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One of the top ten “censored” stories of 1979 was “The Tragedy in East Timor.” It revealed that since 1975, when Indonesian military forces invaded East Timor, neutral observers estimated the number of Timorese people slaughtered with U.S.-supplied arms at from 50,000 to 100,000 — almost ten percent of the population.

Ten years later, in 1985, Amnesty International (AI) reports that it is estimated that up to 200,000 East Timorese, a third of the population, have now died as a result of Indonesian activities in the region. And the tragedy remains unreported by the American press.

Amnesty International released a report on human rights viola­tions in June, 1985, which indicated that, despite Indonesian claims of peace in the province and “normality,” the Indonesian troops con­tinue with waves of killings, “disappearances”, and political arrests.

An Indonesian military manual obtained by AI clearly acknowledges use of torture and interrogation procedures which contravene international law. The manual states “If the use of physical violence is unavoidable, make sure that there are no Common People … around to witness it, so as not to arouse the antipathy of the Common People. … Avoid taking photographs showing torture in progress (e.g., while the person is being given electric shocks or stripped naked, etc.).” A former intelligence agent described the process: “They would be tortured by hitting them with a blunt instrument, by jabbing lighted cigarettes in their faces around the mouth, or by giving them electric shocks, sometimes on the genitals. The senior authorities would decide who was to be killed after interrogation.”

First hand press coverage is difficult since Indonesia strictly limits access to the territory; journalists who do get permission to visit East Timor are usually accompanied by military advisors or official translators. In addition, East Timorese allowed to travel abroad routinely receive threats of reprisal against family members if they divulge unfavorable information about the occupying authorities.

The failure of East Timor to attract attention to its plight even reaches to source books on the region. Sanford Berman, head cataloger at the Hennepin County Library in Minnetonka, Minnesota, reported that the latest revised edition of LAND AND PEOPLE OF INDONESIA by Datus C. Smith (Lippincott, 1984) “failed to mention either resistance to Indonesian colonialism among the peoples of East Timor and West Papua or the severe repression that has been the Jakarta government’s reply to demands for self-determination.”

Given the scope of the atrocities in East Timor, and the U.S. involvement, one would think it deserves as much press coverage as that given to human rights violations in Afghanistan or South Africa.


AMNESTY ACTION, Summer 1985, “East Timor: A Decade of Killing, Torture, and Indonesian Claims of ‘Normality’,” published by the United States Section of Amnesty International; “The Tragedy in East Timor,” THE 10 BEST CENSORED STORIES OF 1979; INQUIRY, 2/19/79, “East Timor: The Press Cover-up,” by Noam Chomsky.