East Timor is beginning to recover from a 24-year Indonesian occupation during which at least a quarter of its population was slain or died of starvation or disease. Indonesia invaded East Timor in 1975, 9 days after East Timor declared itself independent of Portugal, with the support of close neighbor Australia and the U.S.
In August, 1999, the East Timorese voted overwhelmingly for independence from Indonesia. Despite threats of violence from the Indonesian military, 99% of East Timorese adults voted, and 79% voted for independence.
After the results were announced, the Indonesian militia razed East Timor in revenge. They destroyed crops, livestock, at least 80% of all houses, public buildings, and irrigation and water supply systems, 95% of schools, and nearly 100% of East Timor's electrical grid. "TIMOR, EAT STONE, [read] graffiti on the wall of a former Indonesian army building in Dili. The threat [was] scrawled on ruins around the country: have independence -- but nothing else." [Visit  for collections of articles and photos about the conflagration.]
East Timorese independence supporters were tortured and approximately 1,300 were massacred. 300,000 people were forced into West Timor as refugees. Witnesses reported brutal violence: "People were stopped at roadblocks, their hands were tied behind their backs and they were hacked to death." "The militiamen had used machetes on his arms, chopping repeatedly down to the bone. His stomach was slashed open. Blood covered his frame. 'Where do you put a tourniquet on someone who has been sliced all over?' asked Sexton, a U.N. observer ..."
 "A Brief History of East Timor" Annex of United Nations East Timor Human Development Report, pages 70-72.
 The East Timor Action Network's Background on East Timor and U.S. Policy.
 National Security Archive briefing East Timor Revisited.
 Clausen, Lisa. Under Clearing Skies, Time Magazine, Vol. 155(24), June 19, 2000.
 Morris, Kelly. Growing Pains of East Timor: Health of an Infant Nation, The Lancet, Vol. 357(9259), 17 March, 2001, pages 873-877.
 CIA World Factbook, East Timor.
 Gittings, John. Mass Grave Found in East Timor, The Guardian, October 20, 1999.
McCarthy, Terry. On the Razor's Edge, Time Magazine, Vol. 154(12), September 20, 1999.
 "Historical Background," Document S/2005/458, United Nations Commision of Experts Review, July 27, 2005, pages 8-10.
 Jones, Adam. The Gender Page, Section III. East Timor, 1999.
2. Current Challenges:
A month after the election, the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor took control. In May, 2002, East Timor declared independence. However, because of the 25 years of Indonesian occupation and the near total destruction of East Timor after the election, East Timor is the poorest, least developed country in Asia, "and will remain so for some time to come."
The following excerpts are from United Nations East Timor Human Development Report:
In developing our country, we face
many challenges. More than two in five
people in East Timor live on less than 55 cents
per day. Life expectancy is only 57 years.
Women die unnecessarily in childbirth. Many
children die from preventable illness and
disease before they reach 5 years of age.
43% of the population is illiterate. 46% have
never attended school. Many young people
are unskilled and unemployed.
-- East Timor President Xanana Gusmao
East Timor's immediate economic outlook
may be difficult but the human potential is
strong. Through the long years of colonization and
occupation, the people of East
Timor retained an unquenchable desire for
freedom. That kind of courage and determination
should serve them well in the years
ahead as they tackle the major challenges
of human development.
Health -- Standards of health are low:
overall life expectancy is only 57 years. Many
people are dying from preventable diseases
such as malaria, respiratory tract infections
and diarrhoea. Maternal mortality is high:
some 420 women die for every 100,000
Education -- East Timor also has a lot of
ground to make up on education. More
than half the population are illiterate.
Food security -- Three-quarters of the
population live in the rural areas where most
households are engaged in subsistence agriculture.
But their productivity is low and
for decades East Timor has had to import
basic foods. Around 45% of children under five
Income poverty -- Some 41% of the population
live in income poverty, having less
than the national poverty line of $0.55 per
person per day. A higher proportion of
people are poor in the rural areas than in
the urban centres -- 46% compared with
26%. Of these, the poorest groups are in
households that have many children and
those that have small landholdings and little
livestock, and those that live in areas that
are prone to flooding and soil erosion.
Sustainable livelihoods -- With the population
growing at around 2.5% annually,
around 20,000 young people will join the
labour force each year. Most of these will
seek livelihoods in agriculture and more
generally in the "informal economy".
Gender -- Poverty particularly affects
women who bear the brunt of the impact
of polluted water and poor sanitation and
have to spend time looking after sick
children and other family members. Women
also have less power; and gender-based
violence is a serious and under-reported issue.
Natural resources -- Most of the terrain is
steep with only a thin covering of soil, much
of which is being washed away in flash
floods. One of the most valuable natural
resources is offshore oil and gas in the
Human security -- Compared with the
years of Indonesian administration and the
traumatic period following the referendum,
most people now feel safer, and the
reported crime rate is low. In a household
survey 43% of respondents reported
greater safety as the single most important
improvement from before the violence.
Freedom and participation -- On August 30,
2001 a remarkable 91% of the electorate
voted to elect a Constituent Assembly, 27%
of whose members were women. The
presidential election of April 2002 also had
a striking turnout -- more than 86% of
voters cast their ballots.
