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A Word for Justice at Indonesia's Trade Summit : Human rights: Clinton's visit could shed light on the genocidal occupation of East Timor.

November 13, 1994|MAIREAD CORRIGAN MAGUIRE | Mairead Corrigan Maguire is co-founder of the Northern Ireland Community of the Peace People and shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 1976

When President Clinton meets with President Suharto of Indonesia during the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation conference this week, he should not overlook the haunting situation in East Timor.

It is normally extremely difficult to focus public awareness on the former Portuguese colony near Australia, which was invaded by Indonesia in 1975. Perhaps one-third or more of a population of 700,000 have perished as a consequence of a harsh Indonesian occupation. But President Clinton's trip, which includes a state visit in Jakarta on Wednesday, provides a unique opportunity to highlight a tragedy that refuses to go away.

Nov. 12 marked the third anniversary of the massacre at Santa Cruz cemetery in Dili, the capital of East Timor, where Indonesian troops killed hundreds of mourners and demonstrators at a funeral commemoration--a scene recorded by a journalist from British television. These shocking images were seen by millions of people throughout the world.

Immediately thereafter, a 26-year-old East Timorese student, Fernando Araujo, tried to contact Amnesty International to provide them with information about the Santa Cruz massacre. For this and other nonviolent acts, Araujo received a a nine-year prison sentence.

Araujo was also charged with having discussions on how to bring East Timor to the attention of the international community. Still another charge involved sending a letter to former President Bush likening the Indonesian occupation of East Timor to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait--not an inaccurate comparison, but a dangerous one to make in Indonesia.

It is also perilous for courageous Indonesians who dare to speak out on the East Timor situation. Last month, I attended an international conference in Portugal with Dr. George Aditjondro, a respected scholar and environmentalist who has done firsthand studies on the Timor situation.

The last night of the conference, Aditjondro received a summons from the Indonesian police for interrogation about comments he made during a university panel discussion on the future of Indonesian politics. Amnesty International believes that this was an attempt by authorities to punish Aditjondro for his criticism of government policy on human rights and environmental concerns in Indonesia and East Timor. In recent weeks, Aditjondro has been interrogated for many hours by police about the university panel discussion. After one five-hour session, he became ill.

President Clinton should intervene with Indonesian authorities with the aim of ensuring that such harassment is ended and that Araujo be released.

These two courageous individuals are only the tip of the iceberg. People further down in society, lacking international networks of support, suffer much worse.

I have had my own experience with the lengths Jakarta will go to muzzle criticism. It pressured allies in the region, such as the Philippines, to prevent a conference on East Timor from taking place in June. Upon arrival in Manila for the conference, after 18 hours of travel, I was summarily deported by the Philippine authorities, under obvious pressure from Jakarta.

The Catholic Bishop of East Timor, Carlos Ximenes Belo, has inspired me as he speaks out courageously for truth, justice and in defense of human rights in spite of death threats. The bishop is trying to find ways to end the conflict through support for dialogue under the auspices of the United Nations, in accordance with the principles of international law. He deserves the backing of the United States. As we have learned in my home country of Northern Ireland, it is only through all-inclusive dialogue and the cessation of all violence that we can begin to solve our problems together.

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