Say Sorry For Policy Of Silence
Former United States President Bill Clinton will head a US delegation to East Timor to take part in Independence
celebrations. The celebrations are a victory for democracy, for humanitarianism, and above all the East Timorese. But
this Independence Day must also be a day of remembrance: Our own New Zealand government’s policy of silence, nurtured
significantly in the 1990s by the then New Zealand Foreign Minister Don McKinnon, placed trade above humanitarianism
while Indonesia slaughtered thousands in the 23 years of occupation, since invading East Timor in 1975.
On May 20, East Timor will become the first new nation of the millennium. Clinton, joined by his last ambassador to the
UN, Richard Holbrooke, is scheduled to congratulate East Timorese on their hard-won victory and provide encouragement
for further social stability, infrastructure development, industry and economic growth.
But western nations ought to be reminded of their reluctance to interfere in Indonesia’s invasion of East Timor on
December 7 1975 and the excesses of the 1990s, and for this apologies ought to be forthcoming.
Indonesian dictator Suharto had been given the green light to invade, only the day before, by the then United States
President Gerald Ford and US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. What followed was 23 years of a US-Indonesian alliance
that supported the oppression of East Timorese. The US looked the other way when massacres were orchestrated against
unarmed citizens including New Zealanders and Australian journalists. New Zealand too embraced open and progressive
trade with Indonesia and maintained a policy of silence over atrocities in East Timor. The United States supplied 90% of
the weapons used during the initial invasion and continued to provide Jakarta [Indonesia’s capital] with billions of
dollars in weaponry.
The result? More than 200,000 [one third of East Timor’s population] were murdered. Evidence of this was revealed within
formerly classified documents released recently by the United States National Security Archive.
New Zealand is not clean on this issue. Former New Zealand Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Don
McKinnon [Now Commonwealth Secretary General] insisted that a “non-critical” policy was observed regarding Indonesia and
East Timor. McKinnon, preoccupied with trade not humanitarian issues, refused to add clout to the voice of a New Zealand
family that had lost loved ones during a massacre in Dili, East Timor’s capital.
New Zealander, Helen Todd's son Kamal Bamadhaj was killed in the Santa Cruz cemetery in Dili, East Timor, when
Indonesian troops opened fire on protesters marching for independence on November 12, 1991. The story of his death was
told in the documentary Punitive Damage, a collaboration between his mother and filmmaker Annie Goldson. Helen Todd
lobbied McKinnon to apply pressure on Indonesia. She wanted justice and conviction for those responsible to the massacre
and the death of her son. McKinnon was not moved. Trade was the all important issue, not the death of Kamal Bamadhaj and
certainly not human rights.
When video footage and photographs of a November 1991 massacre in Dili were smuggled to the outside world by reporters
who survived the bloodbath, international support for East Timor's independence grew dramatically. But McKinnon and his
Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade officials did little apart from attempt to steady unease.
Following the 1991 massacre, a group formed called East Timor Action Network. It successfully lobbied the US Congress to
block some weapons sales and military training to Jakarta. But New Zealand continued to seduce Indonesia, establishing
strong trade ties, exploring sounder diplomatic alliances, training Indonesian pilots and refusing to comment on
Indonesia’s occupation and continued policy of state-sanctioned murder of East Timorese.
Even after East Timor's overwhelming vote for independence on August 30 1999 [78.5 per cent of East Timor's registered
voters approved independence for the region in a UN-backed referendum] when the Indonesian military (TNI) and its
militia proxies laid waste to the territory, killing at least 2,000 and forcibly displacing more than two-thirds of the
population – New Zealand’s Don McKinnon tried to damp down outrage.
The wave of violence staggered the world. Eye witnesses reported bodies piled high in Dili's police station cells,
stacks of bodies went up to the roof. The Sydney Morning Herald reported arms and legs dripping blood.
At that very moment APEC, the Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation heads of governments meetings were then being held in
Auckland, New Zealand. There two thirds of the world’s countries came together to discuss globalisation, economic trade
liberalisation. Bill Clinton, the then Russian Federation Prime Minister and now President Vladimir Putin, the Late
Japanese Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi, and Chinese President Jiang Zemin were all there.
McKinnon insisted that APEC had gathered in Auckland to discuss economic liberalisation not Indonesian relations with
East Timor. McKinnon, charged as host nation with coordinating the meetings was determined to keep East Timor off the
agenda. But as the world’s leaders gathered, McKinnon was out manoeuvred largely by pressure from ASEAN nations
determined to halt the killings in East Timor and salvage ties and ease threats of economic sanctions against the
developing economy of Indonesia.