-- Executive Summary: The Way Ahead
 United Nations East Timor Human Development Report.
 East Timor Appeal No. 01.63/2004 Annual Report, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, May 27, 2005.
 Timor-Leste Annual Appeal No. 05AA053, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, January 1, 2005.
 Amnesty International Timor-Leste Report, 2005.
 United Nations Timor-Leste Development Challenges.
 USAID East Timor Brief.
 USAID Strategic Plan for East Timor 2005-2009.
 United Nations Development Programme Millenium Development Goals.
 UNICEF Timor-Leste Big Picture.
World Health Organization Timor-Leste Homepage.
World Hunger -- Timor-Leste, World Food Programme.
A. Visit the East Timor Action Network page.
The East Timor Action Network maintains What To Do and Urgent Action pages.
Bairo Pite Clinic "is an integral part of [East Timor's] struggling health care system and one of very few free clinics in the country. ... In addition to the 400 patients who come to the clinic every day for trusted, quality care in their local languagem Bairo Pite places emphasis on training East Timorese paramedics, nurses and support staff (many who have been unable to continue their schooling since 1999)." For donations from the United States, visit
International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies [read brief description and IFRC Timor-Leste Homepage, Timor-Leste Programme Update, 15 May, 2005]. The IFRC has worked in East Timor to improve health care, water and sanitation, hygiene education, prevention of common diseases, HIV awareness and knowledge, disaster response, reforestation, and organizational development.
World Food Programme [read brief description and WFP's World Hunger Report on Timor Leste]. "WFP has been operating in Timor Leste since 1999, helping the poor survive hunger during periods of crisis. During the 2003 drought, which was followed by the El Nino climatic phenomenon, WFP's Emergency Operation provided food assistance for over 67,000 households. Given Timor Leste's acute food insecurity and malnutrition, WFP has shifted its approach in the country from short term emergency operations to medium/long-term safety-net support through a two-year Protracted Relief and Rehabilitation Operation (PRRO). To start this transition, in 2005 the agency has established a country office in Timor Leste; two sub-offices in Suai and Oecusse will run its operations." WFP "plans to provide 'safety nets' to the most vulnerable groups like pregnant and nursing women and children under the age of five through supplementary feeding and invest in the country's future through school feeding under the PRRO."
The Fund for East Timor [read brief description]. The Fund for East Timor is collaborating with the World Health Organization and NGOs to establish a national malaria and TB control program, educate people on nutrition, and establish fish ponds for local nutrition. It provides loans for microenterprise, using the money received by Dr. Ramos Horta from the Nobel Peace Proze. The Fund for East Timor is also working on information technology training for students.
Health Alliance International (HAI) [read brief description and HAI East Timor Projects]. HAI has been working in East Timor since 1999 to improve available health care. In 1999, HAI established a midwifery in-service training unit and began supporting basic prenatal, delivery, and postnatal care services until August, 2001. Since then, on the recommendation of the East Timor Ministry of Health, HAI has been working with the Catholic Church-supported health services to provide health care to the rural poor. In 2004, HAI began working with the East Timor Ministry of Health to improve maternal and newborn care. Click here for instructions on how to donate.
Oxfam Australia | Belgium | Great Britain | Hong Kong | Netherlands | New Zealand | America [read brief description, Oxfam Australia's East Timor Programs, Oxfam GB's East Timor Programs, Oxfam HK's East Timor Programs]. Oxfam Australia is working with other Oxfams and the East Timor governments to increase rural incomes and food security for small producers. It has also initiated community health programs to improve the health of the East Timorese people by providing access to clean water and sanitation, increased access to health services, improved nutrition, and improved reproductive and mother and child health. It has also helped East Timor run adult education programs which include the participation of women.
Alola Foundation. "The Alola Foundation is working for the advancement of the women of East Timor. The Alola Foundation was established in 2001 to raise awareness of and campaign against the sexual and gender-based violence inflicted on women in East Timor. Today the Foundation has grown to respond to many other needs of East Timorese women such as advocacy, economic empowerment, education and literacy, maternal and child health and humanitarian assistance. The Alola Foundation works proactively in direct partnership with individual citizens and non-profit organizations from within this new nation and around the world to improve the lives of East Timorese women. We would greatly value your assistance with our vital work."
Catholic Relief Services [read brief description and CRS's East Timor Work]. CRS is supporting projects in peace and reconciliation, civil society, microfinance, and agriculture.
Church World Service East Timor "is a relief, development, and refugee assistance ministry of a consortium of 36 Protestant, Orthodox and Anglican denominations in the United States. Working in partnership with indigenous organizations in more than 80 countries, CWS works worldwide to meet human needs and foster self-reliance for all whose way is hard." CWS's goal is "to assist the Government of East Timor to implement the National Strategic Plan for a Comprehensive and Multi-sectoral Response to HIV/AIDS/STI 2002-2005."
