Select Committee on Foreign Affairs First Report


Memorandum submitted by CAFOD


  CAFOD is the overseas development agency of the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales. Although the bulk of CAFOD's grants are made to mainstream development projects, a significant number of grants have been in countries where the Catholic Church has provided institutional support for community activists, peasant organisations and human rights groups in order to address or provide protection from human rights abuses. In some countries the Church itself has provided moral leadership in defence of human and civil rights and has itself come under sustained attack from authoritarian regimes and/or paramilitary groups. A very recent example is Bishop Juan Gerardi, Auxiliary Bishop of Guatemala City, who was bludgeoned to death on 26 April 1998, almost certainly because of his leadership of the project called "Recovery of Historical Memory" documenting atrocities and the killings of tens of thousands of Guatemalans in that country's long drawn-out internal conflict.

  CAFOD is often asked by partner organisations in developing countries to raise human rights issues with the British government. They hope that CAFOD can persuade the government to provide support for particular human rights initiatives or use its influence with friendly governments or in international fora to further the cause of human rights or to protect individuals working in the field of human rights or humanitarian aid. Church-linked organisations, the Catholic Church itself and NGOs generally are frequently able to provide reliable information about the nature and scope of human rights violations and to indicate who the perpetrators are or might be. In countries where there are widespread or systematic violations of human rights, lack of security and basic freedoms becomes a development issue: people cannot meet, express opinions freely or represent their views to government. Development workers and community activists are threatened and killed.

  CAFOD welcomes the Government's declared intent to develop an ethical foreign policy. To be effective such a policy would have to be applied consistently and demonstrate clearly to other governments that there cannot be "business as normal" with governments which are responsible for serious violations of human rights. It is also clearly desirable that ethical foreign policy should be agreed and implemented in a co-ordinated way by a number of governments, most obviously by members of the European Union.

  CAFOD can confirm that it has found the Ministers of State at the Foreign Office dealing with areas of concern to CAFOD open to discussion and, when available, willing to hear first-hand what overseas visitors have to say.

  The two examples which we put before the Committee are Sierra Leone where we believe that a political objective—the removal of an illegal government—overrode the humanitarian imperative to assist the civilian population and East Timor where we believe that HMG can do more to help bring the illegal Indonesian occupation to an end.


  After the military coup in May 1997 which ousted the elected government of President Kabbah, the British (and US governments) cut aid to Sierra Leone and discouraged other international bodies from providing humanitarian assistance to civilians affected by the conflict. The situation of insecurity intensified in February 1998 when Armed Forces Ruling Council (AFRC) forces were expelled from Freetown by the Nigerian-led ECOMOG peacekeeping force together with troops loyal to President Kabbah. This led to generalised fighting in most areas of the country. President Kabbah returned to the capital on 10 March but looting, acts of vengeance and sabotage by AFRC supporters continued for several weeks in other areas of the country.

  NGOs, such as CAFOD, are aware of the pitfalls of providing humanitarian aid in situations of conflict (complex political emergencies) and take all necessary steps to reduce the possibility of such assistance "falling into the wrong hands" and directly fuelling the war effort. The intention behind HMG's policy of cutting aid and preventing any relief supplies from entering Sierra Leone, in effect, the imposition of sanctions, has been interpreted as a deliberate attempt to prevent rebel forces gaining any advantage—material or moral—from the availability of humanitarian assistance. In Sierra Leone this had the effect of depriving the most vulnerable sectors of the civilian population of relief supplies at the time when they most needed them.

  CAFOD is a signatory to the Code of Conduct for the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and NGOs in Disaster Relief published in 1994 (attached). DFID will not now approve disaster relief funding for any NGO if it is not a signatory to this Code of Conduct. Other codes of conduct, such as the Joint Policy of Operation drawn up by International NGOs working in Liberia, have also been developed for specific situations. Common threads running through these codes of conduct are:

    —  that priority should be given to the humanitarian imperative;

    —  that assistance should be distributed on the basis of need alone;

    —  that NGOs involved in disaster response should not act as instruments of government policy.