A “Crisis Meeting” was demanded by the world’s heavyweights. McKinnon was forced to organise a meeting in the Auckland
Town Hall adjacent to the APEC heads of governments meetings in the Aotea Centre. Britain’s Foreign Minister Robin Cook
was on his way – expecting to take part in a meeting. McKinnon was forced to comply. In a face-saving measure McKinnon
chaired the meeting. The tolling of Auckland City church bells on the hour every hour throughout that Crisis Meeting was
a moving reminder to all the leaders who sat inside the Auckland Town Hall that the world’s people were watching.
The results were kept secret.
On exiting from the meeting, reporting for Scoop Media [see www.scoop.co.nz] I asked US Secretary of State Madeleine
Albright what was the outcome of the meeting. She replied: “Chairman Don McKinnon will expand on this later.” He never
did. But we found out from the international contingent’s spokespersons that a wedge had been driven between the
economically obsessed ASEAN nations and the humanitarian concerns of the western Pacific UN leaning nations. New Zealand
Clinton followed by cutting all military ties with Indonesia and severed economic co-operation and aid with Indonesia.
Japan raised concerns about taking this approach. Japan warned that the international community must “consider the
serious consequences” of withholding International Monetary Fund aid to Indonesia. It said such an action would have
dire consequences for the security and economic development of the Asia/Pacific region.
Japan at that time contributed $2 billion US in humanitarian aid to Indonesia. That made up 60 percent of the net aid
contribution the country received.
Japanese Prime Minister Obuchi reiterated for Indonesia to: “accept international calls for calm in East Timor.” “To do
so,” he said, “is not something which Indonesia should be ashamed.” Mr Obuchi said the situation in East Timor was
“unacceptable”. That the responsibility of restoring order lay with Indonesia: “If it cannot restore order then we
should again ask Indonesia to allow the international community to restore order on its behalf.” But again he warned:
“If international pressure on Indonesia causes the economic hardship onto Indonesia’s people, then unknown consequences
would develop.” Japan would only go as far to say it would provide “logistic support to a United Nations lead force in
China took the strongest stance of the ASEAN nations with its President Jiang Zemin stating: “That the will of the East
Timorese people should be honoured and that the International community should now move to restore order in East Timor.”
McKinnon became insignificant, and remained silent.
The world leaders, gathered in Auckland for the APEC leader’s summit meetings, waited for a statement from Indonesian
President B.J. Habibie on whether an international peacekeeping force would be asked into East Timor to help restore
Press secretary to Britain’s foreign minister Robin Cook, Kim Darroch, told me in a telephone interview to Whitehall
that Britain had little information regarding which way President Habibie would swing. Darroch said the British
Government had agreed to send one infantry company, consisting of around 150 to 200 soldiers, to back an international
peacekeeping contingent to East Timor should President Habibie request assistance. Darroch said the British naval ship,
HMS Glasgow, was also close to reaching the waters off East Timor. The ship had restocked in Singapore two days
previously and was heading to sea.
Meanwhile, back in Auckland, New Zealand Prime Minister, Jenny Shipley, awaited the Indonesian response. McKinnon
continued to be silent. Shipley’s press secretary, Simon King, said she would not make any statements on the situation
before receiving the Indonesian statement and would not likely comment on what stance New Zealand would take.
An important point was this week raised by the spokesperson for East Timor Action Network, John Miller. He issued a
statement saying: "When former President Clinton, joined by his last ambassador to the UN, Richard Holbrooke,
congratulates the East Timorese people on their hard-won victory, we must remember that as the most important supporter
of Indonesia's illegal occupation, the US, owes the new country an enormous moral debt. We urge the Clinton delegation
to acknowledge it." Miller said: “Since September 1999 Washington has provided significant assistance to East Timor's
reconstruction, but such aid does not begin to compensate the East Timorese people for the suffering wrought by 24 years
of US support for Indonesian military occupation."
Of course recent history shows that New Zealand, as did Australia and the US, contributed significantly to a United
Nations peace keeping force in East Timor. Successful elections have been held. And on May 20 East Timor becomes this
century’s first new nation. That is a wonderful outcome for a country that has suffered and endured much.
But it would be wrong for people to forget the role that western nations - led by the United States and bolstered by
nations like New Zealand - played in the invasion of 1975 and subsequent massacres like that and the Santa Cruz Cemetery
in 1991. The policy of silence that New Zealand then supported, and the United States’ arming of the Indonesian
military, allowed in large part the continued oppression of the people of East Timor. These are now brighter days. Lest
Spectator e-book publishers can design, publish and present your work... click here for more... e-book publishers
Send your comments to: Spectator News Editor.
© Spectator News Agency, Multimedia Investments Limited, 2002.