Two places on opposite sides of the world share similar circumstances: innocent people killed and displaced by government forces and paramilitaries. The violence on one side of the world begets harsh condemnation and a series of threats from Western powers, followed by a massive bombing campaign. The violence on the other side of the world — the latest episode in a bloodbath that began in 1975 — receives scant attention in Japan and the West.
The two places are Kosovo and East Timor, and the governments implicated in the atrocities in these regions are those of Yugoslavia and Indonesia.
For the past several months in East Timor, ever since the Indonesian government suggested it might grant independence to the illegally occupied territory, paramilitary groups armed and trained by the Indonesian army have carried out a number of attacks on presumed proindependence civilians. A recent massacre of at least 25 refugees in a church and adjoining priest’s home in a village just outside East Timor’s capital, Dili, is the worst of these attacks.
Contrary to what the Indonesian Army has claimed — and has been suggested in some media reports — this wave of violence is not the product of long-simmering tensions between pro-Indonesian and proindependence East Timorese; rather, it is a continuation of Indonesia’s 24-year-old policy of genocide in East Timor.
Consider the record. When Indonesia invaded East Timor in December 1975, civilians were rounded up and executed. Sixty thousand East Timorese were killed in the first two months of the invasion; by the end of 1976, the death toll had risen to 100,000. That figure would double in the coming years as Indonesian troops forcibly relocated tens of thousands of civilians in order to separate them from the East Timorese armed resistance.
The total estimated death toll of 200,000 — out of a pre-invasion population of 690,000 — makes the proportion of deaths larger than that caused by Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. The Serb atrocities in Kosovo also pale in comparison to this record of slaughter.
There is a very good reason why the genocide in East Timor has been met with silence over the years in the very countries whose leaders now are beating the wardrums and proclaiming the righteousness of their military adventure in the Balkans: Several of these nations have actually aided and abetted the Indonesian war criminals who have cultivated East Timor’s killing fields.
Not that there haven’t been some efforts to draw the world’s attention to East Timor. The U.N. General Assembly has passed resolutions condemning the invasion and occupation on eight separate occasions, but Japan, the United States, Britain and Australia have distinguished themselves by either voting against the resolution or abstaining from casting votes. Japan voted against the resolution all eight times.
In 1978, Australia went so far as to recognize Indonesia’s annexation of East Timor — the only nation ever to do so. Having cleared this minor diplomatic hurdle, the Australian government got down to the important business of dividing up the oil-rich Timor Gap with the Suharto regime. The oil reserves in the Timor Gap are worth billions of dollars to Australia. Perhaps this explains why Australian Prime Minister John Howard said recently that an independent East Timor might be a financial burden to his nation.
The U.S., meanwhile, has given the Indonesian armed forces all the weapons and training they need to carry out their inhuman mission in East Timor. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Indonesia used warplanes and napalm obtained from the U.S. to destroy East Timor’s agricultural base and to herd civilians into camps, where thousands perished from famine and disease. The U.S. military also has a long history of training the Indonesian military, in spite of its horrendous human-rights record. As late as last spring, when the Suharto regime was on the brink of collapse, U.S. special forces based in Okinawa were training Indonesian troops, including dreaded Kopassus special forces units.
This same vicious military that has enjoyed such a warm relationship with the U.S. is behind the current paramilitary campaign in East Timor. Last October, Indonesian Army documents leaked to a human-rights group in Australia revealed that at least 13 paramilitary groups, called “teams,” are under the direct control of army commanders. According to an analysis of the documents by the group that received them: “The paramilitary teams . . . work closely with the intelligence units of the elite forces, Kopassus, known as the SGI, whose brutal methods of interrogation and torture are widely feared in East Timor. It is an integral part of the Indonesian Army’s doctrine to recruit members of the community to serve the interests of the armed forces.”
East Timorese who support Jakarta (not including the 150,000 Indonesians who have migrated to the territory) make up only a small percentage of East Timor’s total population, and many of those in pro-Indonesia paramilitaries were coerced into joining them. According to refugees who spoke with the British daily The Independent, local officials and soldiers near their village “began recruiting young men for a pro-Indonesian militia. Those who refused to join were threatened with death.”
Japan and the West have chosen not to focus on the Indonesian military’s role in the recent spate of violence in East Timor — which fits into their pattern of denying the genocide there. Since Indonesia is regarded as a key strategic ally by the West and Japan, it can get away with behavior that makes other countries candidates for annihilation at the hands of the West, in particular the U.S. The radically different responses to the crimes against humanity in Kosovo and East Timor demonstrate hypocrisy and a selective concern for human rights, and indicate that the “rule of law” is still what it always has been: the rule of the powerful.
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