by Project Censored
Published: Last Updated on

Human rights violations rivaling those in Cambodia have happened in East Timor with the help of the United States but without the American public’s knowledge.

In December, 1975, Indonesian military forces invaded East Timor following a short-lived civil war there. The little-known war of aggression has continued with the assistance of the United States. The results have been major violations of the population’s human rights and their right to self determination and the establishment of Indonesian military rule in East Timor.

Neutral observers have estimated the number of people slaughtered at 50,000 to 100,000 — almost ten percent of the population. Yet the Western press has given little coverage to the massive atrocities committed by the , Indonesian forces. The press adheres to the Indonesian-U.S. State Department version of the situation in East Timor — that most of the lives were lost in the civil war prior to the Indonesian intervention. Other substantiated reports cite the number of dead from the civil war at between 2,000 and 3,000.

The U.S. government claims to have suspended military aid to Indonesia from December, 1975, when the invasion started, to June, 1976. However, military aid during this period was above what the State Department had originally proposed to Congress and it has continued to increase, largely concealed from public knowledge.

The United Nations has repeatedly condemned the Indonesian government for its role in East Timor. Indonesian forces have effectively sealed off the island and have refused entrance to any neutral observers. Reports of atrocities, starvation, and death have leaked out from refugees fleeing an intolerable situation.

The press has not felt compelled to report the possible massacre of 100,000 Timorese at the hands of a U.S. ally using U.S. arms.

The time frame of the alleged atrocities in East Timor is about the same as that in Cambodia. Why then has the press so effectively under­played the situation in East Timor and given massive international publicity to the Cambodian situation? The author-researcher suggests that the economic advantages of an “investor’s paradise” offered by good relations with Indonesia explain why the U.S. has been intent on burying the tragedy in East Timor.

The lack of investigative reporting and media exposure on the tragic situation in East Timor qualifies this story for nomination as one of the “best censored” stories of 1979.


Inquiry, Feb. 19, 1979, “East Timor: The Press Cover-up,” by Noam Chomsky.