Dr. Clinton Fernandes
Reputable and widely used demographic techniques have shown that thirty per cent of East Timor’s population died during the war. The overwhelming majority of these deaths occurred between 1977 and 1979. The Indonesian military’s operations, which paid scant regard to the humanitarian situation, caused a widespread famine that was responsible for the majority of deaths during this period. In recent years, the need to establish an early warning mechanism has become an important part of the so-called Responsibility to Protect principle.
This chapter shows that early warning of the famine was available but consistently ignored by Indonesia and by a number of Western governments. For Indonesia, the military objective of destroying the resistance overrode all other considerations. For Western governments, the maintenance of good relations with the Suharto regime took priority. They deliberately refrained from proposing humanitarian aid until they received the go-ahead from the Indonesian military. Humanitarian aid finally arrived in sufficient quantities after pressure generated by a relatively small number of activists, primarily in the USA, Australia and Britain. The efforts of these activists not only ended the famine, they also led to the creation of influential, long-term support for East Timor’s independence among members of the US Congress and large media organizations. This chapter therefore aims to fill a gap in the historical record by documenting how the famine was ended and how international support for East Timor was rebuilt after the crushing defeats of the 1970s.
The Indonesian authorities prevented food aid from entering East Timor for the first five months after the invasion. In April 1976, Father Stanislaus Bessin, a Catholic priest from the Society of the Divine Word (SVD – Societas Verbi Divini) organized 100 tons of food from his base in Atambua, West Timor. He was unable to deliver it to East Timor directly but had to give it to the Indonesian military, which promised to take it in. He was unable to verify whether this promise was kept. A nun, Sister Consuela Martinez, also collected food, clothing and some medicines from December 1976 onwards in order assist the relief effort. Neither Martinez nor Bessin was permitted to deliver the aid themselves. Instead, they had to rent trucks from the military, load the food and clothing onto them, and take them as far as the border town of Balibo. The military then took custody of the aid, which it said would be delivered by the Indonesian Red Cross. Father Bessin was not permitted to verify what happened to the aid after he handed it to the military. In July 1979, however, a detailed report by the Australian Council for Overseas Aid concluded that corrupt practices by the army-controlled Indonesian Red Cross had resulted in the deaths of thousands of East Timorese. Citing ‘widespread and repeated charges of administrative corruption,’ it pointed out that desperately needed food aid was being sold for profit:
100 kilo bags of rice sent in as aid to Timor are sold in Dili for Rp 12,500 – 18,000, and in outlying areas such as Baucau for Rp 30,000, and in Laga for Rp 25,000.
Australian activists first tried to send shiploads of aid to various ports of East Timor. In September 1976, four activists – Cliff Morris, Robert Wesley-Smith, James Zantis and Manolis ‘Manny’ Mavromatis – were arrested while trying to sail to East Timor with medical supplies. Their vessel, Dawn, had large supplies of medicines, some food, radio equipment and six firearms. They were charged with attempting to smuggle drugs (the medicines) and guns (the six firearms) to East Timor. On 14 February 1977, after ten days in court, the four activists were convicted and placed on small bonds. The Northern Territory Supreme Court later overturned their convictions on appeal, but the attempt cost Wesley-Smith his life-savings.
By April 1977, there were credible reports that the food situation in East Timor was growing perilous. The national elections in the following month temporarily eased the intensity of military operations as units had to be deployed across the archipelago. However, Indonesia’s military operations increased in intensity in August 1977. The focus of its campaign was on destroying agricultural areas and other food sources such as livestock. There were illnesses and food shortages, forcing more and more civilians to leave the hills and make their way to Indonesian forces in order to surrender. The surrendering population was first detained in transit camps and later dispatched to resettlement camps. Transit camps were located in close proximity to the local military bases. Their function was to identify members of the resistance and to gain intelligence on the rest of the resistance in the mountains. The Indonesian military’s first priority was to destroy the resistance, not to care for the population. East Timorese collaborators from Apodeti helped the Indonesian military to identify members of the resistance in the transit camps. Sometimes these collaborators identified people who were not connected to the resistance but against whom they had held grudges prior to the invasion.
Torture and rape were common during the interrogation process. People identified as Fretilin or Falintil were either executed immediately or interrogated at greater length and then executed. Female relatives of Fretilin leaders were often made the sexual slaves of Indonesian military officers. At the conclusion of their posting to East Timor, officers frequently transferred their ‘ownership rights’ over these women to other officers. Women who had connections to the resistance or who were believed to know the location of members of the resistance were forced to help the Indonesian military in its search and destroy missions. They were often subjected to torture and rape during these missions.
The transit camps were not equipped to care for the welfare of the surrendering population. Often they were little more than huts made from palm thatch with no toilets. In many cases, the only shelter in the camps was under trees. No medical care was available. Since the detainees’ food sources had been destroyed and they had walked for days in order to surrender, they were already in a weakened state when they arrived at the transit camps. Diseases such as cholera, diarrhoea and tuberculosis ensured that most people who were sick died. Detainees were forbidden to grow or search for food themselves but were given a small amount of food on arrival. This food was often distributed after extorting family heirlooms, jewelry, traditional beads or sexual favours. In some cases, the detainees went into protein shock after eating the food, resulting in ‘chills, fever, bronchial spasms, acute emphysema, vomiting and diarrhoea.’
After a period of three months (the exact duration in each camp depended on the prevailing policy there), the detainees were dispatched to resettlement camps. Sometimes they were not sent anywhere; the same transit camps were re-designated as resettlement camps. By late 1979, there were approximately 300,000 to 370,000 people in the camps. Once again, there were severe restrictions on movement as well as inadequate food, medicine, sanitation and shelter. The result was a famine in which thousands of East Timorese died. Thousands of people were also sent to the island of Atauro from 1980 onwards. There too, illness and starvation were commonplace.
