Friday, January 20, 2006

A crime against humanity

In 1976, Indonesia invaded East Timor, and over the next 23 years presided over a brutal occupation marked by systematic massacres, disappearances, and torture. When they left in 1999, Indonesian-backed militias went on a scorched-earth rampage, killing 1500 people and displacing up to 100,000. But that's just the tip of the iceberg, according to the 2500-page report of the UN Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation. The report, based on statements from 8000 witnesses as well as documents from the Indonesian military and foreign intelligence sources, was leaked to The Australian after it had been quietly suppressed by the Timorese government. And you can see why: it details the full extent of Indonesian crimes in Timor, and blames them for the deaths of up to 180,000 Timorese civilians.

According to the report, Indonesian soldiers were responsible for over 13,000 unlawful killings and disappearances, and 8500 documented cases of torture, which included

public beheadings, the mutilation of genitalia, the burying and burning alive of victims, use of cigarettes to burn victims, and ears and genitals being lopped off to display to families.

It documents widespread executions and arbitrary detentions, as well as the use of rape and sexual violence to terrorise the civilian population and "inflict a deep experience of terror, powerlessness and hopelessness upon pro-independence supporters". These human rights violations were

committed in execution of a systematic plan approved, conducted and controlled by Indonesian military commanders at the highest level.

That is bad enough, and demands more justice than the handful of low-level mooks the Indonesians have tried (and usually acquitted) for war crimes during the occupation. But there's more serious charges as well. The report notes that the Indonesian military "consciously decided to use starvation of East Timorese civilians as a weapon of war", resulting in the deaths of between 84,200 and 183,000 Timorese civilians. As the report notes,

The intentional imposition of conditions of life which could not sustain tens of thousands of East Timorese civilians amounted to extermination as a crime against humanity committed against the East Timorese population

Or, in other words, genocide.

What is to be done? The report calls for reparations to be paid by Indonesia, as well as those countries who armed it and supported its invasion (including the US, UK, and Australia). But that is not enough. What is needed here is justice, for those who planned and committed these crimes to be held fully accountable for them. An international tribunal should be formed, and the military and political leaders of Indonesia (including former President Suharto) should be put on trial, and if found guilty, jailed. It's what we did for the former Yugoslavia, and we can do no less for Timor.


Yeah right. But, it's important to notice that, Indonesia did that to prevent the advent of a significantly potentially Marxist country in South East Asia, which is East Timor.

Posted by Anonymous : 1/20/2006 02:47:00 PM

Jeffry: I don't think that that's important at all, any more than the election of a left-wing government in Chile "justified" Pinochet's coup and the subsequent torture, murders, and crimes against humanity there (or indeed, that the existence of communists in Indonesia in the early 60's justified their massacre). Political beliefs are not a justification for murder or genocide.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 1/20/2006 03:00:00 PM

And it's not even true. Indonesia's motives were not about nipping a nascent Marxist state in the bud, it was simply economic advantage plus a desire to assert central Indonesian authority in the face of growing calls for independence in various provinces.

Posted by Anonymous : 1/20/2006 03:54:00 PM

Even if East Timor was likely to become a "marxist" state it does not justify the gross human rights abuses perpetrated by the Indonesian military against the East Timorese people; neither does it excuse the complicity of western governments of the time, including our own.
IMHO, the Right's toleration of human rights abuses demonstrates its total moral bankruptcy and unfitness for political office. That comment applies in spades to the National Party.

Posted by Anonymous : 1/20/2006 04:07:00 PM

Or maybe, when Indonesia had considered East Timor as part of Indonesian at that time, the East Timorese who still fought against Indonesia state were considered as traitors, therefore need to be eliminated under Indonesian law.
Btw, how does the NZ state threat traitors? Same as the first degree murderers? Or, let them free with no hardfeeling.

Posted by Anonymous : 1/20/2006 06:27:00 PM

Jeffry: at the time of the invasion, East Timor was an independent (though unrecognised) nation. Previously it had been a Portugese colony. It had never been part of Indonesia, or its predecessor, the Dutch East Indies, having been colonised in 1596.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 1/20/2006 06:45:00 PM

Anonymous, your generalisations of the rights tolerance for abuse makes little sense to me. I'm apparently on the right and I am mostly with Idiot on this one.

Posted by ZenTiger : 1/22/2006 02:42:00 PM