[Marxism] Remembering East Timor

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Mon May 14 07:33:58 MDT 2012


http://rightnow.org.au/writing-cat/article/r2p-famine-and-secret-documents-remembering-east-timor/

Article by Clinton Fernandes | Published May 14, 2012
R2P, Famine and Secret Documents: Remembering East Timor

In the second half of the 1970s, Indonesia’s war against the 
people of East Timor caused the largest loss of life relative to 
population since the Holocaust. Reputable and widely used 
demographic techniques have shown that 30 per cent of East Timor’s 
population died during the war. What did the Australian Government 
know about the catastrophe in East Timor? Early warning of 
impending catastrophe and the political will to act on the 
warnings are key components of the Responsibility to Protect 
(R2P). This is a principle in international politics that refers 
to a state’s responsibility to protect its own citizens from 
genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against 
humanity, as well as from incitement of such conduct. States 
remain primarily responsible for protecting their citizens, but 
the R2P principle envisages that a broad range of policy measures 
be open to the international community where states have 
manifestly failed to exercise this primary responsibility.

The overwhelming majority of the deaths in East Timor occurred due 
to starvation in a military-induced famine between 1977 and 1979. 
While former Australian Prime Minister Gough Whitlam is 
justifiably criticised for his diplomacy in the lead-up to the 
Indonesian invasion, it was his successor, Malcolm Fraser, who was 
Prime Minister during this genocidal period. Fraser and his 
Government made a concerted effort to reduce support for East 
Timor and increase support for Indonesia, which was committing war 
crimes of genocidal proportions. His Government ordered the 
interdiction of supply boats carrying humanitarian aid from Darwin 
to East Timor; the surveillance and arrest of activists who tried 
to communicate by radio from the Northern Territory; and the 
denial of a visitor’s visa to José Ramos-Horta and other East 
Timorese independence campaigners. An Australian Parliamentarian 
who supported the East Timorese, Ken Fry, was targeted by the 
Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO), which 
monitored the telecommunications, bank accounts and other 
activities of East Timor activists. In addition, the Criminal 
Investigation Division of the Commonwealth Police (forerunner to 
the Australian Federal Police) investigated the ACT branch of the 
Australia East Timor Association, of which Fry was patron.

Fraser and his Foreign Minister, Andrew Peacock, ensured that 
Australia became the only Western country to officially recognise 
Indonesia’s annexation of East Timor. While both were keen to 
recognise Indonesia’s sovereignty over East Timor, there was 
considerable opposition from the Australian public. Informed that 
Indonesia planned to integrate East Timor on its independence day, 
17 August 1976, the Australian Government requested that Indonesia 
bring the date forward by one month. It stressed to the 
Indonesians that the Australian Parliament was scheduled to 
reassemble on 17 August, and any announcement on that day would 
embarrass the Fraser Government. Accordingly, Indonesia announced 
the integration on 17 July 1976, during the Australian 
Parliamentary recess.

Fraser’s visit to Jakarta in October 1976 presented him with a 
challenge; his Indonesian hosts were keen to have him state 
publicly that Australia supported their takeover of East Timor. 
Indeed, the Indonesian Ambassador to Australia informed Fraser 
beforehand that President Suharto would want him to speak about 
the East Timor question as a first priority. When Fraser arrived 
in Jakarta, the Speaker of the Indonesian Parliament specifically 
invited him to comment on East Timor. But Fraser was all too aware 
of the Australian electorate’s hostility to the takeover. Thus, in 
his public statements on East Timor he repeated that Australia’s 
position was well known and had been explained many times in 
Parliament by the Foreign Minister.

At his meeting with Suharto, Fraser asked for understanding of 
Australia’s difficulties in formally accepting integration, and 
for time to overcome these difficulties. So concerned was the 
Fraser Government about the Australian public’s hostility to any 
recognition of Indonesia’s takeover that the Department of Foreign 
Affairs avoided getting formal legal advice on the question of de 
facto recognition of the incorporation of East Timor in Indonesia. 
It feared getting an embarrassing answer, which would make it 
difficult to sustain the declared policy of the Australian Government.

By 1978, however, policymakers assessed that the political 
conditions would permit de facto recognition. A Cabinet paper 
dated 17 January 1978 recommended that the government should 
announce that it fully accepted the reality that East Timor was 
part of Indonesia and that all future government action would be 
based on that proposition. The Fraser Government believed that it 
could get away with this because the volume of letters being 
received by the Government about Timor had dropped substantially 
over the previous six months. The Government’s internal analysis 
showed that it was receiving only about seven letters a month, and 
that newspaper and television interest in the matter was 
declining. Consequently, on 20 January 1978, Foreign Minister 
Andrew Peacock announced Australia’s de facto recognition of 
Indonesia’s sovereignty. This was followed by de jure recognition 
with the opening of negotiations on the seabed boundary in the 
Timor Gap in February 1979.

East Timor’s Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation 
has since provided ample evidence to demonstrate that the 
Indonesian military used napalm and targeted agricultural areas 
and livestock in flagrant disregard of the laws of war. Illness 
and food shortages forced civilians to leave the hills and 
surrender to Indonesian forces. The surrendering population was 
first detained in transit camps and later dispatched to 
resettlement camps. Transit camps were located in close proximity 
to the local military bases. Their function was to identify 
members of the resistance and to gain intelligence on the rest of 
the resistance in the mountains.Torture and rape were common 
during the interrogation process. People identified as members of 
the resistance were either executed immediately or interrogated at 
greater length and then executed. Female relatives of resistance 
leaders were often made the sexual slaves of Indonesian military 
officers.

