30 May 2009

Conflict in East Timor: Genocide or Expansionist Occupation?

Conflict in East Timor: Genocide or Expansionist Occupation?

In the annals of crime of this terrible century, Indonesia's assault against East Timor ranks high, not only because of its scale--perhaps the greatest death toll relative to the population since the Holocaust--but because it would have been so easy to prevent.... [1]

...towards the (Second World) War's end, the Royal Australian Air Force dropped hundreds of thousands of leaflets over Portuguese East Timor in recognition of East Timor's sacrifice for Australia's war effort. This leaflet began with the declaration: "Friends, we will not forget you!" [2]

The struggle for political control in East Timor has reached a decisive turning point. For twenty-four years, the half-island territory has been governed by Indonesia, in spite of international condemnation of that country's rule and persistent diplomatic and military action by groups seeking East Timor's independence. The political upheavals triggered by the economic recession in Indonesia in 1998, which precipitated the fall of the Soeharto regime, led to a radical revision of that country's position on East Timor: for the first time in over two decades, the Indonesian government, led by the caretaker president, B.J. Habibie, acknowledged the possibility of independence for East Timor. A referendum in East Timor is planned for August 1999, but doubts persist about the viability of the plebiscite given ongoing conflict on the island and the difficulties faced by United Nations peacekeepers in ensuring a peaceful interlude prior to the poll. [3] Throughout 1999, Indonesian-backed militias have waged a campai gn of terror in East Timor, leading to deaths, the flight of independence leaders, and the displacement of thousands of persons, some of whom are cut off from essential supplies of food and medicines. [4]

Allegations of Genocide

The international focus on East Timor has once again brought to the foreground longstanding allegations of genocide during the period of Indonesian administration. [5] Most texts on East Timor give prominence to charges of genocide, often including the term in the title of the monograph or report. These claims have not yet been tested in an international court, but the potential for such legal action will become greater if East Timor becomes independent. A charge of genocide would have far-reaching implications not only for Indonesian military and political leaders, but also for the international community, since allegations of complicity by the major powers, particularly Australia, have been made repeatedly. [6]

A comprehensive gathering of evidence supporting a charge of genocide in East Timor, remains a task that can only be undertaken systematically once ongoing conflict on the island is resolved. For the present, available evidence is based on eyewitness accounts, [7] the efforts of investigative journalists [8] and academics, [9] testimony by the leadership of the East Timorese independence movement, [10] and accounts provided by communiques and ex-government officials. [11] The present article will not attempt to assess such evidence in a legalistic manner, but instead will aim only to explore some of the theoretical foundations for a claim of genocide in East Timor and the allegation that western powers such as Australia might have been complicit in such crimes against humanity.

Historical Background

Jardine has provided a succinct summary of the historical events leading up to the present crisis in East Timor. [12] Only a brief review of key historical data will be provided hereunder. East Timor came under Dutch influence in the early sixteenth century, but the official division of the island was only concluded finally in 1913, when East Timor was recognized fully as a Portuguese colony and West Timor was assigned to Dutch colonial rule. The latter territory was incorporated into the Republic of Indonesia in 1950. The colonial history of East Timor was characterized by neglect and stagnation, with the majority of East Timorese continuing to live traditional village lives.

During World War II, the island was occupied by the Japanese after a bitter jungle war against a much smaller Allied commando force including an Australian contingent. Scores of East Timorese suffered starvation, torture, rape, forced labor, and other forms of gross human rights violations at the hands of the Japanese as retribution for the widespread support the East Timorese gave to the Allied forces. Following World War II, the island reverted to Portuguese colonial rule. The prospect of independence came after 1974, when the revolution in Portugal opened the way to the decolonization of its overseas empire. A split in the coalition of the two major parties that emerged in East Timor, widely regarded as the result of Indonesian subversion, led to civil war, with Fretilin (East Timorese Front for Independence) rapidly gaining ascendancy over UDT (The Timorese Democratic Union), both militarily and politically. Observers of the time noted that by the end of the civil war, Fretilin had established an effective and just administration over East Timor and that the party had widespread support. Although Portugal was invited to maintain its authority during the period leading to full independence, the colonial power vacillated, and Fretilin then declared independence.

Using the pretext of the civil war--which in fact had already come to an end--Indonesia invaded the territory in December 1975. The well-trained Fretilin army mounted a stiff resistance, and a bloody struggle continued for several years, even though the invaders officially annexed the territory as a province of Indonesia. During the long period of diplomatic deadlock that followed, Falantil (The East Timorese National Liberation Army) continued to wage a guerrilla war against ABRI (Armed Forces of the Republic of Indonesia).

The conflict intensified in 1999 after the interim Indonesian government announced its willingness to hold a referendum on the territory's future. In the months thereafter, daily reports attested to ongoing violence, disappearances, extrajudicial killings, and other atrocities occurring throughout the territory. [13] Large numbers of internal refugees were cut off from food, water, and medical supplies. [14] United Nations observers supported the claim that the Indonesian military continued to arm and train local militia groups intent on destroying the influence of the independence movement prior to the poll. Thus, serious doubts remained as to whether a fair and free referendum could be held in East Timor at all.