  This does not mean that NGOs can behave recklessly or turn a blind eye to the risks inherent in complex emergencies. The Joint Policy of Operation of NGOs working in Liberia explicitly states that NGOs should:

    —  "endeavour to do no harm through international NGO assistance to programme beneficiaries, implementing partners and programme staff: potentially harmful effects of assistance will be minimised through a variety of key strategies such as analysis and evaluation of programmes; security risk assessments for beneficiaries and implementors; a common approach to needs assessment; targeted and monitored interventions to support and encourage research into potentially negative effects of aid; and a commitment to the sharing of information."

    —  "provide only the essential capital assets needed to address the `agreed to' needs of the beneficiaries so that the international NGOs minimise the risk of fuelling the war in Liberia: although levels of resources and staff will be left to the discretion of each organisation, sharing of resources and equipment will be encouraged as appropriate. operations will be decentralised to minimise potential losses of equipment and commodities. For example, cross border operations will be encouraged."

  CAFOD does not normally employ operational staff in emergencies but works through established Catholic institutions, with local NGOs or with other international NGOs (such as the World Food Programme) working in the field of relief or development. Monitoring is, however, undertaken by people or organisations with the right skills and able to form objective judgments about the use and distribution of relief supplies. In the case of Sierra Leone, international NGOs operated from neighbouring Guinea, making quick visits into Sierra Leone when it was safe to do so. In situations of extreme insecurity, when most operational international NGOs are forced to withdraw their expatriate personnel, CAFOD has a moral obligation to support local partners who at some risk to themselves decide that they must remain in post and continue to provide humanitarian assistance. This does not excuse CAFOD from making its own risk assessment but the confidence of its partners that they can continue to provide a service to the affected population is a powerful argument in support of humanitarian assistance. In August 1997 CAFOD made a grant of £60,000 to the Diocese of Kenema for emergency feeding of infants displaced by the fighting. This grant was successfully administered by the Kenema Diocesan Development Office, the only NGO which at that time was able to reach the affected population. This grant was followed in February 1998 by a further grant of £50,000 for war-affected children and mothers. A third grant of £50,000 was made in March 1998 to Caritas Makeni in the northern Sierra Leone, again to provide immediate relief to war-affected civilians.

  Assistance to partner agencies at times of extreme need enhances their credibility with the local population and enables them to play a constructive role in subsequent years both in reconstruction and in the more sensitive tasks of peace-making and reconciliation. Conversely failure to stand by the population in such emergencies may undermine the credibility of an agency when it returns and resumes its work. Many UN staff in Sierra Leone felt that UN agencies should have maintained a presence in the country instead of pulling out.

  For these reasons it is regrettable that the British government imposed a blanket ban on assistance to Sierra Leone during the AFRC interlude. A more discriminating and focused policy would have increased the availability of basic supplies to the civilian population and supported those NGOs still able to work in the country.


  Very soon after the ending of Portuguese rule in East Timor in 1974, the country was occupied by Indonesia. After many years of Portuguese rule, the people of East Timor had their own cultural and religious identity—most of them are Catholics—and spoke indigenous languages or Portuguese as opposed to Bahsa Indonesia used in Indonesia. The East Timorese had hoped that decolonisation could be followed by independence. In the years of conflict during the Indonesian occupation, up to a third of East Timor's indigenous population of 650,000 have been killed. East Timor remains heavily militarised with continuing restrictions on civil liberties. The Catholic Church under the leadership of Bishop Carlos Belo, and protected to some extent by its international connections, became by default the only East Timorese institution which could speak for the East Timorese people and, with severe restrictions, discuss the future of the country from an East Timorese perspective.

  CAFOD has supported the role of the Catholic Church with grants for training, capacity-building and development work which enable it to discharge the role which has been thrust upon it. Conscious of the need for better access to information and the need for skills to communicate internationally, CAFOD has given particular attention to developing the media in East Timor. We firmly believe that it is ultimately the development of a free and informed civil society in East Timor which will lead to resolution of the political problems and development of the territory.

  CAFOD is a member of the British Coalition for East Timor which has been pressing for greater international awareness of and involvement in human rights issues in East Timor and debates around the political future of the country. CAFOD, together with the other members of the coalition has had good contacts with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Minister of State responsible for Asia, Derek Fatchett MP, has been receptive to approaches from the Coalition. Soon after President Habibie was sworn into office, Mr Fatchett travelled to Indonesia and met the new president and also visited Xanana Gusmao—the gaoled East Timorese Leader—in prison where they held a joint press conference.

