The student-led movement to end mass atrocities.

What Happened in East Timor?

East Timor, or Timor-Leste, is a small nation on the island of Timor, sharing land with Pulau Timor, a portion of Indonesia. Timor is one of the larger islands in Southeast Asia, and the last major island of the Lesser Sunda Islands chain. The nation became independent from Indonesia and the 191st member of the United Nations in 2002. Yet, many people, especially Americans, are unaware of the nation’s existence and their history of oppression, persecution, and atrocities at the hands of Indonesia. This can be partially attributed to both the self-preservation of western nations and their business interests, and genocidaires’ continued possession of power in countries with a history of human rights abuses.

Portugal occupied East Timor from the 1600s to 1975. Months after Portugal left the island, Indonesia invaded, citing the fight against communism as a reason for invading the country. This justification was widely accepted because of concerns of the spread of communismetimor in Southeast Asia after the surrender of South Vietnam to communist North Vietnam in April of that same year.  As a result of the invasion, approximately 200,000 or more East Timor citizens – about one third of East Timor’s population at the time – perished from starvation, encircling and annihilation campaigns, and more. The initial invasion began on December 7, 1975 with naval bombardment of the East Timor’s capital, Dili, and then the use of troops through beach landing and paratroopers. Three days later, Indonesia  attacked Baucau, the second largest city. The direct conflict caused approximately 100,000 deaths. Though the United Nations condemned the significant human rights transgressions, the genocide took place without much attention from western media.

Before the invasion began, media platforms in the United States published a myriad of stories on Portugal’s departure from East Timor and concern over communism’s influence in the nation. The concerns of East Timor falling to communism are what prompted the invasion. Major newspapers like the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, and Washington Post failed to cover the issue once Indonesia got involved, which fed into the lack of knowledge on the human rights transgressions.

The conflict and occupation did not get much attention until November 12, 1981, when the Santa Cruz Massacre took place at a cemetery during the ceremony of a deceased independence leader, where at least 271 people died. Though this sparked media coverage, it covered the issue as if those fighting for independence were insurrectionists of a separatist movement, rather than as fighting for liberation against an oppressor.

This neglect and invasion was accepted because of Indonesia’s economic importance to the U.S. and the additional resources Indonesia could gain from occupying East Timor. This case provides another example of the indifference to genocide, especially when a nation sees it as beneficial to itself. While the United States was not actively killing mass quantities of people, they implicitly supported Indonesian invasion into East Timor and were contributing to rampant oppression through monetary assistance and weapon supply to Indonesia. During a meeting with Indonesian President Hajji Suharto the day before the invasion, U.S. President Gerald Ford stated, “We will understand and will not press you on the issue. We understand the problem you have and the intentions you have.” In this regard, the United States is guilty because of their failure to act, as well as their explicit support for the genocidal regime and invasion.

This failure shows that people must work to stay involved in the political process. American citizens must fight to ensure that they elect responsible officials that will not use tax dollars to fund genocide and other mass atrocities. Though this work is difficult, with a large amount of active and informed citizens backing it, we can ensure that our country works to combat genocide and advocate for civilians around the world.

zachary gossett

 

Zachary Gossett is a member of the Communications Task Force for STAND. He is a first year student at Butler University in Indianapolis, Indiana, where he is studying political science. He is passionate about protecting the rights of people of the world.

The Dangers of Statelessness

The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) says that while there are 65.6 million displaced people in the world, ten million of them are stateless people. According to UNHRC, a stateless person is “a person who is not considered as a national by any State under the operation of its law,” and thus without a legally bound home. The United Nations in Article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “everyone has the right to a nationality,” but many are denied this right. For the average citizen of a well-developed country, this problem seems unrealistic. Citizens of well-developed countries take this right for granted because it is never questioned. Yet, there are stateless people all over the world, and due to the problems that come with statelessness, millions of people suffer every day and are vulnerable to the abuses of unchecked nations.

Statelessness can occur for a myriad of reasons. The United States State Department addresses that some statelessness is caused by naturalization laws, such as laws denying people the ability to obtain citizenship, laws denying a mother the ability to extend her nationality to her child, and laws denying citizenship for children born out of wedlock. Additionally, statelessness can be a result of paperwork mistakes, such as a hospital failing to register a birth or the loss or destruction of documents. While each case is a troubling scenario, the worst is when people are stripped of their citizenship by their nation for belonging to a certain racial or ethnic group. This action destroys the promised protection of individuals, thereby making them vulnerable to atrocities.

When citizen groups – most often minorities – are stripped of their rights and nationality, they become easy targets for persecution. Arguably the most famous case of this action was during the rule of Adolf Hitler in Nazi Germany. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum asserts that when the Nuremberg Laws were passed in 1935, the Jewish population in Germany lost all of their basic rights. These laws were an early, yet catastrophic, sign of the coming Holocaust, and the abuses Germany’s Jewish population experienced escalated sizably thereafter. Now, in Burma, 1.1 million Rohingya Muslims are considered stateless after the government rescinded their citizenship in 1982. The international community has called the Rohingya “the most persecuted minority in the world,” and a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.” The aspect of being stateless makes their persecution much easier.

If nations around the world recognized and acted on the problems stateless individuals are forced to deal with, cases like the Holocaust and the persecution of the Rohingya could be minimized or even stopped earlier. Stateless people are not offered the protections of average citizens. As a result, attacking these minorities is relatively easy. For this reason, the United Nations has launched a campaign to end statelessness in ten years. Ultimately, the most difficult aspects of ending statelessness are that it must be a priority of each individual country, and that the true number of stateless people is difficult to ascertain because they are often not included in censuses or they prefer not to report that they are stateless because of the harm that could come from it. Whether the desired conclusion is probable or not, it is definitely a positive movement to combat the genocide and mass atrocities that can result from the denial of citizenship.

zachary gossett

 

Zachary Gossett is a member of the Communications Task Force for STAND. He is a first-year student at Butler University in Indianapolis, Indiana, where he is studying political science. He is passionate about protecting the rights of people of the world.