Companion to East Timor - Arnold Kohen


Arnold Kohen - Photo by Clinton Fernandes.

Read a version of a talk about Kohen and East Timor by Professor Benedict Anderson. Readabout how Kohen and a few colleagues built a structure of legitimacy forthe East Timorese cause here.

Below is the Testimony by Mr Kohen before the Commission for Reception,Truth and Reconciliation in East Timor dated 16 March 2004.

I am honored to appear before this distinguished body, and I thank the Commissioners and staff for the opportunity to testify. Since late 1975,I have participated in American and international efforts to promote self-determination and human rights for the people of East Timor. Over a period of nearly three decades, I have had close contact with American policy makers on various levels, members of the US Congress and their staffs, church officials, members of the news media and civil society. I am the author of many articles on East Timor as well as a book, "From the Place of the Dead", which is simultaneously a history of the struggle in East Timor and a biography of Bishop Belo.

I have been asked to provide civil society perspectives on the role of successive United States Administrations regarding East Timor's right to self-determination. In addition, I have been asked to comment on the role and attitudes of the U.S. Congress on this issue, as well as the roles of the American news media and the Catholic Church in America, to which I have added the role of other religious denominations, and not only in America: indeed, a major theme of my testimony centers on what can be called effective international inter-religious and political cooperation among people of good will.

In preparing this testimony, I am mindful of the twin themes of truth and reconciliation. First, it is important that the people of East Timor understand not only the truth about the actions of the American institutions mentioned here, but also that there be a clear awareness of efforts made by a diverse group of Americans to uphold the right of self-determination and defend the people of East Timor over many years. Second, I believe that it is important that the tragedies of the past be translated into concrete help from the United States for the people of East Timor, both now and in the future.

One must begin by acknowledging that the United States eventually backed action by the United Nations Security Council in 1999 that succeeded in ending the terrible violence in East Timor. American support enabled the Security Council to act, and this helped consolidate East Timor's independence.

Nonetheless, forceful diplomatic efforts by the United States came far too late. It is quite inaccurate to suggest that international intervention in East Timor in 1999 was a great "success story," as some voices in the news media and diplomatic circles have since characterized it. Rather, the liberation of East Timor came after months of bloodletting that preceded the United Nations Popular Consultation in 1999, and the long weeks of mayhem that followed. All of this came at the end of nearly 24 years of unimaginable East Timorese suffering that might have been avoided had the United States chosen to behave differently.

Indonesia's supreme leader from 1975 to 1998, President Suharto, was at first regarded as reluctant to invade East Timor, partly because Suharto feared a revival of the kind of diplomatic difficulties experienced by his predecessor, President Sukarno, during the 1960s. To assess the official American attitude toward East Timor, Suharto visited Washington in July 1975, months before the December 1975 invasion. As Hamish MacDonald, a leading Australian journalistic observer of the Indonesian scene later wrote in a book called "Suharto's Indonesia", it was only after Suharto returned from Washington that he publicly ruled out independence for East Timor.

I will not devote much time to the widely-published facts of the visit of then-President Ford and Secretary of State Kissinger to Jakarta shortly before the December 1975 invasion. But statements at the time and official American documents since made available point to U.S. backing for the Indonesian position. Moreover, United States intelligence officials closely involved with the situation in 1975 have said that the Ford-Kissinger visit reaffirmed the belief of Indonesia's rulers that their actions in East Timor would create no adverse consequences in their relations with Washington.

The rationale I would hear from various policy makers over the years -- and sadly, this kind of talk continued even during the terrible events of September 1999 -- was that Indonesia was important, while East Timor was not.

Successive American Administrations resisted any attempt to re-open discussion on the question of self-determination for East Timor. For this reason alone, the United States, and the leaders of the Administrations that adopted and continued a policy that gave license to Indonesia's rulers to pursue their inhuman actions, have an obligation to East Timor to use their influence among present and future American Administrations to protect this fragile nation and ensure that present and future generations of East Timorese have abundant opportunities.

It is wrong to believe that the tragedy in East Timor can be placed exclusively at the doorstep of President Ford and Secretary of State Kissinger. There was a chance to change American policy toward the Indonesian occupation of East Timor in early 1977, when President Jimmy Carter took office. I remember that period well, Congressional hearings began on the subject in Washington . For a brief time prior to the hearings there was hope that the Ford-Kissinger policy would be reversed by Carter, who had called for greater emphasis on human rights in the making of U.S. foreign policies. But such hopes were dashed when in March 1977 Carter Administration officials went even further than their predecessors, not only about self-determination, but also in misleading Congress about actual conditions in East Timor, which were falsely portrayed as peaceful. In addition, United States arms shipments to Indonesia, including equipment particularly useful for operations in East Timor, greatly increased during the Carter Administration.

