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10 February 2009

Right the injustices in East Timor

Illawarra Mercury Between the Lines Right the injustices in Timor - Australian and United States policies towards Indonesia have long been quite close, both countries supporting the Suharto dictatorship, including its illegal seizure of East Timor.

Both helped protect the Suharto regime against allegations of war crimes.

However, many Americans, including congressmen, mostly Democrats, have long condemned this support.

Barack Obama comes to the presidency with unusual links with Indonesia.

He spent his early childhood on the outskirts of Jakarta, between 1967 and 1971, when his mother moved there following the breakdown of her first marriage.

Obama romped in the streets of Jakarta with other Indonesian children until moving to Hawaii to live with his grandmother.

Though a critic of the Suharto dictatorship, he clearly has a soft spot for Indonesia and supports President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and the shift to democracy.

Obama's victory excited Indonesians and he now has an active fan club in Jakarta. Clearly, Indonesia is a special country to him, and Jakarta is among the capitals to be visited by Hillary Clinton on her first Asian tour in a few days' time.

Clinton will be welcomed, but there are some dark clouds ahead.

Many US congressmen and leading human rights organisations want something done about the military link.

For one, they would like some action in relation to those generals responsible for crimes against humanity in East Timor and West Papua, including those indicted by the UN mission in East Timor.

How can American rejoice at the execution of Saddam Hussein and his cronies while the officers responsible for hundred of summary killings are enjoying an utterly unjustified immunity?

The Indonesian generals continue to enjoy an immunity that has been tacitly endorsed by our governments, which decided that too much pressure on Indonesia would destabilise the fledgling democracy.

However, this is the wrong way to look at this problem if we want to see a functioning democracy emerge from the ashes of the Suharto dictatorship.

Ignoring these past crimes is tantamount to condoning the brutal culture that developed under Suharto.

Of course, as officials point out, East Timorese leaders now want to put the past behind them. True, but they have abandoned demands for an international tribunal only because they knew the Howard and Bush governments would not support the calls.

As my readers will know, this is something that burns within me, because I am one of those who investigated hundreds of cases of torture and mass killing of innocent people.

In a way, our governments were accomplices, for they discouraged international human rights investigations.

They also supported the lies from the likes of Ali Alatas (later given an Order of Australia) when the Timor situation came up for debate in the UN.

Our lapse was not confined to Timor. We also failed to express any concern when, after 1965, more than half a million communists were killed and tens of thousands of others incarcerated in prison camps because of their politics, not their intentions.

James Dunn is an author with four decades of experience as a foreign affairs official and with UN agencies.
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1999 East Timor Crimes Against Humanity

Sign the petition to the United Nations to prosecute 1999 crimes against humanity in East Timor.

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