The history of the last twenty-four years of Indonesian rule in East Timor raises many questions. Most important is how the invasion and subsequent violent struggle in the territory should be construed: as a geopolitically expedient stratagem to prevent instability in the region, as a form of imperial expansionism by a newly formed power, or as a genocide against the East Timorese people. (As will be argued, these possible constructions of the recent history of East Timor are not mutually exclusive.) A further question is whether the world powers, including Australia, should stand accused of passivity and neglect, or of more serious charges of active complicity in genocide or other crimes against humanity. [15]

Definitions and Concepts of Genocide

Lemkin [16] coined the term "genocide" at a pivotal moment in the twentieth century when the systematic Nazi program for the annihilation of European Jewry first became widely known. Lemkin introduced the term to designate a coordinated set of actions that aimed to destroy the essential foundations of the life of national groups, with the ultimate objective of annihilating the groups themselves. That objective could be achieved by the destruction of social and political institutions, of culture, language, national feelings, or religion, and of the economic infrastructure of a group. Lemkin also included wider actions that threatened the security, liberty, health, and dignity of individuals belonging to that group. It is clear that Lemkin's definition arose directly from, and was informed largely by, the Nazi Holocaust. Intent was a critical provision of his formulation, and that cornerstone was consistent with the recognition that the Nazi regime had developed a fully coordinated, systematic plan, supported by extensively documented ideology, a vast bureaucracy, and modern technology, to exterminate European Jewry, and that this mission was central to the raison d'etre of the Nazi regime. [17]

The notion of intent was retained as a central criterion in the "Definition of Genocide," included in the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. [18] The Convention's criteria have been criticized, however, by several authorities in the field, with Chalk and Jonassohn claiming that the provisions would not apply accurately to any of the genocides that have occurred since World War II. [19] Criticisms have been directed at the difficulties raised by the need to demonstrate the intent of the perpetrator(s), as well as at the Convention's definition of what constitutes a victim group. Some authorities have favored the inclusion of a cultural form of genocide in which the identity of a group may be destroyed by actions that do not necessarily lead to the physical destruction of the population per se. [20] In addition, as presently defined, the Convention may not cover acts of "autogenocide" such as occurred in Cambodia, or acts of mass murder motivated by political i ntentions alone. Chalk and Jonassohn have attempted to address the problem of group definition by offering a revised formulation of genocide as being "a form of one-sided mass killing in which a state or other authority intends to destroy a group, as that group and membership in it are defined by the perpetrator." [21]

Although the issue of intent presents definitional difficulties, many authorities have considered it vital in distinguishing between genocidal acts and other categories of mass human rights violations. [22] According to the Convention, whether killing or causing serious bodily or mental harm represents the outcome of warfare, human rights violations, or genocidal acts depends largely on whether there was an "intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group..." (Article II). Chalk and Jonassohn [23] have expressed caution about including forms of genocide in which intent may not be clear. For example, in the course of a war, bombing and famine might threaten the survival of a group even though the intent might have been to quell an uprising or to further other military objectives. Others have defined genocide without making explicit reference to intent. Horowitz expanded the scope of the term to include any "structural and systematic destruction of innocent people by a s tate bureaucratic appartus." [24] Charny, in particular, has raised serious objections to a narrow definition of genocide. His "humanistic" definition of genocide included within the term any wanton murder of persons based on any shared characteristic, whether national, ethnic, racial, religious, political, geographical, or ideological. [25] Such a broad definition would not, it seems, require a definite demonstration of intent as a sine qua non to sustain a charge of genocide. In addition, Charny quotes a UN study submitted to the Special Rapporteur on Genocide in 1985. [26] which gave emphasis to the proportionate scale and total number of victims killed in considering a charge of genocide. Thus, there does not appear to be a dear consensus on the defining elements of genocide or where the boundaries of the term should be drawn. Which definition is adopted may be critical to the question of whether the Indonesian rule of East Timor might be regarded as genocidal or not.

A further issue of importance in analyzing the East Timor conflict is the extent to which the Indonesian invasion can be seen as an act of imperialism by an emerging regional power whose status as a nation had only recently been ratified. The new Republic of Indonesia was based on a vast grouping of loosely connected islands and territories with widely differing ethnic, linguistic, and religious backgrounds. The only defining basis for inclusion of territories within Indonesia was that all the islands had fallen under Dutch colonial rule. Apart from East Timor, the fragility of the union has been exacerbated by ongoing opposition to centralist Indonesian rule in territories such as Aceh and Irian Jaya (West Papua), struggles that continue to this day. Thus, the history of the East Timorese invasion might be construed as following a model of imperial expansionism pursued by a newly created and emerging power whose leaders were following the style of harsh colonial repression to which they themselves had been subjected. Kuper has acknowledged the close, if complex relationship between the two historical forces of genocide and colonialism. [27] He pointed out that genocidal massacres against indigenous groups were widely practiced during the period of colonialism. Characteristically, colonialism has been accompanied by a phase of brutal conquest in which genocidal massacres occurred, and a more prolonged period of destruction of the cultural, social, and economic infrastructure of the colonized society. The period of "pacification" often involved economic and political disenfranchisement of the indigenous group, dispossession of land, and the development of an underclass of native citizens who were characterized by the new rulers as inferior and hence open to discrimination and exploitation. Such conditions encouraged ongoing genocidal policies and actions, and spawned resistance groups, liberationist philosophies, and various forms of insurgency warfare. Kuper's characterization is mirrored in Fein,s [28] typology which identifies a category of "developmental" genocide reserved for acts committed in the course of colonialism. Unlike ideological genocides, such as those perpetrated against the Jews by the Nazis or against the Armenians by the Turks, there often are inherent constraints on the genocidal tendencies associated with colonialism. The colonizing power is frequently dependent on the colonized for labor and for the development of the territory as a functional economic entity. Such "functional" restraints on genocide, however, vary according to the context; for example, colonialists may regard indigenous hunter-gatherer societies as offering little value, or as posing an obstacle, to the economic or administrative development of a newly acquired territory. In such cases a more destructive form of genocide may be pursued, such as was perpetrated against the San of Southern Africa. An important question that arises, therefore, is whether the primary motive behind the Indonesian invasion was one of expansionism of an imperial kind, with genocidal methods used as part of the strategy or whether parallels can be drawn with an ideological form of genocide as typified by the Nazi Holocaust.

