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Massachusetts Leads the Way on Action for East Timor

Since the invasion of East Timor by Indonesia in 1975, more than 200,000 East Timorese people (almost a third of the population) have died from starvation, war, and mistreatment by Indonesian officials. In addition, an estimated 20,000 Indonesian soldiers have died in the conflict over the occupation of East Timor. With arrests, torture and "disappearances" of East Timorese dissidents occurring rampantly, Indonesia's record of human rights abuses in East Timor is one of the worst in the world.

In response to these atrocities, Massachusetts State Representative Antonio Cabral, D-New Bedford, and State Senator Marc Pacheco, D-Taunton, have proposed House Bill 4575, which would prohibit some state contracts with companies conducting business in Indonesia. As a result, House Bill 4575 would call for a divestment of public funds from the country.

This bill, similar to a law passed two years ago (Chapter 130 of the Acts of 1996) regulating state contracts with companies doing business in Burma, would help the effort towards divestment of Massachusetts funds from countries known to abuse human rights. The law on Burma is currently being challenged by the European Union and, if passed, H 4575 would probably face similar criticism. If successful, however, it could set a national precedent by ending de facto state support of human rights violations by President Habibie's government and signal a step forward in U.S. support for the struggle toward a referendum vote on East Timor's independence.

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