $150 million is heavily reliant on foreign aid, most of which is expected to rapidly decline by 2004-05.
Revenues from these oil and gas reserves are a desperately-needed economic lifeline that will enable East Timor to begin tackling the challenges ahead.
On this auspicious occasion, with the genuine belief in the goodwill of Australia, we the undersigned would like to request the following:
1. East Timor is entitled to know its land and sea boundaries, and Australia must respect this right.
2. Australia should negotiate fairly and in good faith to settle the maritime boundary in no more than three years, treating East Timor respectfully as an equally sovereign nation. The Joint Development Area (JDA), which has been developed and agreed upon by the governments of Thailand and Malaysia, should serve as an example of how natural exploitation can be shared on a fair basis between two neighbors.
3. Australia should respect and implement international law by rejoining legal mechanisms for resolving maritime boundary disputes. Specifically, Australia should return to the process from which they withdrew in March 2002.
We truly believe that East Timor’s independence will not be fully realized until its boundaries, both land and sea, are defined and accepted by its neighbors.
This letter is also endorsed by the following Thai and international organizations in Thailand
The Timor-Leste Institute for Development Monitoring and Analysis (La’o Hamutuk)