Saturday, June 03, 2006


In a piece in the Herald today, John Roughan claims that New Zealanders were "blinded by propaganda" into supporting East Timorese independence, and that the Timorese weren't really ready for it. He concludes:

It's time that liberal sentiment ceased to side with every distant minority desiring its own two-bit state and recognised the virtue of multinational federations like Indonesia. They can be rugged but at least they work.

"Rugged". What a lovely way of describing it. Earlier this year, the UN Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation in East Timor produced a 2,500 page report which detailed exactly what Roughan is hiding behind that mealy-mouthed phrase. This included 13,000 unlawful killings and disappearances, 8,500 documented cases of torture, widespread executions and arbitrary detention, systematic rape and sexual violence to terrorise the local population, and a systematic policy of deprivation and starvation which resulted in the deaths of between 84,200 and 183,000 Timorese and which the Commission found amounted to "extermination as a crime against humanity" - or in other words, genocide.

"Rugged" indeed.

Supporting East Timorese independence was not just a matter of supporting people's right to self-determination; it was also a way of ending the oppression and genocide perpetrated by the Indonesian regime. Asking the Timorese to submit to their oppressors again is simply monstrous. What Timor needs now is our support in building the institutions of government which are so week, and helping their state to put down roots so that it doesn't collapse again. Given our complicity in the crimes committed against them, it's the least we can do.


On this one i share your outrage. I find myself not just disagreeing with Roughan but being repulsed by his views. "two-bit state", what a creep.

Posted by Neil Morrison : 6/03/2006 02:02:00 PM

Still... the fact that Indonesia didn’t work for the east Timorese doesn't change the fact that East Timor may not work for them either.

If that is the case, one could level the same critique against the UN Australia and NZ that is leveled against the US - i.e. they are not prepared for the system we are offering them OR the one that is often used with hope by those opposing the US - that it requires a level of commitment that we just don’t have (i.e. a VERY long term "occupation").

If that is the case (and I dont take that as fact) in the end you are helping them to the top of a hill so that they can fall off the cliff on the other side.

Good intentions and in a sense a good precedent - but to the people involved it may be negative.

In principle, I also agree that chopping up countries into little bits is a bad thing. East Timor is likely to be, give or take, the poorest country in the world, In a larger country there would be some potential for people to move location or government support - but in a small country probably not.

Obviously in this case the bad things outweigh the good and they needed to be separated. But maybe another country could form a close relationship with Timor... Papua New Guinea? Maybe chop off Irian jaya and merge them?

Posted by Genius : 6/03/2006 05:21:00 PM

of course, fat chance anything like that would happen...

Posted by Genius : 6/03/2006 06:01:00 PM

How, pray tell, is NZ complicit in Indonesia's crimes against East Timor? And now we owe them "at least" many years/decades of troop presence etc.?

Posted by Anonymous : 6/04/2006 02:14:00 AM

Anon: It's well-documented; Australia and New Zealand supported the Indonesian invasion in 1975, and then politely looked the other way on the ensuing carnage in the name of "stability".

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 6/04/2006 01:08:00 PM

Not actively oppose (even when, or perhaps especially when that would not have done any good) = support? Which obligates us to decades of at least fitful nation-building responsibility in a place we don't and possibly can't understand (which was a good part of we didn't take a strong position on what was going on there in the first place)? And if we'd actively opposed Indonesia at the time, supporting the Fretilin or whatever in 1975 (but not succeeded in changing much) wouldn't we have even more obligations now? Isn't your stance, therefore, a recipe for being an over-stretched and widely resented world imperial police? Start those blogs and get those civilian casualty counters spinning...

Posted by Anonymous : 6/04/2006 02:27:00 PM

Anon: since you clearly didn't read what I'd written, I'll repeat it: we supported Indonesia's illegal annexation of Timor Leste, we supported its continued occupation, and we didn't really care how many people they were killing. That goes a bit beyond simply not actively opposing it.

As for the wider question, you may have noticed that we are now in Timor at the express invitation of their government, to act as a neutral enforcer of law and order. That's a role I'm completely comfortable with, and quite some way from being a "world imperial police". And if we shift away from that role, towards (e.g.) propping up an unpopular government against its own people, then I will be among the first to call for withdrawl.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 6/04/2006 02:44:00 PM

Hmm, to give us somthign to work with here are the details I could find
"Australia opposed the annexation, but provided no constructive alternative. The government, inept and incompetent, was facing a budgetary and constitutional crisis. Given the anti-war mood of the day it was unthinkable that Australian troops be deployed to save East Timor"
NZ and aust however didnt have much in the way of "balls"
"Despite Amnesty reports of famine and massacres, New Zealand opposed a mild UN resolution in 1982 calling on the UN Secretary-General to try to negotiate a settlement. Australia and New Zealand then refused - from 1975 until 1984 - to give the Timorese envoy Jose Ramos Horta a visa to enter their countries to talk about East Timor, for fear of offending Indonesia. "

And of course they opposed the communist threat under the theory that east Timor might become communist - (this might have happened after all China and Russia were always looking for new friends but it seems dubious to say they were genuinely comunist).

Posted by Genius : 6/04/2006 04:52:00 PM

Still not seeing that NZ did anything w.r.t to Indonesia's occupation that obligates us indefinitely going into the future (we're currently complicit in and supportive of everything from Chechnya to Congo by the unrealistic standard that's apparently being urged). Sure, we could have been braver in confronting the Indonesians about what they were up to, but whatever debt was incurred by failing to manifest that virtue was paid back in 1999-2002. Whatever is done now, is non-obligatory (let alone "the least" part of a much wider obligation).

One person's "helping the state take root" is another's "propping up the government against the people" (what government? which people? the one's who hate each other?). We musn't think about solving ET's problems as our obligation because there may be no solution to those problems (Genius may be right) yet we then wouldn't be able to leave...Most likely scenario: endless civil conflict occurs, followed by eventual infiltration by JI and reannexation by Indonesia... We'd be stuck, and/or we'd have war with Indonesia. (I assume a hard-headed calculation of this sort of risk lies behind Roughan's Kissinger act.)

Posted by Anonymous : 6/04/2006 10:27:00 PM

Here's another article that reflects on how NZ attempted in 1999 to keep the slaughter of Timorese off the APEC agenda. Don McKinnon went to extreme lengths to resist debates that would lead to international assistance being offered to Timorese Scoop article: New Zealand ought to say sorry to East Timorese.

Posted by Anonymous : 6/05/2006 03:33:00 PM