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Herald Describes Genocide as 'Rugged' - A Response

Herald Writer Describes Genocide as 'Rugged' – A Reply From NRT

No Right Turn

Image By Kirsty Griffin – see
East Timor Children traumatised and in shock

Scoop Editor's Note: The John Roughan referred to in this commentary writes for the New Zealand Herald and is not the Solomon Islands based John Roughan that writes for Scoop.


In a piece in the Herald last weekend, Assistant Editor John Roughan claimed that New Zealanders were "blinded by propaganda" into supporting East Timorese independence, and that the Timorese weren't really ready for it. He concluded:

It's time that liberal sentiment ceased to side with every distant minority desiring its own two-bit state and recognised the virtue of multinational federations like Indonesia. They can be rugged but at least they work.

"Rugged". What a lovely way of describing it. Earlier this year, the UN Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation in East Timor produced a 2,500 page report which detailed exactly what Roughan is hiding behind with that mealy-mouthed phrase. Based on testimony from 8,000 witnesses as well as documents from the Indonesian military and foreign intelligence sources, it detailed the true extent of Indonesia's human rights abuses in Timor, and blamed the Indonesian government for the deaths of up to 180,000 Timorese civilians.

According to the report, Indonesian soldiers were responsible for over 13,000 unlawful killings and disappearances, and 8500 documented cases of torture, which included

public beheadings, the mutilation of genitalia, the burying and burning alive of victims, use of cigarettes to burn victims, and ears and genitals being lopped off to display to families.

It documents widespread executions and arbitrary detentions, as well as the use of rape and sexual violence to terrorise the civilian population and "inflict a deep experience of terror, powerlessness and hopelessness upon pro-independence supporters". These human rights violations were

committed in execution of a systematic plan approved, conducted and controlled by Indonesian military commanders at the highest level.

"Rugged" indeed. But it gets worse. The report notes that the Indonesian military "consciously decided to use starvation of East Timorese civilians as a weapon of war", resulting in the deaths of between 84,200 and 183,000 Timorese civilians. As the report notes,

The intentional imposition of conditions of life which could not sustain tens of thousands of East Timorese civilians amounted to extermination as a crime against humanity committed against the East Timorese population

Or, in other words, genocide. Saying that this "worked" for the Timorese is like saying that Nazi Germany "worked" for the Jews.

Supporting East Timorese independence was not just a matter of supporting people's right to self-determination; it was also a way of ending the oppression and genocide perpetrated by the Indonesian regime. Asking the Timorese to submit to their oppressors again is simply monstrous. What Timor needs now is our support in building the institutions of government which are so weak, and helping their state to put down roots so that it doesn't collapse again. Given our complicity in the crimes committed against them, it's the least we can do.


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