Dr Charles Tannock

Member of the European Parliament for London

East Timor

Delivered in Plenary 15th September 1999

Maiden Speech

Mr. President

As a little boy growing up in Portugal, I collected Portuguese stamps and particularly remember the colourful and attractive ones from East Timor.  The província esquecida, or forgotten province of Portugal, as it was then known, conjured up a picture of a beautiful, remote Pacific island, an exotic mix of East and West producing a unique Catholic cultural heritage. Sadly I have never been there but I feel passionately for the Timorese people suffering since Indonesia’s annexation in 1975 with almost one third being killed – an even greater proportion of deaths than in the former Yugoslavia.

The UN recognises the right of the Timorese people to self-determination and Portugal’s sovereignty in its territory.  In the West we did not seek a UN resolution to bomb the former Yugoslavia over Kosovo which still  remains part of Yugoslavia, and yet we have felt willing, for whatever reason, to avoid any military intervention on behalf of the Timorese in the past.

I have always believe that foreign military intervention should only take place in the national interests of the nation-states concerned, yet the serious deterioration and spiralling violence in the region demand action and meet the test of the new ethical foreign policy of which Portugal is a full Member State.  As a Briton, I am happy to support Portugal in its attempts to secure a just outcome, not only because Portugal is Britain’s oldest ally,  but also because Portugal should be given the opportunity to grant independence to all its colonies, including its last colony, other than Macao, namely East Timor.  We in Britain had that opportunity.  We granted self-determination to all our colonies where it was legally possible to do so.

Human rights, if they are to be considered a casus belli as over Kosovo, must be universally and consistently applied. Therefore, I fully support and welcome the UN Security Council resolution for the establishment of an international peacemaking force involving willing and principally neighbouring countries such as Australia and New Zealand.  This will enable the 78% of East Timorese who voted on 30 August to establish their own independent sovereign state and to look forward to a peaceful and prosperous future within their own homeland. Lastly, but not least, I salute the courage of the East Timorese people.