A voice that shames those who are silent on Timor

23 July 2000

Last month Prime Minister Paul Keating launched a "trade and cultural promotion" with Indonesia. Surrounded by businessmen and representatives of the arts, Keating made an extraordinary speech that was praised in the Australian press for its "maturity".

He announced a "partnership" with Jakarta which, he said, would "stand as a model for cooperation between developed and developing countries". He described the "stability" of the Suharto regime as "the single most beneficial strategic development to have affected Australia and its region in the past 30 years".

He made not a single reference to human rights, let alone the fact that the regime of General Suharto had one of the most barbarous records of the 20th century; that, in coming to power, Suharto and his generals had killed more than half a million people, and had caused the death of more people in East Timor, proportionately, than had died under Pol Pot in Cambodia.

The deaths that have paid for the great "benefit" to Australia were also excluded from the press reporting of Keating's speech, in the same way that Stalin's crimes were eradicated from the press of eastern Europe. The Jakarta regime, declared the Australian, "can be declared moderate". Last September, the Indonesian ambassador in Canberra accurately described Keating as "our comrade in arms".

Keating's speech was made on the same day on which George Aditjondro, an Indonesian academic, risked his livelihood, and possibly his life, to speak out about East Timor, to "take off the veil of secrecy", as he later told me. In Australia, his trenchant analysis of the genocide committed by his government in East Timor was reported in depth only by Andre Malan, a journalist with the West Australian in Perth. The denials of the Jakarta regime and a craven, veiled dismissal by foreign minister Gareth Evans were dutifully reported.

Aditjondro is one of Indonesia's most courageous voices. As a lecturer at Satya Wacana Christian University in Central Java, he has long campaigned for human rights in Indonesia. He is a reminder that the ruling clique around Suharto is not Indonesia, and that Douglas Hurd's patronising dismissal of his country as a society resistant to the "Western concept of human rights" is insulting in the extreme. Aditjondro's message is simply that genocide in East Timor is unworthy of Indonesia.

"It may be necessary to take action against Dr George Aditjondro", threatened General Soeyono, the military commander of Central Java. Within days, Aditjondro's house was attacked by stone-throwing thugs, and his university has come under pressure to sack him.

On March 16, Aditjondro released two academic papers, written after more than 20 years of research. They represent one of the most comprehensive analyses of the effects of Indonesia's attempts to "integrate" East Timor.

In spite of the military's threats, the Aditjondro disclosures cannot easily be subjected to the usual campaign of lies and smears that Jakarta and its foreign apologists resort to in the face of evidence of genocide. Aditjondro is respected in Indonesian academic circles and has even had the imprimatur of Suharto himself, who in 1986 presented him with the award of Indonesian environmentalist of the year.

The Aditjondro papers support the estimate of human-rights organisations that at least 200,000 people, or a third of the East Timorese population, have died under the Indonesian occupation. In a telephone interview from his home in Java, he told me that 200,000 was a "moderate estimate". In his research, he quotes a figure of 60,000 East Timorese killed in the first two months of the occupation -- 10% of the population.

"The death toll", he writes, "quickly escalated during the succeeding years. During the first three years of the war, the population in the territory fell from 688,771 in 1974 to 329,271 in October 1978. What happened to the shortfall of 359,500 people? About 4,000 went into exile ... A large number were forced to flee or went voluntarily into the forests ... But anecdotal accounts point to an exceedingly high death toll."

He gives credence to the reports of foreign observers that describe the use of napalm and Agent Orange, a carcinogen. In describing the bombardment (by mainly American-supplied planes), he chronicles the decimation of the gentios, or animist people of East Timor, who, before the invasion in 1975, lived in the valleys of the Ramelau mountain range in the western interior of the country. He puts their population in 1974 at 460,112. After four years of bombing, this had been reduced to 68,839.

"Various ways of executing the survivors of the aerial bombing were developed", he writes. "One of them was plunging those suspected of supporting the freedom movement over the cliffs of the Sarei river at Builico in the district of Ainaro. Other ways were by plunging the suspects into the sea of the Dili Bay or by overcrowding prisoners in barracks on Atauro island with 40 to 80 inmates covered with black canvas." He describes how thousands of others were forced down to the lowlands of Baucau, into resettlement camps where many died "if they were not executed by plunging them from the notorious Celicai river banks, the 'second hell', as the local people came to call the place".

The Aditjondro papers describe how the Catholic Church in East Timor was prevented from distributing famine relief in the late 1970s, when starvation claimed many thousands of lives as a direct result of the occupation; and how Indonesian soldiers have systematically raped and otherwise abused East Timorese women.

"The most important indirect consequence of the war in East Timor", he writes, "is the fostering of a culture of violence ... this reached its zenith with the massacre of 271 young people at the Santa Cruz cemetery, Dili, on 12 November 1991 ..." It is this one statement that marks out Aditjondro's courage. Indonesian propaganda, and that of its backers in the west -- notably the Australian government -- has mounted a campaign in recent months to deny or cast doubt on evidence that makes mockery of Jakarta's claim that just 19 people (later revised to "around 50") were killed in the Santa Cruz cemetery.

Aditjondro's source for the figure of 271 is the same used by myself and others, and comes from Timorese research rigorously cross-checked by the Lisbon-based human rights organisation Peace is Possible in East Timor. The research lists the names and addresses of each one of the murder victims.

With the prospect of burgeoning trade with Australia and arms deals with Britain and Europe, Jakarta's supporters have been at pains to present the Suharto regime as "open", "stable", "moderate" and even "sensitive to human rights". To this end, the regime was encouraged to set up a "commission of inquiry" following the Dili massacre.

Although dismissed by Amnesty as "totally lacking credibility and designed principally to appease international criticism", it has been well used by Jakarta's friends. The discredited statements of Australian foreign minister Gareth Evans are used as Indonesian press releases.

Within two months of the Dili massacre, which Evans described as an "aberration", the Australian government oversaw the awarding of contracts under the Timor Gap treaty. Signed in 1989 by Evans and his Indonesian counterpart, Ali Alatas, flying over the mass graves of East Timor and toasting each other in champagne, the treaty allows Australians and other foreign companies to exploit the gas and oil reserves off East Timor which, says Evans, could bring in "zillions" of dollars.

In his March 16 speech in Sydney, Prime Minister Keating effused about the "exciting economic opportunities" awaiting Australian companies in Indonesia. Australian companies have for years been assisting the Indonesian military's repression in East Timor with strategic road and bridge-building. The Aditjondro papers describe the fraudulent nature of this "development" and document the exciting economic opportunities grasped by a group of generals close to Suharto, including General Benny Murdani, who mounted the invasion of East Timor. They set up a front company that now monopolises East Timor's economy, controlling trade in sandalwood, coffee, and marble.

At the same time, writes Aditjondro, the regime has allowed Javanese and Balinese immigrants to take control of land belonging to East Timorese farmers, often without compensation. "People in East Timor are longing for a referendum on their future", Aditjondro told me, "but unless there is an embargo on those coming in, this may be worthless".

He said that two of his close colleagues, Arief Budiman and Ariel Heryanto, who supported his stand, had received threatening letters stating that they had "besmirched" the name of the university. He said the rector of the university was under pressure from the military to sack him, but he had heard nothing. "I have read in the local press that we are to be refused the right to publish our papers outside the university", he said.

I asked him if he regarded international publicity as a form of personal protection. "Yes, it is", he replied. In contrast to the uncritical, often obsequious attention given to the schemes of those promoting "trade" at any price, the silence and indifference afforded George Aditjondro endangers him and shames us.