The details of the suffering endured by the East Timorese receives close scrutiny in Chega!, the final report of East Timor’s Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation (known by its Portuguese initials, CAVR). Here, as the title of this book indicates, I wish to examine this period from two perspectives: how the maintenance of good relations with the Suharto regime led Western governments to refrain from proposing humanitarian aid or alleviating the situation, and how a very few activists working with Catholic priests and other refugees from East Timor generated pressure to end the famine. The activists created influential, long-term support for East Timor among members of the US Congress, Church bodies and large media organizations. The courageous efforts of Morris, Wesley-Smith, Zantis and Mavromatis were a form of direct action that helped educate the Australian public about their government’s complicity in the isolation of East Timor. Their work was complemented internationally by other overseas activists who created an intellectual and political counterforce and a ‘structure of legitimacy’ around East Timor. Smith, Pagnucco and Chatfield, in their work on social movement theory, have described the importance of ‘challenger research institutes,’ which provide a knowledge base that social movements can use to change government policies. They are essential movement allies because they provide well-researched intellectual justifications for movement claims and technical background information for information campaigns. Overseas activists and academics provided ‘well-researched intellectual justifications’ to contest the claims of the Indonesian and Australian governments that all was well inside the territory. Overseas scholars and activists were always able to give the movement an effective intellectual counter-force to pro-Indonesian diplomatic initiatives. Without this combination of direct action and the structure of legitimacy created by scholars and activists, who in turn enlisted influential constituencies in the political, media and religious spheres, East Timor might well have gone the way of the West Papuans or the South Moluccans.
The US activist network for East Timor began just after the invasion. Arnold Kohen, a 25-year-old volunteer journalist at a radio features program called ‘Ithaca Rest of the News,’ heard that Indonesia had invaded East Timor. In his search for more information, he obtained tapes of news conferences held at the Church Centre for the United Nations. These tapes featured Jose Ramos-Horta, who had just come to New York as East Timor’s representative to the UN. These tapes came from Liberation News Service in New York. Richard Franke, who was the first US activist to get involved, had formed the East Timor Defence Committee in New York, whose members could be counted on the fingers of one hand. Kohen heard the tapes and was very moved by them and by written materials he had also received, especially an account by Pacific News Service that described Ramos-Horta and his colleagues leaving East Timor and trying to alert the world to what was about to happen.
Kohen explained his motivation as follows:
‘I had a broad interest in human rights, and as somebody of Jewish background it seemed to me there was a great injustice taking place. There was a certain feeling that this really needed to be addressed.’
Kohen used the tapes to make his own radio programs. Ithaca was the home of Cornell University, whose Modern Indonesia Project was the most influential Indonesian studies program in the US. He was therefore able to contact Professor Benedict Anderson, one of the world’s leading scholars of Indonesia. Anderson agreed to be Kohen’s advisor. The Cornell-Ithaca East Timor Defence Committee was formed after Jose Ramos-Horta spoke at Cornell University in April 1976. Kohen spearheaded an energetic and highly effective campaign of raising public awareness with the help of a very small group of scholars, including Anderson, Franke, Noam Chomsky, Roberta Quance, and – in the late 1970s – Michael Chamberlain and Jeremy Mark. Sue Nichterlein and Richard Tanter assisted the Fretilin External Delegation at the United Nations in New York.
When US President Jimmy Carter came to office in 1977, some activists had hoped that he would reverse his predecessor’s policy on East Timor. Instead, he went even further in accepting the annexation. Robert Oakley, his Deputy Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, advised the US Congress in March 1977 that the government accepted East Timor’s formal incorporation into Indonesia: ‘It is not that this is being contested by the present administration. Timor has effectively become a part of Indonesia.’ Richard Holbrooke, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, tendered advice from the State Department that ‘allegations’ of widespread atrocities were ‘greatly exaggerated’ and that Indonesia had incorporated East Timor ‘following a referendum.’ But there had been no referendum. The State Department did not disclose that Indonesia had merely picked 30 East Timorese, called them a ‘Popular Assembly’, and told them to endorse a petition to Suharto asking for integration. Indonesia described this petition as the ‘Act of Integration.’ It then installed 24 men as the so-called Provisional Government of East Timor, whose only role was to send another petition to Suharto calling for integration.
Congressman Donald Fraser of Minnesota was also able to hold Congressional hearings in the same month. These hearings did not end the atrocities but they were significant because they placed on the record denials by US officials that the humanitarian situation in East Timor was serious. Later, when it became evident that the humanitarian situation was critical, these previous denials meant that the Carter administration was caught in an embarrassing web of deceit. Congressman Fraser, ably assisted by Dr John Salzberg, his special assistant, questioned Robert Oakley about Indonesia’s use of US weapons. Oakley conceded that US Hercules aircraft were used to transport Indonesian paratroopers during the invasion of East Timor, and that those paratroopers had used US weapons. He also admitted that neither the State Department nor any other US agency had sought to interview East Timorese refugees in Portugal.
James Dunn testified before these hearings too. He described the Indonesian assault on East Timor as ‘a brutal operation, marked by the wanton slaughter of possibly between 50,000 and 100,000 Timorese, by extensive looting and by other excesses such as rape and torture.’ He called it ‘a grim tragedy, the rape of a people who, because of their long virtual isolation from the world at large, were vulnerable and unprepared. It is characterized by a cynical and cruel disregard for basic human rights by Indonesia, the perpetrator of the abuse, and even by other powers who appear to have rated appeasement of Indonesia as their paramount consideration.’ His evidence was disputed by David T. Kenney, the State Department’s Country Officer for Indonesia, who said that the State Department’s information ‘does not support in general the charges applied by Mr. Dunn.’ Kenney testified that ‘the Indonesian forces are maintaining a defensive posture’ and that there was ‘no search and destroy operation.’ Kenney went on to say that the East Timorese ‘have decided their best interest lies at this time, in incorporation with Indonesia,’ that the East Timorese had ‘been promised representation’ in the 1977 Indonesian elections, and that they ‘can move about’ the country with open ingress and egress. In fact, the East Timorese would not be able to vote in a national election for another five years, and were subjected to severe restrictions on their movement.