The UN Convention and the Recent History of East Timor

Although controversy continues about the definition and scope of the term genocide, the UN Convention remains in force, and it therefore continues to represent the critical test of any charge of genocide. Thus, it would seem appropriate to use the articles of the Convention as a framework to examine the extent of the human rights violations that have taken place in East Timor. Under Article II of the UN Convention (1948), five categories of actions are defined, with any one being sufficient to constitute an act of genocide if it is accompanied by "the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group." What prima facie evidence is there that actions were taken in East Timor that may match these criteria?

Article II (a) specifies the killing of members of the target group. That there has been mass killing in East Timor is beyond question, although there is no precise documentation of the numbers killed. It is widely acknowledged that during the first few months of the initial Indonesian invasion, 60,000 East Timorese lost their lives. [29] Eyewitness accounts of the killing in Dili alone can leave no doubt that the mass slaughter was widespread, indiscriminate, and not limited to military targets. Amongst several verbatim eyewitness reports, Jardine quotes the Catholic Bishop of Dili as follows: "The soldiers who landed started killing everyone they could find. There were many dead bodies in the streets--all we could see were the soldiers killing, killing, killing." [30]

Systematic murder on the wharf, and the dumping of bodies en masse in the sea, were reported by several survivors. Young girls were actively sought out and raped, and torture and other abuses were rampant. Large numbers of civilians attempted to flee from Dill into the mountains, but many were killed by aerial bombings. [31]

Atrocities continued unabated following the initial invasion. It is estimated that approximately 200,000 East Timorese have lost their lives during the twenty-four years of Indonesian occupation. [32] If this estimate is close to the truth, then it means that between a third and a quarter of the East Timorese population have died (the population at the time of the invasion was estimated to be approximately 690,000 people). There can be little doubt that most of those killed were unarmed civilians. Although the tenacity of the East Timorese resistance undoubtedly surprised the Indonesian military, direct action between the opposing forces cannot account for anything but a fraction of the numbers killed. At the height of its strength during the initial war, Fretilin forces consisted of 2,500 regular soldiers, 7,000 part-time militia, and 10,000 reservists. [33] Many were killed, but a substantial number survived. Some continued the guerilla war, others returned to civilian life, and a number fled into exile. T he numbers of Indonesian soldiers who died during the intense period of the war was 2,000 of a total armed force of between 15,000 to 30,000. [34] Thus military casualties can only account for the minority of the estimated numbers who have died. Most East Timorese live in villages. The guerilla war has been waged from remote strongholds and jungle hide-outs. Thus, in most instances, it should not have been difficult for the Indonesian military to discriminate between armed combatants and civilian villagers, even if the latter were sympathetic to the cause of independence.

Article 111(c) of the Convention specifies the "deliberate inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part." Substantial evidence has accrued that large numbers of East Timorese have died from disease and starvation in the wake of the conflict, [35] but there is no evidence that the Indonesians attempted to prevent this eventuality, nor did they call on international agencies such as the UN to assist in preventing these disasters. Allowing rampant disease and famine to overwhelm a population is considered in itself by some authorities as warranting a charge of genocide. [36] Strategies adopted by the Indonesian military (ABRI) to quell resistance in the years after the invasion continued to put the whole population of East Timor at risk. By 1977, ABRI had still not overcome the small number of Falantil guerrillas that remained. The Indonesian military thus mounted a campaign of "encirclement and annihilation" [37] with the aim of driving the c ivilian population to the coastal areas in order to isolate the resistance fighters in the mountainous hinterland. Intensive bombing and the use of chemicals resulted in the defoliation of forests and farmlands and the death of livestock. Military aircraft, recently acquired from Britain and other western nations, were employed in widespread and indiscriminate bombing. Large numbers of militants and civilians were killed, displaced, or incarcerated, and many were relocated to "guarded camps" or banished to the offshore island of Atauro. As early as 1979, there were 15 guarded camps housing over 300,000 displaced people. Life in the camps was characterized by starvation, disease, and forced labor. Later, the inmates of these camps were moved into "resettlement villages," thus disrupting existing social structures.

Falantil, the military wing of the resistance movement, gradually regrouped and re-organized. Its growing military successes led to the Indonesian military mounting a campaign referred to as a" fence of legs," in which a human shield of approximately 80,000 East Timorese civilians were forced to walk in line across the countryside in advance of Indonesian troops. Many unarmed civilians forming the human shield died of starvation and exhaustion. Mass slaughter of women and children by indiscriminate bombing occurred. Agriculture was disrupted across the territory, leading to food shortages. Similar operations occurred throughout the 1980s, but the military stalemate was never broken.

