The Tragedy of East Timor
This page is designed to be a brief introduction to the historical and current situation in East Timor, and to provide some links to some interesting and informative pages.
East Timor, which is part of the island of Timor, had been a Portuguese colony since 1520. In 1975 Portugal began the process of decolonisation in East Timor and withdrew its presence. Questions over East Timor's political future were confused by the civil war that had broken out at about the same time. The two major parties were the Uniao Democratica Tomorense (UDT), which favoured links with Portugal, and the Frente Revolucionaria Timor Lest Independente (FRETILIN), a left-wing group who advocated complete independence for East Timor. A crisis was precipitated in late November and early December of 1975 when on the 28th of November FRETILIN issued a unilateral declaration of independence and proclaimed the establishment of the Democratic Republic of East Timor. This was followed by a declaration from all the other political parties also proclaiming independence from Portugal but also affirming integration with Indonesia. On the 7th of December Indonesia sent a huge contingent of troops to East Timor and took over the province by force. This annexation has never been recognized by the United Nations.
The East Timorese resisted the initial invasion and have been expressing their desire for independence and continuing their resistance to the Indonesian occupation ever since. The Indonesian invasion and occupation has been accompanied by a range of Human Rights violations that include the murders, "disappearance", and detaining of thousands of East Timorese.
In October 1991 a delegation from Portugal was scheduled to come on a fact-finding mission. However, the killing of two East Timorese political activists delayed the arrival of the Portuguese group. On the 12th of November a mass was organized for Sebastio Gomes Rangel, one of the assassinated men. After the mass the attendees moved in a procession to the Santa Cruz cemetary. Apparently some members of the procession were carrying pro-independence flags and banners. Once at the cemetary, the mourners were fired on by the Indonesian security forces. There was no warning or provocation, and the soldiers fired indiscriminately. Eye-witnesses estimate that about 100 people were killed, a huge difference from the "official" estimate of 19. Despite widespread international condemnation and an internal Indonesian inquiry, the official line is still that the troops were responding to chaos and riot. Charges and penalties against the members of the Indonesian forces were much lighter than those given to East Timorese civilians.
The Dili Massacre
Human Rights Abuses
The hundred or so East Timorese that were murdered in the Dili massacre are just a small proportion of the thousands of Timorese that have been "disappeared" or killed since 1975. Some sources estimate that by 1982, 200, 000 people, mainly civilians, had been killed in the conflict. That number is approximately one third of East Timor's population before the invasion. The Indonesian forces are also implicated in a large number of human rights abuses in East Timor. Alleged human rights abuses include :
- Use of lethal force, particularly at the Santa Cruz Cemetary in Dili
- Torture and ill-treatment of political detainees and suspected government opponents
- Rape of women related to or thought to be pro-independence sympathisers
- Detention and disappearences of thousands of suspected government opponents
- Unfair trials and imposition of excessively harsh penalties
- Large scale supression of freedoms, including freedom of expression, association, and movement.
Links to East Timor Related Information
- http://www.intac.com/PubService/human_rights/COUNTRIES/ETIMOR/ This page has some useful links and a good introduction.
- http://www.vicnet.net.au/vicnet/COUNTRY/timor.htm More links and info
- East Timor Human Rights Page Another interesting site with lots of links
- http://pubweb.acns.nwu.edu/~fishe/Peace/ETimor.html This site provides a good overview of the East Timor situation
- http://www.ifi.uio.no/~knuttv/EastTimorRefs.htmlLinks and info
- Amnesty International : East Timor Fact & Fiction
-Dagny Baltakmens, March 1996.