ISSN #1088-8136

Vol. 7, No. 3
Winter 2001-2002


East Timor Elects Assembly

Ashes to Ashes: Reflections on Terror

ETAN to Kissinger

ETAN Marks Anniversaries

September 11 Aftermath Brings Shifts

Lobby Days 2001 Yields Info, Action

Phillips Petroleum & Canberra Play an Old Game

ETAN Tour Spotlights Refugee Crisis

President Megawati: Bad News for Timor

Court Issues $66 Million Judgment Against Indonesian General

A Letter from Dili

About East Timor and the East Timor Action Network

Estafeta Winter 2001-2002

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Ashes to Ashes:
Reflections on Terror

by John M. Miller

Two different election days will forever be seared in my memory.

On August 30, 1999, the UN held East Timor’s historic independence vote. Standing near a polling station in the mountains west of Dili, I felt the ashes, still warm, of a home burned to the ground that morning. Soldiers from the military post nearby did it as a warning, I was told. In the coming weeks, that destruction would be magnified many thousand times.

On September 11, 2001, I was serving as a poll worker at a more mundane election: New York’s municipal primary. As we waited in a Brooklyn elementary school for a decision on postponing the vote, I watched bits of paper and ash floating to the ground, remnants of the World Trade Center, blown away by hijacked planes just across the river from where I live in Brooklyn.

Each attack was a unique expression of vicious political terror.

NGO activists from Fokupers and Yayasan Hak bring their condolence messages and flowers to the U.S. Mission in Dili. September 13. Photo by Charles Scheiner.

The first official act of East Timor’s newly elected assembly was to mourn for the dead and missing from the awful attacks on New York and Washington. The East Timorese know much about acts of mass murder and wanton destruction. They know much about mourning.

In 1999, East Timor experienced its own destruction. After East Timor voted overwhelmingly for independence, the Indonesian military systematically razed the country. They did a thorough job, destroying up to 80 percent of its buildings. Whole towns and villages were gutted. Hundreds of women and girls were raped and hundreds of thousands were forced from their homes. An estimated 2,000 East Timorese were murdered, among the last of more than 200,000 killed during the course of Indonesia’s 24-year occupation – many at the hands of troops wielding U.S.-supplied weapons. The murder and destruction ended only after the U.S. severed military ties and an international peacekeeping force was deployed.

The perpetrators of those crimes are well known. A report by Indonesia’s Human Rights Commission named dozens of names, mostly from the Indonesian military. Other investigations point to additional masterminds. Two years later, none have been brought to trial. Some of those responsible retain high positions in the Indonesian military or government, where they are directing similar crimes against civilians throughout Indonesia.

It would be correct to call Indonesia a nation harboring the terrorists who committed crimes against humanity in East Timor, but there is no international outcry to bomb Jakarta. Indeed, the East Timorese would be aghast at the idea. They have seen enough death and destruction. This is truly amazing, given that one would be hard-pressed to find a woman or man in East Timor who has not lost at least one family member during Indonesia’s brutal occupation.

Unlike the mighty United States, East Timor is a small nation that will not even become formally independent until next May. The East Timorese could not act unilaterally to detain and try their former tormentors even if they wanted to. It is troubling that there has been so little international action to bring the agents of destruction to justice. Some still advise we should wait until Indonesia prosecutes its own. But while Jakarta may engage in a few token prosecutions, no one really expects them to accomplish much, and prosecutors in East Timor are unlikely to get custody to try the masterminds of the 1999 violence.

The means to justice for East Timor is clear. A January 2000 report by a United Nations special commission of inquiry recommended an international tribunal along the lines of those now sitting in judgment of systematic human rights violators in Rwanda or the former Yugoslavia.

Two years after the destruction of their country, the people of East Timor remain angry, but they are not looking for vengeance. Indeed, many militia members have already been reintegrated into their communities. Few have suffered any form of retaliatory violence. The East Timorese want the people most responsible tried and punished according to law.

Here in the U.S., people are also angry. But in its effort to build a “coalition against terrorism,” the Bush administration recently restored some of the military ties that were severed in 1999 as Indonesia was terrorizing East Timor, even though Congressional stipulations — including return of the refugees and the prosecution of human rights violators — have not been met (see article page 6). Giving assistance to a military and police that continue to systematically violate human rights does not support justice. Human rights, at home or abroad, should not be sacrificed in the name of holding accountable those responsible for the attack on my city.

Creating an international tribunal for East Timor would demonstrate a real commitment to the rule of law. The victims of the September attacks on the U.S. deserve justice; so do the people of East Timor. Both would be honored by actions that build peace and respect international law.

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