In the 1990s, the brutality of the repression became more visible in the international arena. The starkest example was the massacre in the Santa Cruz cemetery in Dili, November 12, 1991, when, without provocation, unarmed mourners were attacked and over 250 were killed. According to Max Stahl, a British journalist who captured the killings on videotape, the atrocity had all the hallmarks of a premeditated massacre. [38] It is alleged that in the immediate aftermath of the killings, the military embarked on the systematic killing of the wounded in a nearby hospital. Eyewitnesses reported that the Indonesian military crushed the skulls of the injured with rocks, ran over them with trucks, and stabbed them to death. Although Indonesia took some diplomatic action to stem the international wave of condemnation, two senior generals in the military declared that the massacre was necessary and that no regret was warranted. The attitude underlying such statements suggests that the Indonesian military had, for a long time, abandoned all restraint in repressing dissent in East Timor.

Evidence has accrued of the deliberate destruction of the cultural, social and ecological foundations of East Timorese life. Jardine [39] has documented the many strategies pursued to effect a policy of "Indonesianization" of East Timor society. The process of relocating large populations of displaced persons to resettlement villages has disrupted traditional hierarchies and clan relationships. Within the new villages, a regime of fear and intimidation has been maintained by the military, the police, and collaborators. Indonesian control of the economy has led to the exclusion of many indigenous East Timorese from their land and has limited their capacity to participate in commercial enterprises. The Indonesian policy of "transmigration" has encouraged ethnic Indonesians from more densely populated islands to settle in East Timor, Irian Jaya, and other outlying territories.

By 1992, an estimated 100,000 Indonesians, some "transmigrants," others independent migrants, were living in East Timor, out of a total population of 750,000. (Since the recent upheavals commenced in 1999, many Indonesians have fled the island.) The slaughter and flight of the ethnic Chinese minority during the Indonesian invasion left a vacuum in business leadership which was gradually filled by Indonesians and their sympathizers. The conversion of land titles from the Portuguese to the Indonesian system in the early 1990s has hastened the process of re-allocation of collectively used traditional land--considered by the authorities as not belonging to anyone--to Indonesians and pro-Indonesian officials. A large monopoly, P.T. Denok, in which high-ranking military and other Indonesian officials hold interests, controls the coffee industry and other subsidiary enterprises to the extent that it virtually runs the East Timorese economy. Local industry has been undermined by an increasing reliance on Indonesian imports for basic commodities. Thus, there appears to be good evidence for the claim that the East Timorese have been marginalized socially and economically within their own homeland.

Control of the educational system has been another manifestation of "Indonesianization." Bahasa Indonesia is the official language of schooling in East Timor, syllabi are biased in favor of the Indonesian perspective, and all students are obliged to memorize and recite Pancasila, the official credo of Indonesian society. Military and physical education and membership in Pramuka, the state-controlled scout organization, are all encouraged, thereby creating a culture of conformity and obedience among the young. [40]

When interviewed in his mountain stronghold in 1990, Xanana Gusmao, the Falantil leader who was subsequently captured and imprisoned in Jakarta, had this to say about the impact of Indonesianization on East Timorese life:

...there have been a lot of changes, a lot of difficulties for the people to continue their customs and traditions...Our people are essentially rooted in their culture and traditions. They have their own concepts of life, of existence, and live to realize them. They are impregnated spiritually and existentially with the concept...But the Maubere (East Timorese) people...feel that they are prevented from realizing, from living, from practicing their traditions, their customs, and this is what essentially offends our people....[41]

Article II (a) of the Genocide Convention specifies the intentional infliction of serious bodily or mental harm on members of the group. Over several years, organizations such as Amnesty International have gathered increasing evidence of extensive human rights abuses in East Timor, [42] although isolation of the territory from the outside world, and the strict control of the military over access to information on the island, has made it difficult to verify such accounts. Nevertheless, the consistency of the claims, and convergence in the accounts of numerous witnesses and victims, [43] has provided convincing evidence that human rights abuses have been extensive. As a psychiatrist in a mental health program providing assistance to East Timorese asylum seekers in Sydney, Australia, I have listened to extensive accounts of extreme human rights abuses in East Timor from clients. The detailed nature of the accounts, the consistency of the assertions made, and the absence of any motive in so doing other than to u nburden feelings of distress has lent them a sense of credibility. Thirty of these clients have completed structured inventories documenting the various forms of human rights abuses perpetrated on themselves, their families, and others. Repetitive records have been provided of night-time invasion of homes, public beatings, brutal apprehension of "suspects," kidnapping, "disappearances" and extrajudicial killings, and detentions. Families list large numbers of relatives or other close associates who have been injured or killed, or who are "missing." Torture has been widespread, with some asylum seekers exhibiting physical stigmata and disabilities arising from such abuses. Often, the same victim has been arrested and tortured repeatedly while the family is forced to flee the locality because of repeated threats and intimidation. Rape and other forms of sexual abuse of women appears to have been prevalent, with such violations often occurring in the presence of the family and other onlookers.

A significant number of East Timorese, numbering approximately 6,000 people, reside in Australia. As yet, only two studies have been undertaken that have focused on the mental reactions to human rights abuses and displacement among the East Timorese. A Melbourne study, [44] based on impressions by clinicians, suggested that a high percentage of East Timorese exiles accessing a refugee service were suffering from trauma-related symptoms of stress and depression. A systematic ongoing study undertaken by our group in Sydney, in which structured questionnaires and interview schedules have been used, has revealed high rates of depressive and post-traumatic stress symptoms in East Timorese asylum seekers. The high rate of post-traumatic stress is particularly significant, since that form of psychological disturbance is closely tied to exposure to torture and other forms of egregious human rights abuses. East Timorese have not been exposed to psychiatry of any kind, so that respondents would not be in a position to simulate symptom patterns recognized by western psychiatrists; thus, consistency in the pattern of post-traumatic stress symptoms described by East Timorese clients adds credibility to their reports. In the minds of these respondents, there is no doubt that the persecution they have suffered has been motivated by genocidal designs on the part of the Indonesian military. Many respondents also have intimated that they regard Australia as complicit in the persecution of the East Timorese, an issue that will be revisited below.