Fraser’s subcommittee held another set of hearings in June and July 1977. American anthropologists Shepard Forman and Elizabeth Traube, both of whom had spent significant periods of time conducting fieldwork in East Timor before the invasion, testified in June 1977. Forman expressed his ‘firm belief that the people of East Timor are perfectly capable of articulating decisively their political choices’, and that ‘the free exercise of that choice has been denied to them.’ He pointed out that the people of East Timor ‘articulate a complex – and beautiful – belief system in which the relationships between life and death, production and reproduction, sociability and enmity, righteousness and wrongfulness, are fully developed.’ They had ‘a powerful and just moral system, a paradigm of life, which guides their actions and determines their choices.’ Traube testified that ‘despite the material simplicity of their life’, the East Timorese she had studied and lived with had a ‘rich and complex’ idea ‘of themselves and the world around them.’ Both Forman and Traube were emphatic that the East Timorese had not had an opportunity for self-determination and that they supported the exercise of that right. In the same hearing, Congresswoman Helen Meyner had tabled a report on a 23-hour visit to East Timor in April. She concluded that ‘the Timorese people were satisfied with Indonesian integration and that the integration of East Timor into Indonesia is a fait accompli.’ She reported that ‘there was no opportunity to investigate the extent of current or past use of US military equipment by the Indonesians in their conflict with Fretilin forces.’
These claims collapsed under persistent questioning led by Donald Fraser in the July 1977 hearings. George Aldrich, Deputy Legal Adviser in the State Department, admitted that there had not been a valid exercise of the right to self-determination. Aldrich also admitted that the Indonesian forces that invaded East Timor ‘were armed roughly 90 per cent with our equipment,’ that the US government had informed them ‘of the problems that would be posed under our law if they took action with equipment they had received from us’ but that ‘it is not my impression that we pressed them terribly hard about it. We simply told them what I suspect they already knew, that there might be problems under our military assistance laws.’ Aldrich conceded that ‘as a legal matter, the right of self-determination continues to exist.’
The critical period for East Timor began in 1978. The famine was gathering force, the armed resistance was on the verge of defeat, many overseas supporters were demoralized, and the prospects of success appeared to have faded. In Australia, where most of the international reaction had taken place, the government extended de facto recognition of Indonesia’s sovereignty in January 1978. Foreign Minister Andrew Peacock announced that Indonesia’s effective control over all major administrative centres of East Timor was ‘a reality with which we must come to terms… Accordingly, the Government has decided that although it remains critical of the means by which integration was brought about it would be unrealistic to continue to refuse to recognise de facto that East Timor is part of Indonesia.’ Some public support had existed in Australia as a result of the deaths of foreign journalists at Balibo and the sympathy of Australia’s World War Two veterans. The Australian government’s recognition of the takeover dashed the hopes of many that Indonesia might be pressured to eventually withdraw. In Portugal, East Timor was seen as an unfortunate casualty of the fall of the Portuguese Empire. Many East Timorese in Portugal had sided with UDT, and the difficulties in the diaspora allowed the Portuguse government to avoid having to take meaningful action. East Timor was looking more and more like West Papua or the South Moluccas. Meanwhile, the famine grew inside the territory.
At the US congressional hearings in February 1978, Congressman Donald M. Fraser turned his attention to ‘the accuracy and completeness of the Department of State’s human rights reports.’ The State Department had submitted its annual report on human rights in Indonesia a fortnight before. Professor Benedict Anderson appeared as an expert witness in order to provide an effective intellectual counter-force to the State Department’s claims. In social movement terms, he performed the role of ‘challenger research institute,’ working closely with Arnold Kohen to create a structure of legitimacy around East Timor. Anderson’s testimony in 1978 was important because he would be vindicated when the truth of the famine became undeniable at the end of 1979. The State Department report was indeed highly misleading. It claimed that the Indonesian government had released many long-standing political prisoners. But Benedict Anderson, widely respected as a scholar and an internationally renowned expert on Indonesia, described the claim as ‘inaccurate, tendentious and evasive.’
He demonstrated that the ‘prisoner release’ was no more than a cosmetic measure because they had to spend the first six months after prison under house arrest, yet had to find employment within this time. If they did not find employment whilst confined to their homes, they were liable to transportation to a resettlement area in the outer islands. If they did find employment, they were to remain confined to their village or town for another six months, and were banned from government employment. If they met these conditions, they would be able to obtain an identity card that restored their citizenship right. But this card would always be marked with a special code denoting them as former prisoners. As Anderson explained, deportation to the outer islands was the real policy because it was ‘scarcely likely that the government would have established sixteen resettlement areas if it had any reason to fear they might be seriously under-populated.’
The State Department report provided an indirect endorsement of the Suharto regime, criticizing the last years of Sukarno as ‘an increasingly authoritarian and repressive system.’ It said that under Suharto, ‘Indonesia has had a form of limited democracy.’ Yet, as Anderson pointed out, Indonesia was the only member of OPEC whose state oil corporation went bankrupt, leaving a debt ‘almost five times the entire national debt accumulated by the “economically incompetent” Sukarno regime that preceded it.’ Anderson disputed the State Department’s claim that its quiet pressure was making a difference. He said, ‘I would like to see some evidence for that and for the claim that governments do not respond, in fact, to public criticism from bodies like Amnesty International. I’m skeptical of the claim that quiet diplomacy does the trick while people making noisier objections fail.’
At this stage, however, the State Department retained credibility due to the natural deference many politicians paid it. In addition, the Indonesian military’s sealing off of East Timor to the outside world meant that there was no publicly verifiable evidence of the famine or continuing military atrocities. That was to change over the next two years. Eleven foreign ambassadors to Indonesia visited East Timor from 6 to 8 September 1978. They travelled to Remexio, Maliana, Baucau and Dili, and noted that only the Indonesian Red Cross and the Indonesian civil administration were providing humanitarian assistance. The Indonesian military was clearly responsible for the massive death toll due to its policy of detaining large numbers of captured or surrendered East Timorese in population-control centres that had inadequate shelter, food, water, sanitary facilities and medical care. The local military command was diverting food aid and medicines and selling them. The ambassadors were briefed that approximately 125,000 people had come down from the mountains, and that as many as a quarter of them were suffering from cholera, malaria, tuberculosis and advanced malnutrition. The Indonesian government was developing a propaganda line in order to explain the dire situation, blaming the famine on the subsistence farming practices of the East Timorese and on drought. The Australian Ambassador to Jakarta reported in confidence that the visit had been ‘carefully controlled by the Indonesian authorities, who were clearly anxious that the tragic plight of many of the refugees seen should not be blamed on their administration.’
