Thursday, December 10, 2009

Mahathir and Timor

UPDATE II: A Malaysian court, December 22, awarded a total of RM870,000 (30,000 each) to activists, who were held by police in the aftermath of the the attack on the APCET II conference 13 years ago. They were held for up to six days. The AFP summarizes:
As the [APECET II] meeting was about to begin in a hotel, 400 people led by the ruling United Malays National Organisation's (Umno) leaders broke down the conference hall doors, flung chairs and abused the participants, the court was told. Police later moved in to arrest more than 100 people, including journalists, while 40 foreign participants were deported. The activists later filed the suit to claim damages for their mistreatment during the arrest and detention.
UPDATE: Here is President Ramos-Horta's speech on giving the award to Mahathir. Also added links to video of the attack on APCET II conference.

Timor-Leste's President Jose Ramos-Horta will present the “Order of Timor-Leste” Collar to the former Malaysian Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir Mohamad on Friday December 11. The announcement came today - December 10 - which is of course Human Rights Day.

A Malaysian activist recently shared his thoughts about the award:
"I am disappointed and sadden by the decision of Horta and the East Timor Govt. I am ... try[ing] my best to appreciate the need of Timor Leste to foster good diplomatic relationship with neighbours. However decorating Dr Mahathir is not only a mistake but a gross misjudgement. It is ... insensitive to e Malaysian political situation. Dr Mahathir is remembered as the most corrupted dictator in Malaysian history. Under his reign activities supporting Timorese struggle had been heavily suppressed. The award is a great irony."
 As Prime Minister was a staunch advocate of Asian exceptionalism concerning individual human rights, aedligning with Suharto and China among others. He once called the Universal Declaration of Human Rights oppressive. He strongly backed the Indonesian postion on East Timor. Two examples:

In 1997, Dr. Mahathir's goons (members of the youth wing of his political party) broke up the Asia Pacific Coaltion for East Timor  APCET II conference in Kuala Lumpur. In 1998, Ramos-Horta
protested his jailing of Tian Chua and others, saying: "Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, together with his gestapo-like police force in their vendetta against reform-minded Malaysians, is ripping away at the foundations of justice and democracy in Malaysia." [Video of the assault on the APCET II conference is here and here. ]

On September 29, 1999, after Timor's independence vote, Mahathir speaking at a  press conference at the UN gave a totally distorted view of events there:
Reports of killings in East Timor were being exaggerated and there seemed to be attempts to vilify Indonesia over its handling of the situation there, the Prime Minister of Malaysia, Mahatir Mohamad, said at a Headquarter's press conference this morning....

The Prime Minister said that Indonesia should not have been forced to hold a referendum at a time that it was "very weak" and was facing problems. He said Indonesia had not been given a chance to campaign, while other political forces had been promised "all kinds of support" for their pro-independence vote. Those who supported integration with Indonesia felt cheated,"and reacted the only way they know", the Prime Minister said. The issue had to be handled properly....

The Prime Minister told another correspondent that before the crisis had erupted in East Timor, people were not being killed. Today, however, he said, many were dying because the situation was being incorrectly handled. Even if you want to give the East Timorese their independence, what is the hurry? Why is it that when Indonesia is in a very weak position, Indonesia is literally forced to hold a referendum - a referendum in which Indonesia had no say and could not even explain its side of the equation to the East Timorese?" he asked.

The Prime Minister said western liberals were always trying to stir up feelings against so-called authoritarian governments. The result was that people suffered, and that was happening in many countries. It had become an almost standard procedure for those opposed to governments to be given the Nobel Peace Prize, he said "It seems that we encourage people to go against whatever government is in power. Whether it is dictatorial or not is another matter", he said.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Purwanto's Balibo revelation

Ex-Kopassus officer Gatot Purwanto revelation in Tempo magazine that he participated in the deliberate killing of the Balibo 5 in October 1975 is important, but contradictory and apparently designed to provide a justification for the killings. If taken at face value, it would absolve his superiors and leave largely intact the Indonesian version of events that crossfire was ultimately responsible for the killings.

The interview and Tempo cover story grow out of attempts to show the "Balibo" film in Indonesia, which was banned by the Indonesian censors. (The Alliance of Indonesia Journalists [AJI] did show the film, defying the ban.) In recent years, other films (documentaries) on Timor have also been banned from showing at the Jakarta International Film Festival (Jiffest). The censorship shows that in post-Suharto Indonesia the establishment is more interested in covering up past crimes and protecting the military officers who committed them, than in expanding democratic freedoms.

As Shirley Shackleton, widow of the murdered Balibo journalist Gregory Shackleton and a staunch advocate for accountability for the human rights crimes committed in East Timor, says that at least part of Purwanto's "confession" contradicts multiple eyewitness testimony. ''I think it [his statement] is a smokescreen to protect his commanding officer, Yunus Yosfiah so that Yosfiah will be able to say, 'I've got eyewitnesses,'' Shackleton, told the Sydney Morning Herald.

Purwanto, who with other Indonesian soliders had illegally entered then Portuguese Timor, told Tempo: "If we let them live, they would tell everyone it was an Indonesian invasion. If they died and we abandoned them, there would be evidence that they were shot in territory controlled by Indonesian guerrillas. So, the simple way was to eliminate everything. We just claimed not to know anything. It was the instant reaction at the time." Purwanto also said "the shots happened when we were provoked into shooting at the place where they were hiding, because shots came from there," while they were waiting for orders.

Shirley Shackleton's response:
"He's saying it wasn't crossfire. He also says that the troops fired after a shot came from behind the journalists. (But) there was no one in that village - it was completely deserted. That's bulls---. Team Susi was an assassination squad sent to shut them up. This was bloody murder."

Both the Timor-Leste Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation (CAVR) and the New South Wales Coroner, citing eyewitness accounts,  found there was no crossfire.

The Australian Federal Police, following up on the coroner's report are conducting a war crimes inquiry. Indonesia, always ready to try to bury past military crimes, is refusing to cooperate. It is sticking to the line that the journalists died in crossfire.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Flawed History - What Goes Un-Noted in the State Department's "Background Notes" on Indonesia

Flawed History

What Goes Un-Noted in the State Department's "Background Notes" on Indonesia

by West Papua Advocacy Team (WPAT) and East Timor and Indonesia Action Network (ETAN)

The U.S. Department of State in October published the latest in its series of "Background Notes" regarding Indonesia. The periodic series provides a useful overview of the history, culture, geography, economy, government and politics of foreign nations used by educators, businesses and others. The October 2009 report on Indonesia in many sections is both comprehensive and accurate.

However, the latest report at several points misrepresents key historical developments. In general, the presentation reflects an historical narrative developed by the Indonesian government of the dictator Suharto and subsequently maintained by successor Indonesian administrations. The "Background Notes" generally fail to address accurately the problematic role of the Indonesian military (TNI) either historically or currently. The "Notes" fail to describe the central role of the military in the killing of hundreds of thousands in the period immediately following the seizure of power by Suharto and the mass killings in East Timor and West Papua. The "Background Notes" contend that civilian control of the military is "strengthening," notwithstanding the continued powerful role in Indonesian politics and the economy. The document also fails to note that the military continues to enjoy impunity for past and ongoing human rights violations, corruption and other criminal activity.

Read  the rest here