A Letter to the Economist
Sir- I refer to the article published in the economist featured in the November 12th issue, “The happening place”. In the piece you say “Indonesia’s special forces, accused of past human-rights abuses in East Timor”. Indeed. If you will will allow me to reveal the facts that are available in the public domain and have been for many years, that would be appreciated. I will refrain from being subjective about the matter. For the evidence about past human-rights abuses in East Timor by its oppressors, Indonesia, is so overwhelming that such views are unwarranted and unnecessary. The 1975 invasion of East Timor, now Timor Leste, as I am sure you are well aware, was itself an act of aggression. I will refrain from discussing the reasons for the invasion, the international response, and all the other implications, instead, I will stick to the audacious statement in the article, stated above.
Four years after the invasion an article appeared in the New York Times which was later leaked to the Boston Globe, the article was written by a Portuguese priest, there he explains Indonesia’s human-rights abuses’ against the East Timorese.
“A full-scale bombardment of the whole island began. From that point there emerged death, illness, despair. The second phase of the bombing was late 1977 to early 1979, with modern aircraft. This was the firebombing phase of the bombing. Even up to this time, people could still live. The genocide and starvation was a result of the full-scale incendiary bombing...we saw the end coming. People could not plant. I personally witnessed-while running to protected areas, from tribe to tribe-the great massacre from bombardment and people dying from starvation. In 1979 people began surrendering because there was no other option. When people began dying, then others started to give up.”
He went on to claim that from 1975 to 1979 200,00 East Timorese had been massacred. I am well aware this is a single man’s account and responsible publications like the Economist would be quite right to question the facts. But a more horrifying claim was not made by a Portuguese priest with sympathies for the people of East Timor but the united States’ UN ambassador to Indonesia, according to him, 60,000 had been killed in just two months. If correct, quite outrageous that such a person of his stature and influence would make such a claim, or take a highly respected journalist, Denis Reich, writing in Paris Match, believes 75,000 East Timorese were killed in 18 months.
I now refer back to the article in the Economist, that there were ‘accusations’ of ‘human-rights abuses’ in East Timor. The allegations above are indeed ‘accusations’, where is the evidence, sir, you may ask. I can fully grasp the argument that anybody, whether is be a priest, or a UN ambassador, can make such accusations without substantiating any evidence. So what of human rights groups, church reports, parliamentary investigations and so on? If such groups produced reports on East Timorese massacre and crimes against humanity they would be available to the press to publish such findings. It would be hard to imagine the Economist not knowing about these reports. It so happens that reports were published and made available to the press. Amnesty International, the Roman Catholic Church, the Foreign Affairs Committee and the Australian parliament all produced reports, not ‘mere allegations’. They all say around 200,000 East Timorese were massacred by the East Timorese military. The French demographer, Gabriel Defort believes the figure to be far higher, he believes 300,000 were killed. The shocking thing is the population of East Timor was around 600,000 during this time. It follows then if these reports are true, and it must be added were carried out by some of the most respected organisations in the world, one third of the population were murdered. Comparatively, worse than the Nazis. if a publication made the claim that there were accusations of past human-rights abuses in Nazi Germany, the response of the readership would be predictable, and so would the publication’s reputation.
Sir-in the 1990's, the late 1990's the East Timorese voted overwhelmingly for independence...at a price, well that is according to church groups and responsible journalism. Church groups agree that 3 to 5,000 people were killed and with a two-week period, more than 10,000 may have been massacred. The Nobel Laureate, Bishop Felip Belo had his house burned down. Benedict Anderson goes further, “In East timor they became an exemplar of every kind of atrocity.” It would interest you, sir, if indeed you do not already know, what the Indonesian military’s response was to this. Did they deny it, tell the world it was all lies? Well, no. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Colonel Suartman, warned: “if pro-independents win...all will be destroyed”. The official army document said “massacres should be carried out from village to village”. This then, is not mere ‘accusations’, more threats and indeed, according to the church groups quoted above, such massacres were carried out.