The Cornell-Ithaca East Timor Committee, with Arnold Kohen as the lead writer, wrote an analysis of the causes of the famine. They sent it in the form of an emergency alert to groups and individuals in the USA and overseas. History shows that their analysis was quite accurate, but it did not reach the US media at the time. A Southeast Asia correspondent for the New York Times, Norman Peagam, had accompanied the ambassadors to Timor. He reported that they ‘came away so shocked by the condition of the refugees that they immediately contacted the governor of East Timor … to explore the possibilities of providing humanitarian assistance.’ However, the New York Times was on strike during those weeks, so Peagam’s brief report appeared only in the San Francisco Chronicle. David Jenkins, an Australian reporter, also accompanied the ambassadors and wrote that ‘one ambassador said [the children in one camp] reminded him of victims of an African famine.’ However, although US ambassador Edward Masters knew that there was a major humanitarian emergency in September 1978, he waited nine months before proposing international humanitarian aid. Professor Benedict Anderson exposed his conduct in Congressional hearings in February 1980.
For activists like Arnold Kohen, these were unhappy times. He says, ‘What was taking place in 1978 was totally depressing. There was no way to break through.’ He continued to work for almost no pay on East Timor, trying to break through the US government’s wall of denials. He worked at various jobs, including being a waiter at Windows on the World, a restaurant at the very top of World Trade Centre. A small group that campaigned for the release of Indonesian political prisoners paid him a modest salary in the autumn of 1978 to coordinate their work. The job and the salary were temporary in nature. The Christopher Reynolds Foundation, which supported humanitarian work in Indo-China, provided the project with some money. An anonymous donor in Michigan sent approximately US$15,000-20,000 over a period of years.
Kohen provided Professor Noam Chomsky, the renowned linguist and political activist, with a 40 page memo and 100 pages of documentation for a chapter in a book, The Political Economy of Human Rights. The book, co-authored with Edward Herman, gave prominence to East Timor, which became a signature issue of Chomsky. Chomsky’s profile brought the East Timor question into universities around the world, informing many people about the atrocities and their misrepresentation by governments and the media. According to Kohen, ‘It’s important to recognise there was no one of any international stature – real international stature – who was willing to say anything in those years. There may have been parliamentarians or individual members of Congress, but essentially these were people who were unknown internationally. Chomsky was not unknown, and Chomsky took it up at a point when no one else was willing to come forth. And that always has to be remembered.’
The leader of the East Timorese resistance, Nicolau Lobato, was killed on 31 December 1978. The conventional war was coming to an end. On 26 March 1979 the Indonesian government declared that East Timor had been ‘pacified’ and that it was dissolving Operation Seroja Joint Task Force Command. It then allowed Catholic Relief Services (CRS) to enter the territory for a preliminary survey. Humanitarian aid finally began in October 1979, with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and CRS delivering aid. By this time ‘the number of seriously or critically malnourished had risen to 300,000.’ Peter Rodgers, formerly the First Secretary in the Australian embassy in Jakarta, was at this time the Sydney Morning Herald’s correspondent in Indonesia. He visited East Timor for a week with the approval of the Indonesian military in order to report on the aid arriving courtesy of the ICRC and the CRS. He took photos of sick and starving people in Laga, 15 km east of Baucau. When he tried to send the photos back to Australia from Jakarta via satellite, he was told that the transmitter had broken down. It later became clear that a senior officer from Kopkamtib (Operational Command for the Restoration of Security and Order) had forbidden their transmission. The photos were sent out using other means.
Peter Rodgers won the 1979 Graham Perkin Award for the Australian Journalist of the Year for his reporting on East Timor. These photos would be of great significance in the US Congressional efforts that took place in late 1979. The Indonesian government expelled him in 1981 for his photos. His stories quoted a Red Cross official who said the situation was ‘as bad as Biafra and potentially as serious as Kampuchea.’ He quoted Frank Carlin, regional director of Catholic Relief Services, who described the situation as ‘greater than anything I have seen in 14 years of relief work in Asia… In our collective experience, this is the worst we have ever seen.’ However, while his photos vividly showed the condition of the people of Laga, it must be stressed that he arrived at the end of the famine, in time for the relief effort – more than a year after the ambassadors’ visit of September 1978. What he actually wrote did not attribute the famine to the Indonesian military’s population-control centres, or its prevention, restriction and diversion of aid. Instead:
Poverty, hunger, disease are hardly new to East Timor. Deprivation was well-established as a way of life long before the war which erupted in the territory more tan four years ago. But the violence and dislocation which came to East Timor in 1975, firstly as Timorese fought each other and then the Indonesian intruder, have changed deprivation to desperation.
According to Rodgers:
‘The dislocation in the territory during the past four years has been such that any claim about an exact number of deaths can only be the result of fantasy or mendacity… allegations that the East Timorese have been the victims of a policy of “genocide” by Indonesia suggest more than anything else that those making these claims have not consulted their dictionaries about the meaning of the term.’
Rodgers offered the view that the East Timorese ‘had been the tragic victims of violence and neglect. The end result of the upheaval in the territory of the past four years should not be confused with deliberate intent on Indonesia’s part.’ Another problem was that Rodgers hadn’t pointed out that the ICRC’s presence during the emergency aid program in East Timor was very limited. Its distribution was carried out by Indonesian Red Cross personnel. Catholic Relief Services had been granted much better access. CRS had a reputation for being close to the Indonesian government and, for that matter, the US government, from whom it received nearly 75% of its worldwide budget. It echoed the Indonesian government’s explanation of the famine, attributing it to civil war and drought. According to the most knowledgeable report on its activities, ‘the conduct of CRS is utterly indefensible.’ The activities of CRS were exposed by the National Catholic Reporter, which described how CRS trucks in East Timor travelled in ‘guarded military convoys,’ particularly in ‘sensitive areas.’ CRS aid appeared to be ‘part of the apparatus of military occupation. The supplies in military convoys make it look like CRS is an instrument of occupation and pacification.’ The CRS program ‘should not be described as a church program; CRS is just functioning as a link between the US Agency for International Development and the Indonesian army.’