Article II (d) and (e) of the Genocide Convention specify acts that prevent births within a group and that forcibly transfer children from the group with the intent of weakening the foundations of the group's existence. Writing for the East Timor Human Rights Centre, Sisson [45] has documented accounts of forced sterilization of women and the implementation of coercive family planning programs in East Timor. Injectable, long-acting chemical forms of contraception have been promoted by a special birth control program implemented across the territory. It should be noted, however, that Indonesia has initiated a population control program, Program Keluarga Berencana, the "KB" program, at a national level, raising the question of whether its implementation in East Timor should be regarded in a special light. Sissons has argued that the KB program in East Timor is distinct both in its character and consequences, specifically because it has been implemented within a context of intimidation and widespread human figh ts abuses, and with direct support from the military.

According to Sissons, two historical phases of the violation of women's rights in East Timor can be identified. From 1975 to the mid-1980s, repeated allegations were made of rape, forced impregnation, killing and mutilation of pregnant women, and covert sterilization. Since the 1980s, reports have emphasized coercive contraception and denial of information or choice about family planning. The detailed account of the suffering of East Timorese women by Aditjondro [46] adds further weight to the assertions made by Sissons.

No claims have been made of a large-scale removal of children from East Timorese families. On the other hand, there is every reason to suspect that the rights of children have been violated on a large scale in East Timor. Malnutrition and communicable diseases are endemic in East Timor, and children are at most risk of the adverse long-term consequences of such afflictions. The spread of disease can be traced at least in part to the ravages of the warfare waged by the Indonesian military. [47] The campaign of extrajudicial killings, detention, and displacement has led to the mass breakup of families and kinship groups, and has left thousands of orphans and single-parent families in its wake. Exile groups in Australia, for example, often consist of "makeshift" family arrangements in which distant relatives or acquaintances take charge of orphaned or separated children. There is no doubt that the war in East Timor, together with widespread repression and displacement of the population, has posed an active thre at to the psychosocial and physical development of the territory's children; such violations would undoubtedly contravene international instruments such as the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child of 1989.

Responsibility of World Powers

As indicated above, repeated assertions have been made about the complicity of the world powers in the unraveling of the human disaster in East Timor. There is substantial evidence to suggest that the major powers actively condoned the Indonesian invasion.48 Gerald Ford, then U.S. president, and his Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, met with Soeharto a few days prior to the Indonesian invasion of East Timor in 1975. During the subsequent war, the western powers provided military supplies to the Indonesians, who were running short on arms. Britain and other western governments continued to supply military aircraft-British-made Broncos were instrumental in the indiscriminate bombings in which large numbers of civilians were killed in successive Indonesian military campaigns in East Timor. Indonesia's economic ties and trade with Japan, Canada, the U.S., Britain, and other European countries have strengthened throughout the period of the occupation of East Timor. Multilateral economic aid programs to Indones ia have also been in effect throughout this period. The initial condemnation of the Indonesian invasion at the UN General Assembly was not supported by the Security Council, where the major western powers vetoed the resolution. A succession of subsequent UN resolutions calling for negotiations on East Timor have failed, until recently, to lead to effective action, mainly because of the inertia of the Great Powers.

The role of Australia, the major power m the region other than Indonesia, has attracted particular criticism. [49] Accounts vary somewhat about Australia's stance in the initial invasion of East Timor, particularly with respect to the role of the Labor government of the time. Whitlam, then the Labor Party Prime Minister, who had championed the case for independence for Papua New Guinea, is reported to have commented that an independent East Timor was not "viable." Communiques from the Australian ambassador in Indonesia at the time dearly favored pragmatism in accepting an Indonesian takeover of East Timor. Indonesia's early atrocities on the western border of East Timor, including the alleged massacre of an Australian news crew, were minimized and obfuscated in the Australian parliament and media. One report suggested that Soeharto had promised Whitlam not to mount a military invasion of East Timor. Peacock, the Shadow Foreign Minister in the Conservative Opposition, allegedly met senior Indonesian officials in Bali and strongly encouraged the annexation of East Timor. Peacock gave assurances that the Whitlam government was about to fall, and that the Conservative government, once it had acceded, would support Indonesia's dominion over East Timor--a prediction that soon eventuated. Since the invasion, successive Australian governments led by both major parties have stood alone among western nations in giving full recognition to Indonesia's rule over East Timor. Throughout, the Australian government has promoted closer ties with Indonesia, forging both military and economic agreements. Most controversial has been the conclusion of a bilateral agreement with Indonesia on the exploitation of oil reserves in the Timor Gap, a stretch of sea separating Northern Australia and East Timor--in spite of Portugal mounting a challenge in the international court on the basis that it retained legal authority over East Timor. Paradoxically, successive Australian governments have rejected asylum claims by East Timorese exiles on the grounds that Portugal, the colonial power, retains responsibility for their welfare.