     Torture and rape were common during the interrogation 
process. People identified as members of the resistance were 
either executed immediately or interrogated at greater length and 
then executed.

The transit camps were not equipped to care for the welfare of the 
detainees. Often they were little more than huts made from palm 
thatch with no toilets. In many cases, the only shelter in the 
camps was under trees. No medical care was available. Since the 
detainees’ food sources had been destroyed and they had walked for 
days in order to surrender, they were already in a weakened state 
when they arrived at the transit camps. Diseases such as cholera, 
diarrhoea and tuberculosis were rife in the camps, and many died 
as a result. Detainees were forbidden to grow or search for food 
themselves but were given a small amount of food on arrival. This 
food was often distributed after extorting family heirlooms, 
jewellery, traditional beads or sexual favours. In some cases, the 
detainees went into protein shock after eating the food, resulting 
in chills, fever, bronchial spasms, acute emphysema, vomiting and 
diarrhoea.

After a period of approximately three months (the exact duration 
in each camp depended on the prevailing policy there), the 
detainees were dispatched to resettlement camps. Sometimes 
detainees were not sent anywhere; the same transit camps were 
re-designated as resettlement camps. By late 1979, there were 
approximately 300,000 to 370,000 people in the camps. Once again, 
there were severe restrictions on movement as well as inadequate 
food, medicine, sanitation and shelter. The result was a famine in 
which about 100,000 East Timorese died.

What did the Fraser Government know about the catastrophe in East 
Timor? I have been seeking 37-year-old documents written by 
officers of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) 
about the situation in East Timor. The Archives Act 1983 (Cth) 
provides for the declassification of government documents after 30 
years. But DFAT is refusing to make them publicly available, 
claiming that their release would compromise Australia’s security, 
defence and/or international relations. The case to declassify the 
documents comes before the Administrative Appeals Tribunal in the 
second half of 2012.

     But DFAT is refusing to make them publicly available, 
claiming that their release would compromise Australia’s security, 
defence and/or international relations.

The documents would show in stark detail what Australia’s 
diplomats knew, and whether they aided and abetted the famine. We 
already know from other sources that Australian Ambassador Tom 
Critchley visited East Timor along with 10 other foreign 
ambassadors from 6–8 September 1978. The ambassadors were briefed 
that approximately 125,000 people had come down from the 
mountains, and that as many as a quarter of them were suffering 
from cholera, malaria, tuberculosis and advanced malnutrition. 
Ambassador Critchley reported in confidence that the visit had 
been carefully controlled by the Indonesian authorities, who were 
clearly anxious that the tragic plight of many of the refugees 
seen should not be blamed on their administration. Many 
ambassadors came away shocked by the condition of the refugees, 
and one ambassador said that the children in one camp reminded him 
of victims of an African famine.

Research has also established that other diplomats from the 
Australian Embassy in Jakarta visited East Timor soon afterwards: 
the Third Secretary visited in December 1978, the Embassy 
Counsellor visited from 27–29 January 1979, the Third Secretary 
visited again in the second half of 1979, the Defence Attache 
visited in January 1980, the Australian Ambassador and others, 
including the Embassy Counsellor, visited in May 1980. Their 
reports and associated documentation have not been fully 
declassified, although under the 30-year rule, they ought to be, 
along with relevant Cabinet records, records of the Department of 
the Prime Minister and Cabinet, and the records of the Department 
of Defence and other government agencies. In Opposition, Labor 
frontbencher Nicola Roxon had campaigned for open and accountable 
government, arguing that Commonwealth information should be 
protected only when there is a legitimate reason for doing so. 
Now, however, she is the Attorney-General, and has agreed to 
DFAT’s request for a certificate shielding its officials from 
public scrutiny and cross-examination of their claims as to why 
the documents should remain classified even after 35 years.

     The documents would show in stark detail what Australia’s 
diplomats knew, and whether they aided and abetted the famine.

Under Malcolm Fraser’s Government, Australia became the only 
Western country to officially recognise Indonesia’s annexation of 
East Timor. Fraser had enormous leverage over the Suharto regime 
but he never exercised it. Under Suharto’s kleptocratic, rapacious 
administration, Indonesia was in debt; about 20 per cent of its 
revenue went to paying its existing debt. Furthermore, it was a 
regime whose internal legitimacy depended on having destroyed the 
Communist Party of Indonesia, which meant that the regime was 
unable to switch sides and start making friendly overtures to the 
Soviet Union. It had nowhere else to go.

     The Australian Government should the release the records of 
all government departments that deal with the Fraser Government’s 
knowledge of the atrocities committed in the early years of 
Indonesia’s occupation.

In 2012, nearly 40 years later, public scrutiny of the historical 
record should not stop with the Whitlam Government.The Australian 
Government should the release the records of all government 
departments that deal with the Fraser Government’s knowledge of 
the atrocities committed in the early years of Indonesia’s 
occupation, as well as all records relating to the Fraser 
Government’s de facto and de jure recognition of the Indonesian 
take-over. Then we will know how much early warning the Australian 
Government had of the catastrophe, and how this influenced the 
political will to act in line with the Responsibility to Protect 
principle.

Dr Clinton Fernandes is an Associate Professor at the University 
of New South Wales, Canberra. He has written widely on the 
independence of East Timor, and Australian-Indonesian relations. 
His principal research area is international relations and 
strategy, and he recently took part in an international 
Fact-Finding Mission on the elections in Malaysia.




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