BACK DOOR Newsletter on East Timor home

"For twenty years the Australian Government has consistently failed to support the people of Indonesia and East Timor, choosing instead to support the military and political elites. ... The UN tribunal which will investigate crimes against humanity in East Timor, should also consider the accomplices to those crimes, including governments that assisted the Indonesian military in full knowledge of how that aid would be used in East Timor." James Goodman, academic, activist, member Committee of Management of AID/WATCH

East Timor: Australia's accountability

by James Goodman


July 1999

In the last few weeks the world has borne witness to a genocidal massacre in East Timor. The East Timorese people have faced several such massacres over the last 25 years - the difference is that this is public and those responsible can't deny it happened. Many East Timorese politicians, many pro-democracy campaigners in Indonesia, and many supporters of the East Timorese cause, warned of such a humanitarian disaster. They know something of the real history of the past 25 years in East Timor, and understood how the Indonesian military was likely to respond to a vote against continued integration with Indonesia. But their urgent appeals were ignored.

Australian Government policymakers, who have helped train and arm the Indonesian military, trusted their collaborators to maintain order in East Timor. The Australian Government has known since at least November 1998 that the Indonesian military was training and arming militias in East Timor. Yet it was Australian officials who persuaded the US to drop their insistence that UNAMET include a peacekeeping force.

Since 1965 the Australian Government has blinded itself to the truth that it is the Indonesian military that is the principal destabilising force in Indonesia. For decades the Indonesian military has waged war on its own people, first in the name of anti-communism and now in the name of national unity. It was the military that ran riot in Jakarta last year, attempting to discredit the pro-democracy movement, and it is the military that stokes Indonesia's 'regional' conflicts in Aceh, West Kalimantan, West Papua and of course East Timor.

The Australian Government's complicity, and the resulting self-delusion and wilful distortion, has bred a dangerous naivety about the military. It has also bred an uncritical attitude to the Habibie Government, which has been able to cast itself in the role of innocent bystander, while pursuing policies that have undermined the prospects for peace.

The East Timorese peace proposals, tabled in 1992 by CNRT, hinged on a period of transition for demilitarisation, reconstruction, reconciliation and self-government. This 'autonomy' phase was designed to lay the preconditions for an act of self-determination, through a referendum. By 1998 the UN was promoting this model, and the Habibie Government was reluctantly participating in negotiations that defined autonomy as a transitional phase on the road to self-determination. In January 1999 Habibie sought to regain the initiative from the UN and CNRT, and deliberately separated autonomy from self-determination, setting them up as opposing options.

Instead of helping to secure a gradual transfer of power to the East Timorese people, Habibie proposed an immediate referendum, in which East Timor would be given a simple choice between 'autonomy plus' and independence. Nothing could have been calculated to create greater instability. East Timorese society was immediately polarised. The absolute political imperative for pro-integration elites was to now to mobilise against the peace process, and against reconciliation. It was a 'now-or-never' clash of wills. Pro-integrationists were thrown into the arms of the military, which then set about creating maximum civil disorder, to render East Timor ungovernable. One vital element refused to fall into place - Falantil, the CNRT army, maintained their ceasefire. Nobody, not even the Indonesian Government, could characterise the mayhem as civil war (although they did try).

Yet still the Australian Government pledged to maintain its 'special relationship' with the Indonesian military and the Indonesian Government. It took a truly genocidal massacre, in the full glare of the international media and in defiance of the UN, for the Australian policy-making elite to finally admit the 'relationship' counted for nothing. The supreme irony is that the game of delusion continued right up until the Indonesian Government itself declared an end to the 'relationship', by withdrawing from the Keating-Soeharto Security Pact.

The 'special relationship' has finally ended where it began - in a bloodbath in East Timor. And at what cost? For twenty years the Australian Government has consistently failed to support the people of Indonesia and East Timor, choosing instead to support the military and political elites. Those pursuing this policy deserve to be publicly exposed.

It is time to call governments to account. The UN tribunal which will investigate crimes against humanity in East Timor, should also consider the accomplices to those crimes, including governments that assisted the Indonesian military in full knowledge of how that aid would be used in East Timor.

It is also time to honour those in the solidarity movement, across the globe, who have kept up the fight for democracy and self-determination. And it is time to pay tribute to the Indonesian pro-democracy movement, and, above all, to the East Timorese movement for self-determination; let us hope that the Australian Government will, at last, be guided by their needs, not by the military and political elites who rule over them.
James Goodman, is an academic, activist, and on the Committee of Management of AID/WATCH.


AID/WATCH   Monitoring the Development Dollar
AID/WATCH is a community-based, not for profit, activist group that campaigns on Australian involvement in overseas aid and development projects, programs and policies. AID/WATCH works with partners in low-income countries, including East Timor, where people are adversely affected by Australian development activities. This may occur through bilateral aid programs, multilateral development banks and Australian corporations. AID/WATCH also aims to inform the Australian community of how their aid dollar is being spent and what impact it is having, believing that increased awareness of the reality of international aid will lead to aid programs that truly benefit the local population.
Purpose: To support people and communities in low-income countries to determine their own development futures; to ensure that aid money reaches the right people, communities and their environments, and that aid projects are implemented with stringent environmental, ethical, social and cultural guidelines
Telephone from within Australia: (02) 9387-5210  Telephone from overseas: +61 2 9387 5210
Email: aidwatch@mpx.com.au  Homepage: http://www.aidwatch.org.au
AID/WATCH Articles:
July 1999 East Timor: Australia's accountability: http://www.pcug.org.au/~wildwood/earlygoodman.htm
July 1999 Viva Timor L'este: Beyond Silence, Betrayal, Cowardice & Murder: http://www.pcug.org.au~wildwood/earlyviva.htm
AID/WATCH Newsletter:
August 2000 The Rebuilding of ETimor and Bougainville: http://www.aidwatch.org.au/news/20/index.htm
November 2000 Project Proposal: Timor Watch: http://www.pcug.org.au/~wildwood/novaidwatch.htm.
BACK DOOR Newsletter on East Timor home
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