I read the headlines about the new security agreement with Indonesia four days after returning home from three years working in Indonesia.The description of this achievement as 'historic' by Richard Woolcott, and the praise heaped on it by Greg Sheridan reminded me of the similar hype surrounding the Timor Gap Treaty, which Gareth Evans described as 'historically unique and uniquely historic'.Coming on the heels of this latest success story, I would like to share with the public some of the less rosy points of my experience in Indonesia. These will never be 'historic', but I will never forget them.
Throughout the three years I was never able to acknowledge in public the East Timorese friends I had made who were living in Indonesia.In meetings held by the local military commander, which all East Timorese must attend, they are told it is forbidden to have any contact with Westerners. I was only able to make their acquaintance through a mixture of luck and secrecy. If we passed each other on the street we did not know each other.
These were ordinary people like you and me, not terrorists, rebels, or even activists. It is impossible to be an activist or protester in the Australian sense of the word, as the 1991 Dili massacre graphically and brutally showed us.They are required to join the local chapter of the government-created organization for all East Timorese living outside East Timor.Within the organization, members from the East Timorese community who have been pressured by the military are paid to 'keep tabs' on the other members.
Outside, local East Timorese have to fear a larger network of informers, plainclothed military personnel known as intel, acting as spies, and all uniformed members of the armed forces, which includes the police.For a long time, some East Timorese I knew had to endure the presence of one of these intel who came to live in their house.All East Timorese who want to study at university are required to undergo an interview by the military known as Litsus, 'Special Research', which delves into their background in search of any connection to anti-government activity of any kind.My friend, whose father was killed during the Indonesian invasion of East Timor in 1975, had to say that his father had been killed by Falintil - the East Timorese armed resistance force.East Timorese have to live with this kind of treatment wherever they are in Indonesia.
In East Timor, every one of the half a dozen East Timorese youths I had the opportunity to meet on separate occasions had either been made to report daily to the local police station, been detained, beaten, tortured, had experienced all four forms of abuse, or had been repeatedly subjected to this treatment.
'A' had been beaten so severely during the Dili massacre that years afterwards he still had not recovered, and displayed symptoms similar to tuberculosis - coughing blood.He was unable to obtain effective treatment in the Indonesian public hospital in Dili and had to be treated secretly elsewhere, where it was learned that he did not in fact have TB.He has since escaped overseas.Incidentally, tuberculosis is rife in East Timor, including the East Timorese population in the capital, Dili. Indonesian development has not brought improved health services.
The Indonesian invasion has impoverished and stigmatized the East Timorese to the point where they could never afford treatment, and do not trust the Indonesian medical staff in the hospitals and clinics to help them.Virtually all of the hospitals and clinics the government has built throughout the country could be described as empty shells - fine, white buildings which are inadequately staffed and terribly under-resourced.The staff are poorly trained, often absent and low on motivation. They possess only the most basic range of medicines such as vitamin tablets, painkillers, antibiotics and malaria tablets, which are invariably out of stock.
While the expenses are small by Australian standards, their services and medicines are not free. Most East Timorese cannot afford to pay the relatively expensive costs involved in treatment, which is usually ineffective anyway.The overwhelming majority of medical staff are Indonesian in origin.In twenty years of occupation, the Indonesian government has not made any effort to train local East Timorese doctors and nurses in East Timor. The argument is that the East Timorese are masih bodoh, still stupid, from the era of Portuguese colonialism, and that they will take a long time to be brought up to the standard of education and training in the rest of Indonesia.The Indonesian standard of education and training in all sectors is incredibly low, and even lower in the less developed Eastern half of Indonesia.Indonesia cannot claim to have brought development to the 'backward' people of East Timor.
'B' I met only twice.The second time was after he had taken a severe beating at the hands of the military.His face had lost its handsome features, which had been replaced by disfigurement and severe bruising.It was a shock to think that I was talking to the same person.Once again, our chance meeting in a public place could only consist of a very brief conversation and necessarily centred on trivia, despite the obvious need to talk about other, more serious matters.
'C' had to report daily to the police after his involvement in a protest march. The march took place in response to the insult and harassment of two East Timorese Catholic nuns by two Indonesian provocateurs on the way to and during their attendance of an entrance exam at the University of East Timor in Dili. Soldiers met the protest march, obstructed the marchers en route to the local parliament building and broke them up with severe beating.
'D' had been imprisoned and tortured a total of seven times since junior high school age. He could expect to be arrested and tortured again at any time, whenever the military suspected the East Timorese youth of organizing demonstrations or clandestine activities.His attitude to this was that if the military wanted him, they knew where to find him and could come and get him. But he would not answer any summons to report to them, nor would he run away.He was prepared to stay in his village and die in East Timor to continue working for the independence of East Timor and to show his defiance.
'E' was twenty years old when I first met him.He had just been released from three years gaol for political activities. He had been tortured by electric shock.He said that after the first time, torture no longer held any fear for him.In fact, he said it strengthened his hatred of the Indonesians, and his determination to continue his political activities to achieve independence.He seemed bent on a course of self destruction, but I could only admire his fighting spirit and feel sorry for him.He showed me the places where electrodes had been attached to his body, including the inside of his lower lip.He also showed me the various marks and scars where he had been beaten, including a scar on the forehead where he had been beaten with a hammer.When last I heard of him he had been re-captured by the military in Dili.It was he who told me where the torture chambers are located in Dili.Beside beatings and electrocution, the practices there included being locked in an unlit cell full of human excrement.
'F' was a woman who had been imprisoned for clandestine resistance activities. She had also been tortured.She showed my female travelling companion the scar where she had been stabbed in the groin with a screwdriver.
A final story which I would like to relate, but it is not by any means the last in the list of living horror stories that I encountered, sums up the fate of the East Timorese population in general if left to the hands of their Indonesian masters.Large HINO army trucks ply the mountainous, winding roads of East Timor at breakneck speed, disdainful of all other traffic in this, the army's own stomping ground.The trucks have a nickname, Truk Tidak Apa Apa, 'Never-Mind Trucks', because it doesn't matter if one more East Timorese pedestrian is hit and killed.I heard this a week after a young East Timorese child had been killed by one of these trucks in a village with a high concentration of pedestrians, where vehicles would normally slow down.Its head had been completely crushed and had to be sewn up before the mother could see it.
Like the East Timorese youth whose face was disfigured through beating, and this child who was mutilated beyond recognition, the East Timorese as a distinct ethnic group, people, and nation are being rapidly ground into the earth and their identity beaten out of them.
It is at the expense of these people, and millions like them in Indonesia who suffer the same oppressive government, that the Australian government's treaties and agreements with the Indonesian military regime have been made.Ultimately and inevitably, if there is no change in tack from our government, its willingness to compromise our values and cooperate with the antithesis of justice, democracy, and respect for human rights will impinge upon these freedoms in our own country.
The lack of respect for the rights of the East Timorese demonstrated by the Australian government's continued sanction of the Indonesian invasion and occupation of East Timor, in the face of the continuous, flagrant abuse of human rights there, in what could be a neighbouring country - a short flight from Darwin - denotes a weakness in our own fibre, signifying the thin edge of the wedge.Closer relations with the Indonesian regime can only give licence to more of the same, and further jeopardize the integrity of our own system.For ordinary citizens in East Timor, Indonesia, and Australia, the security agreement promises no security and is nothing to celebrate. ii
Arthur King is the pseudonym of an Australian who recently returned to Melbourne after working in Indonesia for three years.