February 18th 2006

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: AWB biggest scandal to hit the Howard Government

EDITORIAL: Tide turns on global capitalism

SCHOOLS: Why our children don't know history

ECONOMICS: Sky's the limit with CEO pay increases

EDUCATION AND TRAINING: Engineer shortage hurting economy

RURAL CRISIS: Black Friday for Canadian farmers

MEDICAL: Abortion pill a bonanza for lawyers

STRAWS IN THE WIND: The humbug revolution / Iran / Bush, oil addiction and the environment

AUSTRALIAN SOCIETY: Is pornography just harmless fun?

ENTERTAINMENT: American awards honour traditional values

EAST TIMOR: Will Indonesian military be let off the hook?

WAR ON TERROR: Tackling a home-grown security threat

OPINION: 'Human rights' charter a backward step

OBITUARY: Colin Pike, champion of the underdog

Religious persecution during the Spanish Civil War (letter)

B.A. Santamaria on Toynbee's 'creative minorities' (letter)

BOOKS: MANHOOD: An action plan for changing men's lives, by Steve Biddulph

BOOKS: HEAD OF STATE: The Governor-General, the Monarchy, the Republic and the Dismissal, by Sir David Smith

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Will Indonesian military be let off the hook?

by John Morrissey

News Weekly, February 18, 2006
Approximately 180,000 civilians perished during the Indonesian military occupation of East Timor between 1975 and 1999.

Massacre, execution, torture, rape, mutilation, chemical weapons and deliberate campaigns of slavery, relocation and starvation - these have all been sheeted home to the Indonesian military occupation of East Timor, between 1975 and 1999, during which approximately 180,000 civilians perished.

Titled Chega ("Enough"), the 2,500-page report to the United Nations from East Timor's Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation is the result of more than 8,000 interviews, documentary research and consultation with foreign intelligence sources.

It took three-and-a-half years to complete and contains incontrovertible evidence of the abuses long alleged against the Indonesian occupation over a quarter of a century, and is disputed only by spokesmen for the Indonesian Government. Defence Minister, Juwono Sudarsono, for example, responded, "This is a war of numbers and data about things that never happened."


Not only does the report hold responsible the Indonesian leadership, but also members of the United Nations Security Council, such as the USA and Great Britain, together with Portugal and Australia, which went along with the invasion and subsequent régime. The report also demands reparations from these countries and Indonesia, along with justice, in the form of prosecution of those responsible for the atrocities.

All agree that Indonesia's prosecution of the military officers involved was a farce, resulting in just one sentencing. Human rights groups demanded proper war crimes tribunals.

By contrast, East Timorese President Xanana Gusmao and Ambassador to the UN, José Luis Guterres, take a different line. They have put their faith in the Truth and Friendship Commission, a partnership with the Indonesian Government, and are not playing up the question of prosecutions.

Guterres has expressed his awareness of how fragile are the processes of democracy, freedom and justice in both nations and the need to consolidate them.

Put bluntly, good relations with Indonesia are vital to East Timor's future, and their giant neighbour's President Yudhoyono is their best hope of a just and democratic régime there.

On the other hand, what is justice if the guilty are not punished for horrific crimes against humanity? The language of truth, justice, reconciliation and so on evokes the South African experiment, in which its celebrated Truth and Reconciliation Commission had a brief to prepare a true record of apartheid, recommend reparations and grant amnesty to individual applicants. This example has been hailed the world over; but it is not the whole story, nor are the circumstances in East Timor the same.

In each case, the former régime was brutal and the liberation movement also had blood on its hands. In each case, the survivors want justice; but there the similarities end.

The former oppressors of the East Timorese are no longer in their midst and their Government has no power to compel Indonesia either to make reparations or to prosecute those responsible for the atrocities committed.

Furthermore, in East Timor, a preference for reconciliation over a justice where crimes are punished cannot be taken for granted among the population as a whole.

Guzmao and Guterres are plainly at odds with the writers of the report, which contains graphic eyewitness accounts of massacres and a host of other human-rights abuses.

The key to this difference lies in Guzmao's reaction to the report's claim that the "absence of justice ... is a fundamental obstacle in the process of building a democratic society". His rejoinder was, "Not necessarily."

This report is a provocation to both East Timor and Indonesia, and will be a test for the statesmanship of both Guzmao and Yudhoyono.

Australia's share of the moral responsibility for East Timor's agony is undeniable:

  • The Whitlam Government winked at the invasion in 1975.

  • The Fraser Government, unlike the UN, was quick to recognise East Timor's absorption into Indonesia in 1979.

  • The Hawke and Keating Governments pursued a long and cosy relationship with the Soeharto régime, mapped out by a clique of diplomats nicknamed the Jakarta Club.

  • The Australian Defence Force has continued to train Indonesian officers, many of whom saw service in East Timor, while what the report shows is that a species of genocide took place.

However, the prompt and principled action of the Howard Government in 1999, albeit with a UN mandate and the tacit support of the USA, is an occasion for pride.

However galling it may be to those who suffered, President Guzmao's balancing act is the only realistic course, if East Timor's fragile institutions are to survive the many threats from within and without.

The Australian Government must be what it failed to be in 1975 - an honest broker - and use its good offices with Indonesia, while not shirking the latest issue of the asylum-seekers from West Irian, lest history repeat itself.

  • John Morrissey

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