Although the Rodgers photos were themselves very useful to US activists, his written narrative needed to be challenged at almost every turn. Indeed, that narrative resembled some of the arguments then being advanced by the US State Department, which in turn resembled those advanced by the Indonesian regime. A month after Rodgers’ reports, State Department officials and US ambassador to Indonesia Edward Masters testified to the US Congress on 4 December 1979. The officials showed an aversion to the words ‘famine’ and ‘starvation,’ referring instead to ‘acute malnutrition.’ For his part, Masters blamed the dire condition of the East Timorese people on ‘slash and burn agriculture,’ ‘extreme backwardness,’ ‘prevailing poverty,’ ‘lack of infrastructure,’ ‘erosion,’ and ‘drought.’ He mentioned the effects of the war briefly but chose to blame the Portuguese, who, as a contemporaneous analysis pointed out, ‘pulled out of their half of the island four years ago – and never carpet-bombed or defoliated the place.’
For Kohen, a big problem in 1978 was that the main congressional point of contact, Donald Fraser, had given up his seat in the House of Representatives in order to run for the Senate – and had lost. Fortunately, Kohen received word from Fraser’s former aide, John Salzberg, that Congressman Tony Hall, who had just been elected, had served with the Peace Corps in Thailand, had humanitarian interests, and might be willing to spearhead the effort in Congress. Kohen approached Bruce Cameron, who was working for Americans for Democratic Action (ADA), a large liberal organization. Cameron set up a meeting with Congressman Hall’s aide, Martin Rendon, on 6 July 1979. Had it not been for Cameron, Rendon would probably never have met Kohen; Congress was notoriously difficult to penetrate unless one worked for a major constituency or had the right personal contacts. East Timor did not qualify as such. Rendon was cordial but made it clear that there were many other pressing issues, and could make no promises. Kohen also worked closely with Veronica Parke, a British Quaker who had some contacts in Congress. Another key contact was Congressman Tom Harkin of Iowa, who was willing to take the lead on East Timor intermittently, from the early days after the Indonesian invasion.
Harkin appeared as the leading witness at the hearing on 4 December 1979. Rep. Tony Hall also posed crucial questions about the famine at that hearing as a member of the subcommittee. Harkin testified that he had introduced an amendment in 1976 to reduce military aid to Indonesia. The amendment had failed because at the time he could not get any solid evidence about conditions in East Timor. Harkin urged the Carter administration to demand the same accountability from its aid operations in East Timor that it had demanded in Cambodia. Despite Harkin’s support and the numerous previous Congressional hearings, East Timor was still ignored by the media. But things were about to change.
In 1979, Karl Meyer, then the chief foreign affairs editorial writer for the New York Times, was teaching a course on journalism at the Fletcher School at Tufts University, and was getting advice from people on whom to invite as guest lecturers. Someone suggested Noam Chomsky. Meyer invited Chomsky, who spoke about the differences in the US press’ coverage of East Timor and Cambodia. Both had experienced comparably similar levels of violence but press coverage had focused only on Khmer Rouge atrocities in Cambodia, not on Indonesian atrocities in East Timor, although US weapons were a vital part of the Indonesian assault. Meyer says, ‘I didn’t know what he was talking about.’ He was quite skeptical until students began to speak up. Chomsky gave the background, explaining the role of Ford and Kissinger and how US foreign policy supported the occupation. After the seminar Meyer asked if Chomsky would be willing to write an op-ed in the New York Times about it. Chomsky told him it would be much better to run an interview with Father Leoneto do Rego, a qualified engineer and priest who had lived in the mountains of East Timor for three years and had experienced the terrible conditions firsthand. Meyer did some more research on the role of the US and discovered that ‘Chomsky was absolutely right. So I went to Max Frankel, editor of the New York Times’ editorial page, and said I’d like to write something about East Timor. I explained the background to him. He said to go ahead and write an editorial. So I did.’
Before writing the editorial, Meyer convened a meeting with New York Times reporter Kathleen Teltsch, Arnold Kohen, Jeremy Mark, Father Leoneto do Rego, Father Francisco Fernandes, Father Reinaldo Cardoso, and Jacinto Tinoco, who acted as an interpreter. Father do Rego gave a very detailed testimony of his time in the mountains of East Timor. After nearly two hours Meyer said, ‘It has been established that a great atrocity has taken place.’ Father do Rego said that although things were normal for people in the interior during the first year of the war, ‘problems started in early 1977. A full-scale bombardment of the whole island began. From that point there emerged death, illness, despair. The second phase of the bombing was late 1977 to early 1979, with modern aircraft. This was the firebombing phase of the bombing. Even up to this time, people could still live. The genocide and starvation was the result of the full-scale incendiary bombing… We saw the end coming. People could not plant. I personally witnessed – while running to protected areas, going from tribe to tribe – the great massacre from bombardment and people dying from starvation. In 1979 people began surrendering because there was no other option. When people began dying, then others began to give up.’ While estimating that 200,000 people had died in the first four years, Father do Rego’s crucial point was that the aircraft provided to the Indonesians by the US was the primary factor in the massive death toll.
However, Teltsch’s article mentioned only one sentence of this: ‘He said that bombardment and systematic destruction of the croplands in 1978 were intended to starve the islanders into submission.’ Worse, she portrayed Father do Rego as a partisan figure rather than what he really was – a simple priest who happened to live through the war. Teltsch also went to Catholic Relief Services for ‘the other side,’ and made it look as though the events described by Father do Rego may have been true at the time, but were now in the past. The transcript of Leoneto do Rego’s interview with the New York Times was later leaked to the Boston Globe, where Robert Levey wrote a comprehensive account. However, Karl Meyer wrote a forthright editorial for the New York Times, condemning Indonesia’s actions for the first time in very strong terms:
Although most of the weapons of suppression are American-made, Washington has muted its concern for the familiar pragmatic reasons… American silence about East Timor contrasts oddly with the indignation over Cambodia; the suffering is great in both places.