Judicial System Monitoring Program "was set up in early 2001 in Dili, East Timor. Through court monitoring, the provision of legal analysis and thematic reports on the development of the judicial system, and outreach activities, JSMP aims to contribute to the ongoing evaluation and building of the justice system in East Timor."
Madison, Wisconsin's East Timor Activism Community is a network of projects working together with the East Timorese people. They have "provided support to local medical clinics, schools, women's income-generating programs, community radio, the community center, and sustainable agriculture efforts." They describe the effects one's donations will have: "$10 will help provide farmers with heirloom, organic seeds; $50 will help provide much-needed radio station equipment; $100 will cover Madison's monthly pledge of support for Ainaro's community center." Click here for donation information. One can also donate to Medical Aid for East Timor to help the Bairo Pite medical clinic in Dili. "100% of all donations go directly to East Timor to meet the Bairo Pite clinic's pressing needs, including a reliable water system, a functional ambulance, salaries for East Timorese staff, providing quality health care for those without ability to pay."
UNICEF [read brief summary and UNICEF's Timor-Leste Big Picture]. UNICEF is working in East Timor to improve health and sanitation, education and community, and child protection.
C. East Timor Oil Resources.
Significant disputed petroleum resources, worth tens of billions of dollars, lie beneath the Timor Sea. Despite these resources lying closer to East Timor than Australia, both countries are staking a claim on the proceeds. No maritime boundary has ever existed between Australia and East Timor: a boundary drawn in accordance with contemporary International law would deliver all of the resources on East Timor's side of the median line to East Timor. The Australian Government is stalling the negotiations and bullying the East Timorese Government to give up billions of dollars' worth of entitlements. In the meantime, Australia is unilaterally depleting oil fields in disputed areas and taking all of the government revenues.
-- The Timor Sea Justice Campaign
Read more on this issue and how you can take action:
 The Timor Sea Justice Campaign
 The East Timor Action Network
D. Justice for East Timorese Victims.
Almost six years after the atrocities, none of the masterminds have been brought to justice and some of the Indonesian military leaders in charge at the time have been promoted.
When the Indonesian military and its murderous militia proxies ravaged East Timor after the 1999 independence ballot, the world was outraged, and demands for justice rang out.
Yet only the small players have been punished in East Timor, no one has been brought to book in Indonesia and the paperwork keeps mounting.
--Sian Powell, East Timor Forgoes Justice for the Rape of a Nation.
Read more on this issue and how you can take action:
 East Timor Action Network Alert: Demand Justice for East Timor!
 Powell, Sian. East Timor Forgoes Justice for the Rape of a Nation, The Australian, August 1, 2005.
 Timor-Leste: UN mandated Commission calls on Indonesia to review prosecutions, UN News, July 27, 2005.
 Document S/2005/458, United Nations Commision of Experts Review, July 27, 2005.
For more information on the situation in East Timor, check out these online sources:
 ReliefWeb East Timor Homepage. "ReliefWeb is the world's leading on-line gateway to information (documents and maps) on humanitarian emergencies and disasters. An independent vehicle of information, designed specifically to assist the international humanitarian community in effective delivery of emergency assistance, it provides timely, reliable and relevant information as events unfold, while emphasizing the coverage of 'forgotten emergencies' at the same time."
 United Nations East Timor Homepage. This page contains information about East Timor and all UN agencies programs and goals in East Timor.
 United Nations East Timor Human Development Report. This report describes the current situation in East Timor, as assessed by the UN.
 Internaional Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies Timor-Leste Homepage. This page contains the IFRC's assessment of, projects in, and plans for East Timor.
 US Aid East Timor Homepage. This page contains information about the US's assessment of the situation in East Timor, and US programs in and plans for East Timor.
 US Aid Strategic Plan for East Timor 2005-2009.
 United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor Homepage. Between 1999 and 2002, UNTAET administered East Timor, exercised legislative and executive authority during the transition period, and supported capacity-building for self-government.
 UNICEF Timor-Leste Information.
 World Health Organization Timor-Leste Homepage.
 The East Timor Action Network Homepage. "The East Timor and Indonesia Action Network/United States was founded in November 1991 to support genuine self-determination and human rights for the people of East Timor in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the 1960 United Nations General Assembly Resolution on Decolonization, and Security Council and General Assembly resolutions on East Timor. [Their] primary focus has been to change US foreign policy and raise public awareness to support justice and self-determination and now genuine independence for East Timor and human rights in Indonesia. In February 2001, ETAN revised its mission statement to reflect its coming independence."
Document S/2005/458, United Nations Commision of Experts Review, July 27, 2005.
World Hunger -- Timor-Leste, World Food Programme.
 CIA World Factbook, East Timor.
The Fund for East Timor Homepage.
 Health Alliance International East Timor Homepage.
 Oxfam Australia's East Timor Homepage.
 Oxfam GB's East Timor Homepage.
 Oxfam HK's East Timor Homepage.
 Madison, Wisconsin's East Timor Activism Community.
 The Timor Sea Justice Campaign Homepage.
 Jones, Adam. The Gender Page, Section III. East Timor, 1999. This page contains collections of news articles and photographs on the 1999 conflagration.
Last Updated October 29, 2005.