Sir-I would like to draw your attention to three outstanding individuals who have documented, and indeed lived through such horrors-at least they make ‘accusations’ of such things. To conclude the letter, I think this is important for the following reason: the gruelling statistics I have discussed in relation to abuses in East Timor do not talk about specific abuses that were taking place. For example, I have not quoted passages from Amnesty International reports or indeed any others. This, I hope, will draw your attention to the substantial terror that these men claimed plagued these people’s lives, they no doubt reach genocidal levels.
Kay Ray Xanana Gusamo, Commander of the National Liberation front, after his incarceration in 1992, gave the following account
The killing was indiscriminate. they murdered hundreds of people on the first day, including the Australian journalist, Roger East. Like him, many were brought to the harbour, where they were shot one by one, as the Nazis did. Anyone, women, children, the elderly, anyone who ventured outside their homes were shot down. They smashed up churches, leaving them full of wine and faeces ...men had been murdered and their women raped. In Uatu-Lan, for instance, all those who could read and write were massacred, and in some villages only women remained. In the early years the Indonesian army would tie people up and leave them outdoors, naked and exposed to the harsh heat and cold of the night, little by little, they cut pieces from their skin, their arms and their legs. They cut of their penises or their ears, which the victims were then forced to eat. Each village had a detention centre which held the able-bodied men and women. At night the bodies were disposed of.
If this account of abuse was just mere ‘accusations’, Mr Gusamo does clearly have an overactive imagination. Take another man, Jose Ramos Horta, the joint winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. In 1995 he gave an account of a personal tragedy:
Maria Hortensia was my daughter. She was twenty-one years old. She was too close to the Indonesian bombs and the shrapnel caught her and she died. That same year, 1978, I lost two sons, Nuno and Guiherme, also killed by the Indonesians. Now if you say the Indonesians are bastards, you may wonder; but what bastards they were, and they are. Let me give you another example. I used to go to hospital in Dili, and I know what happened there when the babies were born, many had diarrhea and vomiting and the Indonesian authorities made sure they went on suffering and were not cured, because they wanted them to die. They wanted all of us to die, to vanish.
Ramos-Horta did not win the Nobel Peace Prize for making accusations against Indonesian human-rights abuses against the East Timorese. As mentioned above, Bishop Belo was a recipient of the Nobel Prize for Peace. He gives the world a stark account of what his people endured, at least to the people that bothered to listen, again it is personal.
Some of the killings happened near my house-when I visited the hospital at 11am-on the day of the first massacre, November 12th, there were hundreds of wounded. When I came back the next day, there were only ninety. Witnesses told me the killing of the wounded began at eight O'clock that night, and that most deaths occurred between two and three in the morning of the 13th when the lights suddenly went out in the city. I don’t know what happened to those people-maybe they were put in the sea...I have a list of 271 names, but I was told by the East Timorese intelligence people working with Indonesia that there were more than 400 killed. And now we have the problem of justice because the families are still waiting for the bodies of their children. And we don’t know where they are buried.
Again, it is unlikely Bishop Belo was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for making up ‘accusations’. Sir-I am sure you will agree with me the information provided in this letter is overwhelming, I could continue but eventually it would start to become tedious, because I think my point has been stressed.
I end the letter by asking the Economist a question because I think it is right for you to clarify your position over the matter:
Is it the view of the Economist that you have no knowledge of Indonesian murders, massacres, rapes, disappearances, of the East Timorese? Or is there some other reason for talking only of ‘accusations human-rights abuses in East Timor’?
This was a letter I wrote to the Economist at the end of November, 2011. I am most grateful to John Pilger for, who, in his eloquent book, Hidden Agendas, gives excellent material on the three courageous men quoted in the letter, of which I have taken excerpts from the book; the rest of the information I wrote in the letter were less arduous than that. It is important to stress the following point: that to gather the sort of information I gathered, is not difficult at all, but it is true people are not aware of the facts, and that is because publications like the Economist decide to hide them. I must comment that the Economist never replied to my letter. Anybody concerned with human-rights abuses and the suffering of an entire people will be concerned about what happened in East Timor, and of the west's complicity in the genocide.