Meyer’s uncompromising editorial (‘An Unjust War in East Timor’) was framed in similar terms as Chomsky’s remarks at Tufts University. He made it clear that East Timor wasn’t an old problem; atrocities were happening at that very moment, not in the past, and US policy needed to change. Meyer provided Kohen with much-needed mainstream credibility. Armed with the editorial, Kohen and the group of East Timor refugees working with him were able to increase awareness in Congress and elsewhere. Also providing credibility was Daniel Southerland, the respected Washington diplomatic correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor, whom Kohen had first contacted in November 1979 and with whom he worked closely over the next five years. Southerland’s stories in December 1979 also compared East Timor with Cambodia. He wrote that ‘the Indonesians attacked relentlessly with infantry and with US-supplied, armed reconnaissance planes known as the OV-10 (Bronco). They concentrated people around the villages and resettlement centres. They stole at least part of the relief food and sold it.’ Southerland’s respectability and his hard-hitting coverage had an effect on the then-foreign editor of the New York Times, Joseph Lelyveld, who subsequently became executive editor of the paper. When Lelyveld realized that Southerland believed East Timor was an important story, he sent one of his best reporters, James Markham, to Lisbon to interview East Timorese refugees who had settled there. Kohen accompanied Markham, paying his own way there. While in Lisbon, he developed a good rapport with Markham, who was horrified at the refugees’ testimony. They both agreed that more members of the US Congress needed to know about this. Kohen says, ‘at that point we’d only gone around Congress with Father Fernandes for a couple of months and with Father Leoneto do Rego for a few days, due to his health and the Catholic Church’s sensitivity to Indonesian pressure. But we didn’t really have the money to bring refugees back to the US from Lisbon. We hadn’t gone to Lisbon planning that this would take place.’
However, those four days spent with James Markham convinced Kohen that the refugees’ testimony needed to be brought to the attention of Congress. Having no money to buy the tickets to fly these refugees to the US, he decided to ask Noam Chomsky for help. Chomsky obliged immediately. Kohen says, ‘I intended to pay him back but there never was enough money. I never did pay him back, and he never asked for it.’ Professor Benedict Anderson also helped with money, as did Herb Feith of Australia’s Monash University. Father Francisco Fernandes and Father Apolinario Guterres had come to the US and testified at the United Nations in September 1979. With help from other US sources, Father Fernandes returned to Washington in early 1980 to join the more recent refugees from East Timor. Kohen worked intensively for several years with East Timorese refugees Ao Seu Ki, Vicente Guterres Saldanha and others chosen by James Markham for their credibility. They went to Washington and elsewhere in the US and met about 100 congressional officers in early 1980, playing a crucial role in developing long-term Congressional contacts. Kohen says, ‘We went any place where somebody would see us. We didn’t just drop in; we had articles and editorials to give, whether it was Meyer’s editorial or Southerland’s report or Markham’s report.’ Father Fernandes testified before a Congressional Subcommittee in June 1980. Kohen and the refugees collaborated for several years in the US and Portugal.
The final step in creating the ‘structure of legitimacy’ occurred in the Congressional hearings of 1980, when Benedict Anderson shattered the testimony of Ambassador Edward Masters. In his prepared statement, Anderson reminded the Committee that Ambassador Masters made his first visit to East Timor almost three years after the Indonesian invasion, and that foreign ambassadors including Masters had been shocked by the condition of the refugees. Yet, he continued, Masters had advised the committee in late 1979 that the situation in September 1978 was not that serious. The temptation to quote Anderson’s own words is irresistible:
What explains this extraordinary discrepancy? The answer, I believe, is shockingly clear. From late 1977 to early 1979, the Indonesian military, bolstered by deliveries of OV-10 Broncos and other munitions, carried out a major counterinsurgency campaign, culminating in the death of Fretilin chief Nicolau Lobato on December 31, 1978. As an internal State Department document records: ‘It was not until the spring of 1979 that the Government of Indonesia felt East Timor to be secure enough to permit foreign visitors.’
On March 26, 1979, the Indonesian military formally dissolved the Seroja Joint Operations Command in East Timor, and in April the ICRC was for the first time in almost four years permitted to make a brief and preliminary on-the-spot survey. Only then did Mr Masters move. As the same internal State Department document reports: ‘On June 1, 1979, the US Ambassador to Indonesia, Edward Masters, determined that a disaster of such a magnitude as to warrant US Government assistance existed in East Timor.’
In other words, for nine long months, from September 1978 to June 1979, while ‘in ever increasing numbers the starving and the ailing, wearing rags at best, drifted onto the coastal plain,’ Ambassador Masters deliberately refrained, even within the walls of the State Department, from proposing humanitarian aid to East Timor. Until the generals in Jakarta gave him the green light, Mr Masters did nothing to help the East Timorese, although Mr Holbrooke [of the US State Department] insists that ‘the welfare of the Timorese people is the major objective of our policy towards East Timor.’
Anderson reminded the committee that Masters had blamed the hunger in East Timor on ‘the extreme backwardness of the East Timor economy,’ deforestation caused by ‘many years of shifting agricultural production’ and ‘erosion.’ Masters had claimed that ‘the neighbouring province of East Nusa Tenggara is also an arid, remote island area that, in the best of times, is one of the poorest parts of Indonesia. It has the lowest per capita income in the nation – barely $32 per year … Sixty per cent of the preschool children in Nusa Tenggara suffer from malnutrition.’ But Anderson demonstrated that Masters remarks were ‘an unwittingly devastating comment on the Suharto regime and American policy towards it. Why – after 15 years of the vaunted Indonesian “economic miracle,” after billions of dollars in aid and billions more of foreign investment in this OPEC state – are 60% of preschool age children in East Nusa Tenggara suffering from malnutrition? Why is the local per capita income $32 a year, when Suharto has spent at least $1 million on a pompous mausoleum for himself and his wife?... When Mrs Suharto is known throughout Indonesia as “Mrs Ten Percent?” When Indonesia nets at least $12 billion a year in oil revenue? And even supposing that Mr Masters’ description of East Timor were correct – that “it can no longer support its former population” – how would he explain the fact that the Suharto regime has just designated the territory as a transmigration zone where Indonesian peasants from other islands will be transferred and resettled?
