Training and work program

Suharto’s eldest daughter, Siti Hardiyanti Indra Rukmana (Mbak Tutut), set up a program in the early 1990s to send unemployed young East Timorese, some only 15 years of age, for training and work experience in Indonesia. Her Tiara Foundation worked together with the Department of Labour (Depnaker, Departemen Tenaga Kerja) sending many hundreds to Indonesia until the program ceased in 1996. In 1995 there were 500 participants.


The program aimed to solve the crisis in unemployment among young people in East Timor who had been educated by Indonesia. Many enthusiastically registered. However, the military took a direct role in recruitment, especially after the massacre at the Santa Cruz cemetery in November 1991 in which an estimated 270 young people died (CAVR 2006:3.18 No. 483). Unemployment among youth was considered the reason many participated in anti-integration demonstrations and clandestine activities. Soldiers targeted youths they suspected of such involvement telling them to register; these young people usually did not dare to refuse to follow the soldiers’ suggestions.

Broken promises

The foundation broke its promises to the young people about the training and work they would receive. Many ended up working in menial jobs in factories. In some cases factory bosses were asked by military officers to give the unskilled youths jobs. Tiara Foundation did support some of the youths to do short courses, but not with fares back home as one of the main aims of the program was to remove them from East Timor. Only those who had the resources to do so returned home. In 1999 many registered with the UNHCR to be repatriated to East Timor, although some stayed on in Indonesia to work in their factory jobs.

Like all the transfers, the organisers may have had good intentions. But the manner in which they removed the young people, especially the involvement of the military in selecting and training, meant that the program only increased the suspicion and distance between East Timorese and Indonesians. The over-riding concern was not the welfare and advancement of the participants but the political goals of the regime to ensure the success of integration.

Read João’s story

See also:
Deception and harassment of East Timorese workers,’ Jones, Sidney, Human Rights Watch, 4 (16) 1991.

‘Indonesia: Charges and rebuttals over lavor rights practices,V. Forced labour, East Timorese Workers,’ Asia Watch, Vol. 5, No. 2, January 23, 1993.