In 1993, I
and four others traveled clandestinely across East Timor to gather
evidence of the genocide committed by the Indonesian dictatorship.
Such was the depth of silence about this tiny country that the only
map I could find before I set out was one with blank spaces stamped
"Relief Data Incomplete." Yet few places had been as defiled
and abused by murderous forces. Not even Pol Pot had succeeded in
dispatching, proportionally, as many people as the Indonesian tyrant
Suharto had done in collusion with the "international community."
In East Timor,
I found a country littered with graves, their black crosses crowding
the eye: crosses on peaks, crosses in tiers on the hillsides, crosses
beside the road. They announced the murder of entire communities,
from babies to the elderly. In 2000, when the East Timorese, displaying
a collective act of courage with few historical parallels, finally
won their freedom, the United Nations set up a truth commission;
on 24 January, its 2,500 pages were published. I have never read
anything like it. Using mostly official documents, it recounts in
painful detail the entire disgrace of East Timor’s blood sacrifice.
It says that 180,000 East Timorese were killed by Indonesian troops
or died from enforced starvation. It describes the "primary
roles" in this carnage of the governments of the United States,
Britain and Australia. America’s "political and military support
were fundamental" in crimes that ranged from "mass executions
to forced resettlements, sexual and other horrific forms of torture
as well as abuse against children." Britain, a co-conspirator
in the invasion, was the main arms supplier. If you want to see
through the smokescreen currently around Iraq, and understand true
terrorism, read this document.
As I read
it, my mind went back to the letters Foreign Office officials wrote
to concerned members of the public and MPs following the showing
of my film Death of a Nation. Knowing the truth, they denied
that British-supplied Hawk jets were blowing straw-roofed villages
to bits and that British-supplied Heckler & Koch machine guns
were finishing off the occupants. They even lied about the scale
And it is
all happening again, wrapped in the same silence and with the "international
community" playing the same part as backer and beneficiary
of the crushing of a defenseless people. Indonesia’s brutal occupation
of West Papua, a vast, resource-rich province — stolen from its
people, like East Timor — is one of the great secrets of our time.
Recently, the Australian minister of "communications,"
Senator Helen Coonan, failed to place it on the map of her own region,
as if it did not exist.
100,000 Papuans, or 10 per cent of the population, have been killed
by the Indonesian military. This is a fraction of the true figure,
according to refugees. In January, 43 West Papuans reached Australia’s
north coast after a hazardous six-week journey in a dugout. They
had no food, and had dribbled their last fresh water into their
children’s mouths. "We knew," said Herman Wainggai, the
leader, "that if the Indonesian military had caught us, most
of us would have died. They treat West Papuans like animals. They
kill us like animals. They have created militias and jihadis to
do just that. It is the same as East Timor."
For over a
year, an estimated 6,000 people have been hiding in dense jungle
after their villages and crops were destroyed by Indonesian Special
Forces. Raising the West Papuan flag is "treason." Two
men are serving ten- and 15-year sentences for merely trying. Following
an attack on one village, a man was presented as an "example"
and petrol poured over him and his hair set alight.
When the Netherlands
gave Indonesia its independence in 1949, it argued that West Papua
was a separate geographic and ethnic entity with a distinctive national
character. A report published last November by the Institute of
Netherlands History in The Hague revealed that the Dutch had secretly
recognized the "unmistakable beginning of the formation of
a Papuan state," but were bullied by the administration of
John F. Kennedy to accept "temporary" Indonesian control
over what a White House adviser called "a few thousand miles
of cannibal land."
The West Papuans
were conned. The Dutch, Americans, British and Australians backed
an "Act of Free Choice" ostensibly run by the UN. The
movements of a UN monitoring team of 25 were restricted by the Indonesian
military and they were denied interpreters. In 1969, out of a population
of 800,000, some 1,000 West Papuans "voted." All were
selected by the Indonesians. At gunpoint, they "agreed"
to remain under the rule of General Suharto — who had seized
power in 1965 in what the CIA later described as "one of the
worst mass murders of the late 20th century." In 1981, the
Tribunal on Human Rights in West Papua, held in exile, heard from
Eliezer Bonay, Indonesia’s first governor of the province, that
approximately 30,000 West Papuans had been murdered during 1963—69.
Little of this was reported in the West.
of the "international community" is explained by the fabulous
wealth of West Papua. In November 1967, soon after Suharto had consolidated
his seizure of power, the Time-Life Corporation sponsored an extraordinary
conference in Geneva. The participants included the most powerful
capitalists in the world, led by the banker David Rockefeller. Sitting
opposite them were Suharto’s men, known as the "Berkeley mafia,"
as several had enjoyed US government scholarships to the University
of California at Berkeley. Over three days, the Indonesian economy
was carved up, sector by sector. An American and European consortium
was handed West Papua’s nickel; American, Japanese and French companies
got its forests. However, the prize — the world’s largest gold reserve
and third-largest copper deposit, literally a mountain of copper
and gold — went to the US mining giant Freeport-McMoran. On the
board is Henry Kissinger, who, as US secretary of state, gave the
"green light" to Suharto to invade East Timor, says the
today probably the biggest single source of revenue for the Indonesian
regime: the company is said to have handed Jakarta $33 billion between
1992 and 2004. Little of this has reached the people of West Papua.
Last December, 55 people reportedly starved to death in the district
of Yahukimo. The Jakarta Post noted the "horrible irony"
of hunger in such an "immensely rich" province. According
to the World Bank, "38 per cent of Papua’s population is living
in poverty, more than double the national average."
mines are guarded by Indonesia’s Special Forces, who are among the
world’s most seasoned terrorists, as their documented crimes in
East Timor demonstrate. Known as Kopassus, they have been armed
by the British and trained by the Australians. Last December, the
Howard government in Canberra announced that it would resume "co-operation"
with Kopassus at the Australian SAS base near Perth. In an inversion
of the truth, the then-Australian defense minister, Senator Robert
Hill, described Kopassus as having "the most effective capability
to respond to a counter-hijack or hostage recovery threat."
The files of human-rights organizations overflow with evidence of
Kopassus’s terrorism. On 6 July 1998, on the West Papuan island
of Biak, just north of Australia, Special Forces massacred more
than 100 people, most of them women.
Indonesian military has not been able to crush the popular Free
Papua Movement (OPM). Since 1965, almost alone, the OPM has reminded
the Indonesians, often audaciously, that they are invaders. In the
past two months, the resistance has caused the Indonesians to rush
more troops to West Papua. Two British-supplied Tactical armored
personnel carriers fitted with water cannons have arrived from Jakarta.
These were first delivered during the late Robin Cook’s "ethical
dimension" in foreign policy. Hawk fighter-bombers, made by
BAE Systems, have been used against West Papuan villages.
The fate of
the 43 asylum-seekers in Australia is precarious. In contravention
of international law, the Howard government has moved them from
the mainland to Christmas Island, which is part of an Australian
"exclusion zone" for refugees. We should watch carefully
what happens to these people. If the history of human rights is
not the history of great power’s impunity, the UN must return to
West Papua, as it did finally to East Timor. Or do we always have
to wait for the crosses to multiply?
Pilger was born and educated in Sydney, Australia. He has been
a war correspondent, filmmaker and playwright. Based in London,
he has written from many countries and has twice won British journalism’s
highest award, that of "Journalist of the Year," for his
work in Vietnam and Cambodia. His new book, Tell
Me No Lies: Investigative Journalism and Its Triumphs, is
published by Jonathan Cape next month. This article was first published
in the New Statesman.
John Pilger 2006