Anderson called for Masters’ head:
‘As I understand it, correct me if I am wrong, our ambassadors are approved by the Congress. It seems to me that on the record Ambassador Masters should be recalled. He has corrupted the function of the ambassador. Traditionally, it was said that ambassadors were sent abroad to lie in the interest of their own country. It is rather peculiar to have an ambassador coming back to his own country to lie on behalf of a foreign government.’
He pointed out the weaknesses of the Suharto regime:
‘We should remember that Indonesia is enormously in debt; about 20 per cent of its revenue goes to paying its existing debt. We provide enormous sums of money to it year after year, and have done so since the onset of this regime. Second, this is a regime whose internal legitimacy depends, in part, on having destroyed the Communist Party of Indonesia, which it certainly has done. This is not a government that is able, then, to suddenly switch sides and start making friendly overtures to the Soviet Union. It really has nowhere else to go. It would therefore be a big mistake to underrate our influence.’
Masters’ credibility regarding East Timor never recovered in Congress or the media; the credibility of activists supporting East Timor gradually increased through painstaking efforts in 1979, the 1980s and the first two years of the 1990s, when the Santa Cruz massacre catapulted East Timor to international prominence. Much of the pressure exerted on the US government in 1999 arose as a result of the structure of legitimacy that was built in these very important constituencies in the 1970s. The participation of Catholic priests such as Father Leoneto do Rego and Father Reinaldo Cardoso was an indispensable element in establishing legitimacy with Congress, the news media and – not least – the US Catholic Church itself, which became a vital element in efforts on behalf of East Timor over the next twenty years. Father Cardoso was instrumental in also convincing the main leaders in East Timor’s Catholic Church to participate in international efforts that had a great effect over the years.
 Sarah Staveteig, a demographer at the University of California – Berkeley, applied standard demographic methods of indirect estimation and found that ‘a reasonable upper bound on excess deaths during [the occupation was] 204,000 (± 51,000)’. Staveteig considered it ‘likely that 204,000 is a conservative upper-bound estimate on excess mortality.’ S. Staveteig, How Many Persons in East Timor Went 'Missing' During the Indonesian Occupation?: Results from Indirect Estimates. (Austria: International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, 2007: 14).
 CAVR, Chega, Executive Summary p. 73. East Timor’s Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation concluded that the ‘minimum-bound for the number of conflict-related deaths’ was 102,800 (+/- 12,000), and the upper bound may have been as high as 183,000. See CAVR, Chega, Chapter 6, para 8, p. 3.
 See for example G. Evans, The Responsibility to Protect. (Washington: Brookings Institution Press, 2008).
 ACFOA, Aid and East Timor, Canberra, July 1979.
 Collectively, they illustrate the diverse and highly contradictory nature of the early solidarity movement. Cliff Morris was an Australian dairy farmer in his mid-fifties from Deniliquin, New South Wales. At the age of 21, he had fought in East Timor during World War II as a commando with 2nd/4th Independent Company. By contrast, Robert Wesley-Smith was a peace activist and agricultural scientist had worked on land rights with the Gurindji and Larrakia people and coached Aboriginal children in Australian Rules Football. James Zantis was a right-wing political activist from Bondi in Sydney’s eastern suburbs. His connection with East Timor came from his association with other right-wing political figures and the Australian Society for Inter-country Aid – Timor (ASIAT). Manny Mavromatis had no overt political stance. He was a sailor and adventurer who believed that something should and could be done to help the Timorese, and that a trip to a war zone was exciting and worthwhile in itself.
 Interview with Jamie Maia (September 2008) and Caetano Guterres (March 2009). See also CAVR, Chega, Executive Summary, pp. 116-123.
 CAVR, Chega Chapter 7.3 p 71.
 J. Taylor, Indonesia’s Forgotten War. (London: Zed Books, 1991: 88).
 Ibid, pp. 89-90.
 J. McCarthy, The Globalisation of Social Movement Theory, in J. Smith, C. Chatfield and R. Pagnucco (eds), Transnational Social Movements and Global Politics: Solidarity Beyond the State. (New York: Syracuse University Press, 1997: 62).
 Interviews and email communications conducted with Arnold Kohen in 2008, 2009 and 2010.
 The Liberation News Service was a left-wing news agency operating from 1967 to 1981. Its subscribers were mainly university and underground newspapers. It provided news packets to its subscribers twice a week.
 Kohen recalled Anderson saying to him in February 1976, ‘Well, you know, you’re interested in this today but will you be interested two or three months from now? People always drop things, they pick them up and drop them.’
 House of Representatives, Economic and Military Assistance in Asia and the Pacific, 10, 17 and 22 March 1977.
 House of Representatives, Human Rights in East Timor and the Question of the Use of US Equipment by the Indonesian Armed Forces, Subcommittee on International Organisations and on Asian and Pacific Affairs of the Committee on International Relations, 23 March 1977, p 12.
 Ibid, pp. 28-9.
 Ibid, pp. 19-23. Fraser’s Subcommittee also held hearings in February 1978.
 House of Representatives, Human Rights in East Timor, Subcommittee on International Organisations and on Asian and Pacific Affairs of the Committee on International Relations, 28 June and 19 July 1977.
 House of Representatives, Human Rights in East Timor, 28 June 1977, pp. 11-39.
 Ibid, pp. 5-6.
 House of Representatives, Human Rights in East Timor, 19 July 1977, pp. 59-64.
 H. Krieger (ed.), East Timor and the International Community: Basic Documents. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997: 333).
 House of Representatives, US Policy on Human Rights and Military Assistance, Subcommittee on International Organisations of the Committee on International Relations, 15 February 1978, p. 1.
 Department of State, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, 31 January 1978.
 House of Representatives, US Policy on Human Rights and Military Assistance, 15 February 1978, pp. 10-47.
 Ibid, pp. 56-8.
