|Subject: NZ Herald: A Not-So-Distant
Horror: Mass Violence in East Timor
[Please note copies are available from ETAN. Go to http://etan.org/resource/booksetc.htm
Joseph Nevins: A Not-So-Distant Horror: Mass Violence in East Timor
13.01.06 Reviewed by Maire Leadbeater
Will the world forget the paroxysm of murderous violence that erupted
when the East Timorese voted overwhelmingly for independence on August 30,
1999? In spite of the presence of the United Nations, East Timor in 1999
was reduced to "ground zero" before the international community
finally intervened. Now that horror has been consigned to the distance
while New York's September 11 "ground zero" is part of daily
This book is inconveniently timed for Washington and its allies
including New Zealand. It comes just as more damning official documents
have been released in Britain and the United States which pinpoint more
than 24 years of Western complicity in Indonesia's East Timor crimes.
In an account described by Noam Chomsky as "searingly
honest", Joseph Nevins analyses how Western nations conspired to back
Indonesia and keep the East Timor issue out of the spotlight. The price
paid by the East Timorese was a loss of life estimated at close to
200,000, or a third of its population, proportionally one of the worst
cases of genocide since World War 11.
Nevins begins by zooming in close so we can meet some of the courageous
friends he made in occupied East Timor. His visits began in 1992, not long
after film of the Santa Cruz massacre was smuggled out and images of
terrified and dying young people were beamed into television screens
around the world.
He describes a pervasive atmosphere of fear, an "institutionalised"
occupation replete with ever-present military and intelligence
surveillance. But he also records the remarkable persistence and ingenuity
of the clandestine resistance network.
Then he takes us to the Western architects of East Timor's tragedy. He
has distilled key information from a wide range of sources including
previously classified diplomatic documents. . Along with the United
States, Japan, Australia and Britain, New Zealand was one of the big five
that Indonesia relied on throughout the occupation.
These nations provided the military, economic and diplomatic assistance
without which the invasion could not have taken place nor the occupation
have persisted. While he focuses on the role of the United States
Government, New Zealand was no minnow and Nevins rightly highlights the
shameful role our Government played.
New Zealand failed to reveal what it knew about Indonesia's invasion
preparations, helped to propagate the fiction that the East Timorese had
accepted Indonesian rule and went to extraordinary lengths to exclude
resistance emissary Jose Ramos Horta, who is now that nation's foreign
However, perhaps the most significant message is that the violence
continues in a different form. East Timor is the poorest country in
Southeast Asia with a rate of infant mortality more than 14 times that of
Australia and New Zealand. Yet Australia sits on vast oil reserves in the
Timor Sea and refuses to allow international maritime boundary arbitration
as this would be likely to endorse East Timor's claim to a larger share.
Nevins concludes with compelling ethical argument that remembering and
accounting for the crimes against the East Timorese is a key to
appreciating the reality of unjust power in our world.
In the early days of the occupation New Zealand officials recorded with
apparent relief that there was little "public constituency" on
the East Timor issue. I believe that the growth of this constituency
helped to modify New Zealand's pro-Indonesia policy and restrains the
Government even now from resuming military ties with Indonesia's
* Cornell University Press
* Maire Leadbeater is a spokesperson for the Indonesia Human Rights
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