Subject: UCAN Column - Hypocrisy In The Name Of Democracy And Human Rights

TIMOR LESTE UCAN Column - Hypocrisy In The Name Of Democracy And Human Rights

By Hipolito Aparicio

September 2, 2008 | TL05633.1513 | 1333 words

DILI (UCAN) -- When Indonesia seized Timor Leste in late 1975, it heralded its invasion with promises and platitudes to win the hearts of local people.

"We are here to free you from Portuguese colonialism and liberate you from the communist regime," the invaders asserted. "We've come to help develop your country so that it can become more democratic, more human," and on and on.

The very first to fight back were barely teenagers. We grabbed guns, crossed rivers and mountains, and began organizing our people to resist with single-minded determination: "Alive or Dead, Independence!"

Before long, word was trickling down from the hills that Indonesian solders were raping, torturing and killing to counter our pro-independence struggle. The invader tried to justify the genocide with claims that pro-independence supporters were communists who had to be exterminated.

Hundreds of thousands of Timorese were killed in the process, totally contradicting all the pro-humanity slogans Indonesia was proclaiming.

Without hope or even a voice, our people suffered this agony for 24 years.

Then the hypocritical former colonial power, like a new Western hero, began broadcasting demands to garner global public opinion against the occupation.

"End the occupation of Timor Leste now," it bellowed. "Give the people food and medicine, not weapons. Stop stealing their resources and killing them. Let the Timorese determine their own future and live in peace," and on and on.

Once Indonesia finally exited, some of us younger survivors got a chance to study in Australia, Indonesia, New Zealand, the Philippines, the United States, and elsewhere. That experience also gave us an opportunity to learn about democracy, human rights, disarmament and other basic values.

Today, as nations present themselves as great defenders of democracy and human rights, we again hear almost the same slogans we had heard in our youth.

I was at Iowa State University in 2003 when the first U.S. contingent went to Iraq. Almost all the students there went on strike to protest the policy.

In that first period of protest, I had a chance to share my experience with classmates. I was asked, "How can someone endure the desert's infernal heat?" and "Can anyone keep going two or three days without Coca-Cola in the desert?"

My classmates chuckled when I replied: "Iraqis definitely can resist even under the sand, without hamburgers!" One of my lecturers countered: "Whenever the United States interferes, it always acts for the sake of democracy and human rights. America is exercising its responsibility as a superpower."

But in 2004, Jesuit Father John Dear was telling fellow Americans at peace rallies: "The U.S. occupation of Iraq is a total disaster. We have been lied to, the facts have been distorted, and the country has been misled. This war was not about democracy, not about nuclear disarmament, not about bringing peace to the Middle East, not about preventing terrorist attacks, not about feeding the hungry or funding jobs, healthcare, education, housing, or cleaning up the environment, and not about upholding international law. Iraq is not a liberated country, it is an occupied country, and we are the military, imperial occupiers ... This war and occupation is all about oil. It makes the oil millionaires richer; sets a terrible precedent that it is permissible to disregard the international community and bomb preemptively; guarantees further terrorist attacks against us; and kills hundreds of our people and thousands of our brothers and sisters in Iraq."

At the time, I could not understand what famous American scholars and advocates of democracy, human rights and peace were thinking about such hypocrisy. In the name of democracy, human rights and America's position as a superpower, thousands of Iraqi children were killed. Old Iraqi women asked through their tears, "Is this democracy? Is this liberation? Is this peace?"

In 2006, a few years after our long, painful struggle achieved independence, a political and military crisis broke out in Timor Leste. Those responsible exploited internal dissatisfaction between "loro-monu" (western) and "loro-sae" (eastern) solders and officials of FDTL (East Timor Defense Force).

Earlier, most people from western Timor Leste favored integration with the invader, and most easterners wanted independence. This historical split was at play when eastern members of PNLT (Timor Leste National Police) were disarmed.

All easterners had to leave Dili as westerners ravaged the city with burning and stealing and then occupied the easterners' homes. Once again, thousands of people lost their homes in the name of peace and justice. For almost three years, they had to live in tents provided by the International Organization for Migration and other international agencies.

One westerner, Alfredo Reinado, rose up claiming he would restore peace and justice, but this false hero was killed on Feb. 11 as he tried to assassinate President José Manuel Ramos Horta and Prime Minister Xanana Gusmão. When the government denounced Reinado and his men as rebels, and ordered the capture of all other rebels, the westerners no longer recognized him as a "hero."

Timorese saw the Catholic Church in Timor Leste as a powerful moral force for mediation and reconciliation during the agony of Indonesian occupation. But from April 19 to May 7, 2005, amid all the uncertainty and the continuing search for a national identity, the Church chose to promote the largest demonstration in Timor Leste's history.

The demonstration was an emotional reaction to the government's plan to remove religion as a compulsory subject in the national curriculum, which was interpreted by the local Church leadership as an anti-Church move by the government.

For so many years, the local Church had shown patience, solidarity and a capacity to suffer silently with voiceless Timorese dramatically facing the torture, rape and genocide committed by Indonesian soldiers. So why did the Church after independence change its face so drastically? Was the new government more dangerous than the Indonesian regime? Was there a concordat between the Vatican and the Timor Leste government that had been broken?

The demonstration led by the Catholic Church did not aim to teach Timorese Catholics how to be good Christians and honest citizens. This fact is just what the rector-major of the Salesians in Rome said, in a letter prohibiting his confreres from joining that anti-government demonstration.

Bishop Carlos Belo, who headed the local Church from 1988 to 2002, did not comment publicly on the bishops of Dili and Baucau, who supported the famous demonstration. But he did note that since no Vatican-government concordat thus far had been signed, and no formal relations established, there was no justification for the bishops to call on all humble and devout people to demonstrate in Dili, and to blame and criticize their own leaders.

Even when democracy, human rights and harmony fail to exist, faithful people must cry out in the name of hope, "Bring American soldiers back from Iraq!" because they should not get killed, nor should they kill anyone else.

In the name of disarmament, we should also demand, "Dismantle the weapons of mass destruction in the hands of members of the United Nations Security Council." If they are genuinely committed to making the world free of such weapons, they must stop their hypocrisy and dismantle their own arsenal of nuclear weapons, which are the greatest threat to the planet.

In the name of nonviolence, we also must tell all Timorese, "Stop the illegal possession of guns and rediscover the path to peace."

Peaceful means are the only way to a peaceful future and the God of peace. Martin Luther King, Jr., Dorothy Day, Mahatma Gandhi and others have urged us to create a new world without war or nuclear weapons. The way to end terrorism is to end poverty, starvation, the degradation of the earth, the proliferation of weapons, and the existence of nuclear weapons.

We were created to be nonviolent with one another and with the earth, to receive the gift of peace from the God of peace and live in peace together.

This is no time for discouragement, despair or fear. We cannot give up! There's too much work to do.


Hipolito Aparicio, 48, was born in Timor Leste where he taught and directed Catholic schools for many years. More recently, he has served as a translator and been involved as manager of numerous NGO-sponsored projects.

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