 CAVR, Chega 7.3 pp 71-2
 I.A. Roberts, Letter to Brian Smith, 14 September 1978, NA: FCO Files. Roberts was quoting the Head of the Indonesia section in Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs, Roger Brown.
 N. Peagam, San Francisco Chronicle, 13 September 1978.
 D. Jenkins, Timor’s Arithmetic of Despair, Far Eastern Economic Review, 29 September 1978.
 Interview, February 2010.
 He wrote perhaps the first article on East Timor in any National US magazine (The Cruel Case of Indonesia, Nation, Nov. 26, 1977). Technically, it was an article on Indonesia with an emphasis on East Timor. The first US magazine article on East Timor was by Noam Chomsky fifteen months later (East Timor: The Press Cover-Up, Inquiry, 19 February 1979).
 It agreed to give some small amounts of money to work on East Timor: $5000 one year, $8000 another year, $10000 another year. But the Christopher Reynolds Foundation was not going to continue to fund the East Timor campaign because its main concern was Indochina.
 The cheque came from a bank in Lansing, Michigan (where Michigan State University was located). The donor wrote that he or she had lived in Indonesia, and had had friends who were killed in the massacres of 1965-6. Kohen never discovered the identity of the donor, who also sent money to other groups working on Indonesian human rights issues.
 N. Chomsky and E. Herman, The Political Economy of Human Rights (PEHR), Vol. 1 (South End, 1979).
 Interview, February 2010.
 CAVR, Chega 7.3 p 72
 P. Rodgers, Food, not politics, dictates the fate of East Timor, Sydney Morning Herald, 31 October 1979; Agony on our doorstep, Sydney Morning Herald, 1 November 1979; Horror on our doorstep, The Age, 1 November 1979; East Timor: Where are all the people?, Sydney Morning Herald, 1 November 1979.
 In the summer of 1979, different documents came to light from Australia. Action for World Development and other groups were putting out more extensive information based on church sources, indicating the real nature of the famine.
 P. Rodgers, Food, not politics, dictates the fate of East Timor, Sydney Morning Herald, 31 October 1979.
 P. Rodgers, East Timor: Where are all the people?, Sydney Morning Herald, 1 November 1979.
 P. Walsh, Notes on the East Timor issue based on an international visit, 7 June 1980 – 18 August 1980, Melbourne, Christmas 1980. Copy in the author’s possession.
 A.S. Kohen and R.A. Quance, The Politics of Starvation, Inquiry, 18 February 1980.
 Years later, Bruce Cameron would be employed as a lobbyist by Jose Ramos-Horta.
 Parke assisted a number of people who had come to Washington such as James Dunn and East Timorese refugees whose testimony in Congress was organized by Arnold Kohen.
 K. Meyer, Telephone Interview, 2 March 2009. Meyer was the lead writer on foreign affairs for the New York Times from 1979 till he retired in 1998.
 Interview with Karl Meyer, 2 March 2009.
 Kathleen Teltsch was the New York Times’ correspondent at the United Nations.
 Father Leoneto do Rego was a priest from the Azores who had lived in the mountains of East Timor for three years during the height of the conventional war.
 Father Fernandes (no relation) was a priest who had been with East Timorese refugees in Atambua, West Timor. He moved to Perth, Australia, in the late 1970s.
 Father Reinaldo Cardozo lived in Rhode Island. He had been a priest in East Timor for 12yrs, and had been the mathematics teacher to many of the Timorese resistance leaders. Father Cardoso, who worked closely with Kohen, had excellent links with the Catholic Church in East Timor. He had direct links to prison chaplains, for example. He was able to convince several key Church leaders in the US to engage in advocacy.
 Jacinto Tinoco was an East Timorese businessman in Pennsylvania who for a time had worked for the diocese in Baucau and came down to New York to translate for the meeting. Kohen says, ‘Tinoco played an important role, simply being there as a businessman. He wasn’t some communist, he was a neutral source with excellent English. He didn’t do anything after that, but never mind. Nonetheless, that day he played an excellent role.’
 R. Levey, Power Play Cripples East Timor, Boston Globe, 20 January 1980.
 K. Teltsch, Timor Priest, Charging Genocide, Seeks US Help, New York Times, 14 December 1979.
 R. Levey, Power Play Cripples East Timor, Boston Globe, 20 January 1980. Robert Levey came to write the story because Noam Chomsky had become a personal friend of the editor of the Boston Globe, Tom Winship. In the 1960s the Globe had bitterly condemned the anti-war movement. Then Tom’s son Larry joined the resistance, and Chomsky knew him through his own active participation in the resistance. According to Chomsky: ‘Tom gradually came to be convinced by his son that something was badly wrong. Through that connection we met, and became good friends. He actually offered me a position at the Globe to pick up stories they weren’t covering, and for several years I went regularly to meetings with editors and journalists at his invitation to discuss these matters. It was in that connection that the article on East Timor appeared. They had published one of the normal terrible accounts based on State Department lies. I contacted an editor I knew, and suggested that they look into the matter. He didn't believe me (sensibly, like Meyer), and they asked Bob Levey to look into it. At the time I think he covered restaurants in the Boston area. They expected something superficial, but he really dug, like a local police reporter investigating a scandal. We were in constant touch, and he wrote a great story.’ (N. Chomsky, Personal communication, 12 November 2010).
 Editorial, An Unjust War in East Timor, New York Times, 24th December 1979.
 D. Southerland, East Timor’s agony rivals that of Cambodia, Christian Science Monitor, 17 December 1979.
 According to Arnold Kohen’s testimony to the CAVR, Daniel Southerland ‘also lent his considerable and well-earned prestige in press and Congressional circles to promote constructive policies to address the humanitarian emergency as well as the need for longer-term solutions.’ (Interview, February 2010).
 Jeremy Mark helped them with their speeches at the UN. Father Apolinario Guterres had spent time in refugee camps in Atambua, West Timor, in 1975-76.
 Situation Report No 1, Friday October 19, 1979, of the Office of US Foreign Disaster Assistance, US International Development Cooperation Agency, Agency for International Development, p 1.
 Anderson was quoting H. Kamm, New York Times, January 28, 1980.