Classifying Events in East Timor: Problems and Paradoxes

It is beyond the scope of this article, and the expertise of the author, to attempt to reach a definitive judgment as to whether there is a case in international law for a charge of genocide in relation to East Timor--future events will determine whether such a case will be mounted. As I have noted throughout, however, allegations of genocide have been made on a regular basis and from a variety of quarters. In 1997-1998 a photographic exposition titled "Stop Operation Annihilation," that juxtaposed images from the Nazi Holocaust and the East Timor tragedy, toured several large centers around the world. [50] Whether the term genocide can be used legitimately to characterize the human disaster that has unfolded in East Timor depends both on the strength of the evidence that can be documented and on the definition of genocide that is applied. Chalk and Jonassohn have outlined the difficulties encountered in verifying claims of genocide. [51] Detailed records are rarely kept, and even if they are, there are usua lly major discrepancies between the accounts of suspected perpetrators and those of victims or their advocates. It needs to be acknowledged that the major sources of public evidence available at present on East Timor, and on which the present article has drawn, have been produced by critics of the Indonesian occupation. Having worked clinically with the East Timorese, I am avowedly in support of any initiatives to prevent further human rights abuses and trauma to that community and the comments offered herein need to be judged in that light.

Definitional issues also bedevil the question of whether the East Timorese situation can be characterized as a genocide or not. If a broad, humanistic, or popular perspective is adopted, as proposed by Charny, then events in East Timor could easily be described as genocide. A proportionately large number of persons have been killed, and many more have been subjected to a concerted military program that has repeatedly endangered the lives and undermined the fundamental structures necessary for the survival and continuation of the East Timorese as a people. The target group has been clearly identified, most of the victims have been defenseless throughout the Indonesian occupation, and the scale of the violence directed at the society as a whole is grossly disproportionate to the objective of containing a small insurgency group.

Difficulty still remains, however, in identifying with clarity the intent of the Indonesians in East Timor. A case of genocide is more easily sustained when the perpetrators have articulated an overt ideology aimed at annihilating a specific group, the Nazi Holocaust being the clearest example. Even when polemic is documented, distinctions need to be made between rhetoric and an explicit intent to follow through with a program of action. In the late twentieth century, this type of evidence is unlikely to be forthcoming.

We thus face a paradox in world history in which the advances made by the human rights movement unintentionally may have created conditions in which transgressions become progressively more difficult to prosecute. In prior epochs, for example, during the Inquisition in Europe, when no international conventions against genocide existed, rulers and religious leaders could express openly and with impunity their intent to destroy a group simply because of the group's characteristics, the most obvious at that time being adherence to a particular religious faith. Even as late as the first half of the twentieth century, explicitly racist statements by officials of government could be made with impunity in most countries of the world. Drawing extensively on public utterances by Australian officials earlier in the century in which explicitly racist and discriminatory sentiments were expressed, Tatz has made a compelling case for a charge that genocide was perpetrated against the Aborigines of that country [52] Nation al and international laws against racism and discrimination now would not only proscribe such public statements, but render the authors liable to prosecution. Nevertheless, although the legal and judicial machinery to prosecute perpetrators of genocide exists, the capacity to gather evidence, to apprehend those who have been indicted, and hence to effect judgements remains weak--as evidenced by the attempts to prosecute war criminals and perpetrators of genocide in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. One unintended effect of establishing international human rights laws such as the Genocide Convention may have been, therefore, to put national leaders on notice of the risk they face if they declare their intent to commit such crimes. Thus, given the contemporary zeitgeist, and the threat inherent in international conventions, the likelihood of proving a case of "ideological" genocide may become increasingly remote. Instead, would-be perpetrators are encouraged by the existing prohibitions and sanctions to disguis e their motives and obfuscate their intentions.

Thus, half a century after the formulation of the Genocide Convention, there may be a need to reconsider some of its defining articles so that the instrument is more consonant with contemporary historical and political realities. Perhaps a more contemporary test of culpability would be the requirements that national leaders assume the responsibility of preventing strategies mounted by their military that, by any commonsense reasoning, could result in a threat to the existence of a defined group. In addition, in spite of the technical difficulties involved, it may become necessary to accept the principle that, under certain circumstances, genocidal intent can be inferred from the set of strategies used to undermine the viability of a group. Intentions may be complex and multifaceted; for example, the Timor debacle might be best understood as a late form of colonial or imperial expansionism in which genocidal massacres, ethnocide, and destruction of culture formed elements. It seems likely that one intent behi nd the Indonesian campaign was to absorb East Timor into the body of the Indonesian state at any cost. That process was pursued with little restraint and with a disregard for the lives, safety, dignity, human rights, and culture of the indigenous people. In the East Timor context, the prolonged period over which military operations were carried out, the methods used to effect them, and the consequences to the indigenous population might all be construed as evidence of a broad strategy--even if ill-defined--to fundamentally disrupt the basis of East Timorese life so as to assimilate the territory and its people fully into Indonesia.

Is Realpolitik a Defense?

The unconstrained brutality of the Indonesian regime in East Timor might be attributable to both internal and external factors. Since the fall of the Soeharto regime, public criticism of its rule has become more vociferous, with widespread allegations being made of corruption, nepotism, and a disregard throughout Indonesia of democratic principles, institutions of justice, and mechanisms for defending human fights. All these elements of despotic rule became evident soon after Soeharto took power and initiated a reign of terror against what was depicted as a communist threat inside the country. The ensuing repression and massacres led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Indonesians in the mid-1960s. The western powers condoned these early acts of the regime, and perhaps by so doing positioned themselves on the slippery slope of acquiescence to any further acts of brutal repression by the Soeharto government.