  The resignation of President Suharto provides an opportunity to reopen discussions about the future of East Timor in a more receptive climate. President Habibie, however, has indicated only that he would be willing to grant East Timor "special status". This falls far short of self-determination which the East Timorese people have argued for and would not change the situation of illegal occupation by Indonesia. CAFOD hopes that HMG, together with our European partners, will continue to seek opportunities to press the issues of self-determination and human rights with the Indonesian government. The introduction of a rigorous Code of Conduct on Arms Sales, one of the early priorities of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the British Presidency of the EU, should reinforce the positions advanced in international fora and through direct contact with the Indonesian government.

  CAFOD was disappointed that HMG, occupying the European presidency, did not seek approval for its draft resolution at 54th Session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights held in Geneva in April 1998. The text of the draft resolution did not differ widely from last year's which called for:

    (i)  full respect for the human rights and fundamental freedoms of the people of East Timor;

    (ii)  to ensure the early release of political prisoners and clarify further the circumstances surrounding the violent incident in Dili in November 1991;

    (iii)  that all trails in East Timor are conducted in accordance with international standards;

    (iv)  to invite the Special Rapporteur on Torture to visit East Timor; and

    (v)  to provide access to East Timor for human rights organisations.

  This year, however, at the eleventh hour Indonesia agreed on a Chairman's Statement which reiterated the need for further clarification of the circumstances surrounding the Dili incident of 1991. The Statement also notes that the Government of Indonesia will invite the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention to visit East Timor in advance of the 55th session of the Commission. We hope that this visit will actually take place unlike the visit of the Special Rapporteur on Torture set out in last year's Resolution. The British Government, having played a key role in negotiating this Chair's Statement now has the moral obligation to ensure that it is implemented.

  The forthcoming "EU Troika" visit of ambassadors to East Timor—a British initiative—is now imminent. The ambassadors should be aware as they seek to speak to East Timorese people that those who speak out openly could face serious reprisals and that this will limit the range of opinions that will be voiced to them. Their visit will also be accompanied by an element of stage management by the Indonesian authorities. We are heartened, however, by agreement on the part of President Habibie, during his recent meeting with Bishop Belo, to confidence building measures in East Timor including the significant withdrawal of Indonesian military. The Troika should seek ways of ensuring that military withdrawal from the territory can be verified by international observers.

  The meeting between Bishop Belo and President Habibie took place on 24 June. On the previous day the two Catholic Bishops of East Timor, Mgr Basilio do Nascimento—Apostolic Administrator of Bacau, and Mgr Carlos Belo—Apostolic Administrator of Dili, issued a statement (Appendix 2, attached to this memorandum) calling on the Indonesian government to:

    —  guarantee the right and the freedom of movement and of settlement for East Timorese people within the territory of East Timor. This means the abolition of resettlement areas built along national highways as a counter-insurgency measure;

    —  to acknowledge and guarantee of the right of expression;

    —  to reduce the presence of military operational and territorial forces currently deployed in East Timor. The Bishops mention specific counter-insurgency units by name. The reduction of troop levels, the Bishops say, means changing the status of East Timor from a military operational to a "normal" area. President Habibie's offer a withdrawal of Indonesian troops appears at least partially to meet this demand;

    —  to give freedom of access to East Timor to all international organisations, including Amnesty International and the UN Commission on Human Rights;

    —  to permit exiles from East Timor to return freely, either to settle permanently or simply to visit;

    —  to permit (i.e., to remove the ban on) the teaching of the East Timorese language (Tetum) in schools and Portuguese to be taught in senior high schools and in universities.

  CAFOD urges HMG to reinforce the Catholic bishops' "suggestions" in direct contacts with the Indonesian authorities and multilaterally through international bodies. It is significant and positive that for the first time for many years a space for genuine dialogue has been opened up between the Indonesian government and civil society in East Timor. Such openings, however, are fragile and need support and reinforcement from the international community if they are to lead to lasting understanding and agreement.

June 1998

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Prepared 21 December 1998