In June, 1976, Indonesia annexed the neighbouring country of East Timor. Since then one third of its population has been murdered.
TONY SAMPHIER asks why nothing has been done.
through Indonesia's capital, Jakarta, emanding that their President must go, the international community's response has been out of step.
Not surprisingly since many of the labels on equipment used against student democrats in Jakarta may well read "Made in Britain" Foreign Secretary Robin Cook's so-called ethical foreign policy has come under fire.
Increasingly, serious questions are being asked in the media of the Government's policy of being soft on Suharto in order to protect the West's economic interests in Indonesia and the region.
"An arms embargo on Indonesia and the withdrawal of British financial credits for the Suharto regime was the minimum that you might have expected from an ethical foreign policy," Andrew Rawnsiey wrote in the Observer last Sunday.
"Yet," he continues, "since New Labour came to power, the Government has turned down just seven applications for export licences while approving 56 more".
Only recently, at the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva, British trade and investment links with Indonesia dominated foreign policy thinking at the expense of ethical considerations.
A resolution at the 1997 Commission meeting had called for practical steps in monitoring human rights in East Timor, occupied by Indonesia since 1975. However, the Indonesian Government failed to deliver.
Nevertheless, this year, when many argued that it was time to get tough, Britain promoted a weak statement on human rights in East Timor to the detriment of a strongly worded resolution which was critical of the Suharto regime's human rights record in East Timor.
For the people of East Timor, situated on the east of the Indonesian archipelago and only 300 miles north of Australia, being let down by the international community is nothing new Following decolonisation by Portugal, Indonesia invaded East Timor in December 1975 annexing the country as Indonesia's "27th Province" six months later.
Though the UN views the annexation as illegal, the plight of the East Timorese has never commanded the same kind of international action as, say, the Iraqi invasion and subsequent annexation of Kuwait in 1985.
Over the years, successive UN resolutions have condemned the invasion of East Timor but, according to CIIR Policy Officer Catherine Scott, little or nothing has ever been done by the international community to implement them.
Therefore, although there are signs of hope for democ
racy in Indonesia, it is no surprise that the East Timorese are fearful for the future.
Though events such as the Pope's 1989 visit have helped publicise their plight, the people of East Timor are concerned that 23 years of agony under Indonesian military rule will be hidden from the world's view still further, as the focus shifts to a possible succession in Indonesia.
"In East Timor, there is a real feeling of isolation and vulnerability," Catherine Scott explained.
"There is widespread apprehension about what might happen next, which is heightened by recent events in Indonesia. If Indonesia disintegrates, who knows what an out-of-control army might do in East Timor."
THE INDONESIAN occupation of East Timor has been repressive and brutal. On 12 November, 1991, for example, Indonesian troops shot and killed up to 300 East Timorese civilians during a funeral procession for a victim of repres
sion at the Santa Cruz cemetery in the East Timorese capital of Dili, It is estimated that a total of up to 200,000 people have died a third of the population since the invasion.
Today, drought, war and the Asian economic crisis have combined to cause serious food shortages in East Timor. According to Noble Laureate and East Timorese human rights activist Jose Ramos Horta, the people of East Timor have suffered doubly. In his view, they have paid with their blood and are now paying the price of Suharto's corruption and mismanagement as the economic downturn begins to bite.
However, Ramos Horta is cautiously hopeful. "The Indonesian students have shown the courage and moral force to tell Suharto and the international community that the Indonesian people have suffered enough," he said.
"They have proved to be the front line of the Indonesian democracy movement and, as such, I believe that they will embrace the East Timorese struggle for selfdetermination as a moral challenge."
Catherine Scott believes that the international community should now take up the challenge of East Timor, too. "Although UN Secretary General Kofi Annan's efforts to bring about a peaceful solution in East Timor should be applauded, the fact is that East Timor is still far down the list of priorities for the UN."
She added: "The UN's role should be strengthened in a bid for peace and reconciliation in East Timor. The diplomatic impasse could be broken, if only Britain and the rest of the international community put East Timor further up the agenda and put the ethical imperative of peace and justice for the East Timorese ahead of economic self-interest. Simply giving aid is not good enough, it must be linked to a diplomatic solution under the auspices of the UN."
Here, the Catholic Church can play a crucial role. East Timorese Catholic leaders have consistently spoken out to defend human rights and promote the cause of peace.
Most recently, in late 1997, the bishops of East Timor, including Nobel Laureate Bishop Belo, openly called for a ceasefire and an end to torture by the Indonesian armed forces."The Catholic Church is an authoritative voice to which people will listen," Catherine Scott said. "The international community should consult with the East Timorese bishops about the way forward."
Solidarity from the Catholic Church in the UK has been strong. Recalling a recent meeting with Belo, Cardinal Basil Hume said: "He spoke constructively about the means of finding a way forward. He stressed the need for respect for the dignity of humans and of peoples. He underlined how important it is that the United Nations is permitted to play its full and proper role in helping to create a non threatening environment in which confidence can grow. Above all, he called for a dialogue, a willingness on all sides for change, and a spirit of reconciliation. I heartily support Bishop Belo's efforts for peace and justice."
In April 1998, the newly formed National Council of East Timorese Resistance, which brings together over 200 East Timorese political, cultural, social and sports organisations, launched its "Magna Carta" declaration.
The declaration reflects a message close to Bishop Belo's heart: "In an indepen dent East Timor, the children and youth shall represent our hope in the future, and the protection and promotion of their rights shall always be a , priority."
• Tony Saphier is press officer for the Catholic Institute for International Relations.