From the perspective of realpolitik, it is easy to see why the international powers, including Australia, chose to turn a blind eye to the worst excesses of the Indonesian invasion and occupation of East Timor. At the height of the Cold War, in the wake of the U.S. defeat in Vietnam and the accession of anti-western regimes in that country, Laos, and Cambodia, Indonesia was regarded as a critical bulwark against the spread of communism in Southeast Asia. Australia, in particular, feared the consequences of instability in Indonesia, by far the most populous country in the region. The fragile unity of a newly established Indonesian Republic, the ethnic diversity of its population, and the strategic importance of its military and economic alliance with the West undoubtedly persuaded the major powers to ignore the aspirations of East Timor, generally regarded as a backwater whose only relevance was as a potential trouble spot if those with socialist and nationalistic leanings gained ascendancy on the half-island. The "neatest" solution, then, from the perspective of the world powers, was the incorporation of East Timor into Indonesia. Once locked into support for the Soeharto regime's invasion and occupation, the West could, at most, voice ambivalent and ineffectual protests about aspects of Indonesian rule. Australia, in particular, exploited the situation by strengthening military and economic ties with Indonesia. So emboldened was Australia in forging that alliance that it felt no obligation to consult with the Timorese leadership in exile or the acknowledged legal authority, Portugal, in reaching a pact with Indonesia regarding the exploitation of oil deposits in the Timor Gap.

Will history judge the policy of realpolitik pursued by the world powers as justified? Can the pursuit of "larger" interests--maintaining the balance of power, fostering regional security, and ensuring economic development--be condoned? The two key questions--whether Indonesia is guilty of genocide and whether the West is complicit--may, in fact, have one answer. Unless dismissed as a cosmetic charade, the creation of the United Nations and the establishment of a large body of conventions and international instruments aimed at the protection of human rights--developments in which the Western powers have provided the key leadership--have, in effect, changed the rules of the international political "game." Since the definitive point of adopting the genocide convention, no nation can claim impunity for its actions based solely on the principle of pragmatic interest or regional security. Although full and systematic information has been difficult to gather in East Timor, there is overwhelming evidence that massiv e human rights violations have occurred on the island throughout the period of Indonesian rule. The period of oppression has been prolonged--twenty-four years--and during that time, evidence of human rights violations was brought repeatedly to the attention of the West by tireless advocates for East Timor, including respected academics such as Noam Chomsky and Nobel Laureates Jose Ramos Horta and Bishop Carlos Bello. There can be little doubt that the West has failed to acknowledge crimes against humanity in East Timor, and that countries such as Australia have acted hypocritically by rushing to the defense of peoples such as the Kuwaitis and the Kosovars while ignoring the plight of their closest neighbors, the East Timorese.

Claiming that the West, and Australia in particular, has been complicit in the genocide of the East Timorese carries with it many implications. The term genocide has entered the popular lexicon of Western discourse, and in that context, it has an emotive and evocative force. Genocide has become one of the rallying points for the expression of a postmodernist commitment to the preservation of human diversity, cultural pluralism, and the identity of minority groups. Claims of genocide can quickly provoke public outrage and garner support for a cause. In that way, charges of genocide in recent publications, documentary films, and exhibitions have helped to bring the East Timorese tragedy more forcefully to public attention. Nevertheless, such charges may have unpredictable effects at the level of national and international politics. Western governments might be offended or intimidated by claims of complicity in genocide, with such charges thus leading to further minimization and obfuscation of the issues at sta ke. There is also a risk that the gap between a broad, humanistic usage of the term genocide [53] and the stricter UN definition may threaten the core meaning of the term and thereby undermine its future utility.

Since the Genocide Convention was adopted, a large body of international instruments have been established that aim to proscribe human rights abuses. Machinery has been created to prosecute offenders, such as the War Crimes Tribunal in the Hague, thereby providing mechanisms other than the Genocide Convention for indicting those suspected of actions subsumed under the broader category of "crimes against humanity." Thus, proof that genocide has occurred in East Timor may not be essential to pursuing charges of human rights abuses against suspected offenders. Most importantly, ongoing debate about genocide should not obscure the reality that the East Timorese have been subjected to appalling levels of suffering, and that the international community has an urgent responsibility to rectify the wrongs of the past.

DERRICK SILOVE discusses the history of the case of violence in East Timor in relation to various conceptions of genocide in the law and in social science. During 1999, East Timor underwent a massive convulsion with much of the infrastructure being destroyed by militia groups and large segments of the population being displaced from their homes. Evidence is mounting of mass murder and other human fights abuses. The recent crisis brings into focus repeated claims of genocidal actions during twenty-five years of Indonesian rule. The author evaluates the basis of that claim in relation to definitions of genocide and the possible political and territorial motivations behind the extensive human rights violations that have been perpetrated in the territory. It is possible that Indonesia was not intent on ideological genocide in the sense most clearly represented by the Nazi Holocaust, but instead was motivated to consolidate the hegemony of the new nation over its far-flung and culturally diverse territories. Never theless, whether or not a claim of genocide can be sustained, there appears to be no doubt that widespread crimes against humanity have been committed against the East Timorese population. Questions of responsibility undoubtedly will focus on the Indonesian military and political leaders of the time, but issues of complicity by the international powers also warrant attention.


(1.) Noam Chomsky, "Introduction," in East Timor: Genocide in Paradise, ed. Mathew Jardine (Tucson: Odonian Press, 1995), 7.

(2.) Jim Aubrey," Complicity in Genocide: The case against Australia in East Timor's genocide," in Free East Timor, ed. Jim Aubrey (Sydney: Random House Australia, 1998), 279-294.

(3.) Derrick Silove, "Health and Human Rights of the East Timorese," The Lancet (London, 353: June 12, 1999): 2067.

