the United Nations seriously considering the final evacuation of the last
members of its international staff from the capital city of Dili any day now,
East Timor is threatened with being plunged into a black hole from which
virtually no news could any longer escape. But no news is better than bad news,
the Indonesian Government must have figured. The outside world would be left to
imagine the scale of the destruction its civil society and its people were to
that the outside world doesn’t have anything to go on. For those of us old
enough to remember-or for those of us who bothered to remember-we knew that this
wasn’t the first time that news out of East Timor had been
"disappeared." Back in the late 1970s, a similar feat had been
accomplished. In the four years following Indonesian’s December 1975 invasion of
the tiny half-island territory at the far-eastern end of its 3,000
kilometer-long archipelago, two curiously intertwined events happened. One: The
Indonesian military’s brutal occupation caused the deaths of some 200,000 East
Timorese, perhaps as many as one-third of its pre-invasion population. Two:
Hardly anyone heard their screams.
Indonesia did to the East Timorese in the late 1970s rightly should be called an
act of GENOCIDE-Genocide I, in fact. The question that everyone ought to be
asking is, Is Indonesia about to repeat its gruesome achievement today?
ten days after the successful holding of an U.N.-sponsored referendum that saw
its people vote four-to-one in favor of gaining their independence form
Indonesia, the Indonesian military’s campaign of terror and forced-relocation
had driven as many as 250,000 East Timorese from their houses, and left untold
numbers dead. Speaking in Dili shortly before the escalating violence forced him
to flee to the Australian city of Darwin, U.N. Assistance Mission in East Timor
spokesman David Wimhurst summed up the U.N.’s predicament quite well–the same
predicament that had faced the entire "popular consultation" from its
start in May. "We’ve been defenseless since the beginning," he said.
"We came in unarmed. Unless [there is a change in policy] this situation
will continue to remain extremely negative."
the terms of the agreement signed by Indonesia and Portugal in New York City on
May 5, responsibility for the "general maintenance of law and order"
in East Timor until such time as Indonesia officially disengaged from the
territory was to rest "with the appropriate Indonesian security
authorities." But by May 5, this term already was transparently absurd.
Since at least January, Indonesia’s security forces had been organizing and
providing technical support for upwards of 24 armed "militia" groups
that had committed some of the worst atrocities that East Timor had seen since
the Indonesian military massacred 250 mourners at the Santa Cruz cemetery in
1991. Permitting Indonesia to guarantee the security of East Timor made about as
much sense as permitting Saddam Hussein to guarantee the security of his Kurdish
opposition in the weeks following the Gulf War. That the U.N. would have signed
onto such a flawed arrangement was likely a case of its accepting what looked
like the best of a basketful of bad deals. Nevertheless, I doubt whether anyone,
today, outside Jakarta, would want to argue that the May 5 agreement has worked
that at NO stage in his several reports to the Security Council had the
Secretary General ever concluded that the "necessary security conditions
exist" for the "holding of a free and fair popular consultation"
on the question of East Timor–HIS main responsibility under the May 5
agreement. In fact, by August 9, Kofi Annan had dropped all references to East
Timor’s non-existent security from his report to the Council. Despite repeated
warnings from international human rights groups that East Timor’s political
climate was rife with violence and terror, and could dramatically worsen in the
days after the referendum, the U.N. decided to proceed with its mission, come
hell or mass slaughter. That the U.N. could expose the East Timorese to the
terror they are now facing, without taking concrete measures to protect them
from the violence that many had predicted was to come next, was nothing short of
has the so-called "international community"–the same one that had
gotten so worked up last spring over "ethnic cleansing" in
Kosovo–done anything to dissuade the Indonesian military from its recourse to
terror. At least noting SERIOUS. Empty words and cynical gestures are another
the leader of the pack, and as a longtime supporter of its ruling
military-political regime, Washington, more than any other world power today,
was uniquely positioned in the months leading up to the August referendum to
take one of two constructive approaches to ending the terror in East Timor. By
far the simplest course, and the one that U.S. citizens still should demand, it
has always been within Washington’s power to use its enormous influence over
Jakarta and its military to persuade the Indonesians to call off their attack
dogs, once and for all. A bit more cumbersome, yet another real option,
Washington could have empowered the United Nations to take more effective
measures to curb the violence-the introduction of armed U.N. peacekeepers to
guarantee East Timor’s security above all else.
fact, Washington did neither. In stark contrast to its hyper-aggressive response
to the Kosovo bloodbath, Washington washed it hands of the matter. Indeed, as
the carnage mounted in the days after the referendum, Washington let Jakarta
know how it really felt about the question of East Timor and Indonesia’s latest
rape of the territory (September 8):
The problem seems to be getting worse, not better, in Indonesia….Is the United
States at least making contingency plans to possibly put peacekeepers in there?
And if not, why not?
SECRETARY WILLIAM COHEN: The United States is not planning on any insertion of
peacekeeping forces. What we are doing is we are coordinating and talking to
Australians and others who would be interested in a peacekeeping force should
the Indonesian government invite such a force in and should the United Nations
approve it. But we are not planning on any peacekeepers going into
THE INDONESIANS INVITE SUCH A FORCE? AND SHOULD THE UNITED NATIONS APPROVE IT?
These phrases are but the latest in that form of international torture known as
"diplomatic realism." What they really mean is: "Go right ahead.
We won’t tell anybody. Besides, remember last time? We’re not going to lift a
finger to stop you from wiping out East Timor."
ago, it seems, official Washington weighed Indonesia against East Timor: On the
one side of the scale, the fourth-most populated country in the world, rich in
natural resources and investment opportunities, and a bastion of what diplomats
like to call "regional stability," and on the other, a tiny speck of
land way off somewhere in Southeast Asia, with a few hundred thousand
inhabitants and not a bourse or a company worth privatizing to speak of. And you
know what? Washington found East Timor lacking. Sorry, guys. Better luck next
understanding what Washington is really telling it, of course Jakarta knows it
need not fear any kind of punitive action–neither from Washington nor the
"international community." Not economic and military sanctions. Not a
cut-off of the I.M.F.’s largesse. Certainly not something called Operation Bomb
Jakarta. Or the creation of yet another armed multinational force.
this moment in history, it is clear that the fate of East Timor has been taken
out of the hands of the East Timorese to decide. Once again they are fleeing for
their lives. And only the lucky will survive. Or the most desperate.
is to say that if WE ourselves take no action, and leave the fate of East Timor
up to Jakarta and to the so-called "international community" to
decide, then no one will have to worry about the composition of the
"peacekeeping" force, about the niceties of the U.N. Charter, about
difficult questions concerning sovereignty versus human rights, or about whom is
going to foot the bill. Because by that time, the peacekeepers will be a burial
squad. And the responsibility for the destruction of East Timor will be ours as
much as anyone else’s.