(4.) Amnesty International Annual Report, Indonesia and East Timor, 1999 (www.amnesty.org).

(5.) Noam Chomsky, "East Timor," in The Chomsky Reader, ed. J. Peck (New York: Serpents Tail! Pantheon Books, 1992), 303-311.

(6.) Chomsky, East Timor, 306.

(7.) Michelle Turner, Telling East Timor: Personal Testimonies 2942-1992 (Sydney: University of New South Wales Press, 1992).

(8.) John Pilger and David Munro, Death of a Nation: The Timor Conspiracy, Central Television, London, February 1994.

(9.) George Aditjondro, "The Silent Suffering of Our Timorese Sisters," in Free East Timor, ed. Jim Aubrey (Sydney: Random House Australia, 1998), 243-266.

(10.) Jose Ramos Horta, "National Press Club Speech, Canberra, 1984" in Free East Timor, ed. Jim Aubrey (Sydney: Random House, 1998), 103-122.

(11.) Ken Fry," Lest We Forget East Timor," in Free East Timor, ed. Jim Aubrey (Sydney: Random House, 1998), 31-73.

(12.) Jardine, East Timor.

(13.) Amnesty International, Indonesia and East Timor, www.amnesty.org.

(14.) Mark Dodd, "Indonesian Militia cuts off 60,000 from outside help," Sydney Morning_Herald, July 10, 1999: 1.

(15.) Aubrey, "Complicity," 279-294.

(16.) Raphael Lemkin, Axis Rule in Occupied Europe (Washington, D.C.: Carnegie Endowment, 1944), 92.

(17.) Alan Berger," The Holocaust: The Ultimate and Archetypal Genocide," in Genocide: A Critical Bibliographic Review, ed. Israel Charny (New York: Facts on File, 1988), 59-88.

(18.) Frank Chalk and Kurt Jonassohn, The History and Sociology of Genocide (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990), 44-49.

(19.) Chalk and Jonassohn, The History and Sociology of Genocide, 11.

(20.) Vahakn N. Dadrian, "A Typology of Genocide," International Review of Modern Sociology 5 (Fall 1975), 201-212.

(21.) Chalk and Jonassohn, The History and Sociology of Genocide, 23, 26.

(22.) Chalk and Jonassohn, The History and Sociology of Genocide, 26.

(23.) Chalk and Jonassohn, The History and Sociology of Genocide, 15.

(24.) Irving Louis Horowitz, Taking Lives: Genocide and State Power (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Books, 1980), 17.

(25.) Israel W. Charny, "The Study of Genocide," in Genocide: A Critical Bibliographic Review, ed. Israel Charny (New York: Facts on File, 1988), 4.

(26.) Ben Whitaker, Revised and Updated Report on the Question of the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. United Nations Economic and Social Council, Commission of Human Rights, 1985.

(27.) Leo Kuper, "Theories of Genocide" in Genocide: Its Political Use in the Twentieth Century (New York: Penguin, 1981), 45.

(28.) Helen Fein, "Scenarios of Genocide: Models of Genocide and Critical Responses," in Toward the Understanding and Prevention of Genocide, ed. Israel Charny (Boulder, CO and London: Westview Press, 1984), 4.

(29.) Jardine, East Timor, 35.

(30.) Jardine, East Timor, 31-32.

(31.) Jardine, East Timor, 34.

(32.) Catholic Institute for International Relations, East Timor: The Continuing Betrayal (Nottingham: Russel Press, 1996), 9.

(33.) Jardine, East Timor, 53.

(34.) Jardine, East Timor, 35.

(35.) Catholic Institute for International Relations, East Timor, 10.

(36.) Charny, The Study of Genocide, 3.

(37.) Jardine, East Timor, 16.

(38.) Jardine, East Timor, 16.

(39.) Jardine, East Timor, 57.

(40.) Jardine, East Timor, 62.

(41.) Robert Domm, "East Timor: To Resist Is to Win," in Free East Timor, ed. Jim Aubrey (Sydney: Random House Australia, 1998), 139.

(42.) Al Report, Indonesia and East Timor, www.amnesty.org.

(43.) Turner, Telling East Timor.

(44.) Victoria Foundation for Torture Survivors," The East Timorese: Clinical And Social Assessments of Applicants for Asylum" in The Mental Health and Well-Being of On-Shore Asylum Seekers in Australia, ed. Derrick Silove and Zachary Steel (Sydney: Psychiatry Research and Teaching Unit, 1998), 24-26.

(45.) Miranda B. Sissons, From One Day to Another Violations of Women's Reproductive and Sexual Rights in East Timor (Melbourne: East Timor Human Rights Centre, 1997).

(46.) Aditjondro, Silent Suffering, 243-266.

(47.) Silove, Health and Human Rights, 2067.

(48.) Chomsky, "Introduction," 7-15.

(49.) Ramos Horta, "National Press Club," 279-294.

(50.) Aubrey, "Complicity," 279.

(51.) Chalk and Jonassohn, The History and Sociology of Genocide, 42.

(52.) Colin Tatz, Research discussion paper: Genocide in Australia (Fyshwick: Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders Studies, 1999), 6.

(53.) Charny, The Study of Genocide, 4.

Publication: Human Rights Review Publication Date: 01-APR-00 Author: Silove, Derrick

Images added by ETLJB: The murder of Joaquim Bernardino Guterres by Indonesian police. Go here to see the whole series of images of this brutal cold-blooded murder.

East Timor Law and Justice Bulletin

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