Nonetheless, in July 1977, under persistent Congressional questioning led by then Rep. Donald Fraser (Democrat of Minnesota) and his special assistant, Dr. John Salzberg, the Carter Administration finally acknowledged that East Timor had indeed been denied its right to self-determination. In other Congressional hearings in 1977, American anthropologists Shepard Forman and Elizabeth Traube, both of whom had spent significant periods of time in East Timor studying East Timorese cultures (Makassae and Mambai respectively) from 1972 onward, gave valuable testimony. History should record that private counsel from Professor Benedict Anderson of Cornell University was vital in setting in motion the four Congressional hearings that took place (through February 1978) and Anderson testified as well.

The extent to which Carter Administration officials had misled Congress was made clear in late 1979. After persistent civil society efforts, in which I was closely involved, a new set of Congressional hearings were held. This was during the period surrounding the catastrophic famine, when the worst death and destruction in East Timor's history took place. Again, Carter State Department officials tried to mislead Congress, this time about the origins of this famine, which they attempted to portray as stemming from drought rather than from the war that raged in the interior from 1977-79 and the subsequent neglect by the Indonesian military of the tens of thousands of East Timorese who fallen into their hands.

Because I have been specifically asked to do so by the CAVR, I should state openly that I led the effort to distribute evidence on the true situation in East Timor to Congress during this period, and history has confirmed the veracity of this evidence. It is to the great credit of then-Rep. Tony P. Hall (Democrat of Ohio), pressed by his legislative aide, Martin Rendón, that a measure of reality penetrated Congress from 1979-91. Rendón, a skilled lawyer who played a tremendous role in facilitating numerous activities for nearly 15 years, despite all the obstacles of official indifference -- indeed, over the objections of the US government and even some well-placed colleagues -- can justly be called the Congressional leader of East Timor efforts during those years and beyond. (Rendón was succeeded in 1993 by Bob Zachritz.) Others from this period, including then Rep. Tom Harkin (Democrat of Iowa), his longtime advisor (and later, that of Jose Ramos Horta) Bruce Cameron and Harkin's legislative aide, Holly Burkhalter, (a later aide to Senator Harkin was Rosemary Gutierrez), also deserve acknowledgment.

Father Reinaldo Cardoso, who worked for 12 years in East Timor and then moved to the United States, was an indispensable source of discreet help, especially in helping his many friends from the Church in East Timor to be heard in the United States), beginning during the crisis of 1979, when we worked closely in Washington with Father Francisco Fernandes and Father Apolinario Guterres, both of whom had spent time in East Timorese refugee camps in Atambua, West Timor, in 1975-76 Father Fernandes, who in the late 1970s had moved to Perth, Australia, came to the United States to provide formal testimony in Congress in mid-1980. His testimony was powerful and convincing. But weeks later, in a letter to me, Father Fernandes reported that his brother, working as a village chief in East Timor, had been threatened at gunpoint by the Indonesian military in what appeared to be retaliation for Father Fernandes' testimony. Such intimidation was not untypical.

Especially in light of such circumstances, Father Cardoso was THE vital link: his friends in the Church trusted him, he was able to encourage them, give them strength and confidence. No person on the outside was more important in the liberation of East Timor than Father Reinaldo Cardoso.

Working together over a period of twenty years, Father Cardoso and I facilitated contacts between the Church in East Timor and influential circles in America and other places. In the early days, we reached the editorial page of the New York Times, where Karl E. Meyer (later joined by David Unger and Tina Rosenberg) began to write hard-hitting editorials chastising the Carter Administration for its policies. By 1980, the Times called on the U.S. to support East Timor's right to self-determination, and continued to do so. Instrumental in making this initial contact possible in 1979 was Noam Chomsky, the renowned linguist and trenchant analyst of US foreign policy, who has written widely (about what was at the time) the unreported war in East Timor (I worked with Chomsky on research related to his writings), and who challenged the American press to pay attention to East Timor. Chomsky's words on this matter had a real influence, sometimes indirect, and history should record it, because it was of vital importance in helping to alter the state of widespread ignorance about East Timor that then existed in the United States and elsewhere.

Special mention must be made of other individuals who played a special role during the 1978-1979 period, when, it must again be stressed, most of the deaths in East Timor occurred. In terms of influencing the news media, the role of Dan Southerland, then the Washington diplomatic correspondent for The Christian Science Monitor, cannot be over-estimated. Not only did Southerland write several penetrating articles from 1979-1984 on Washington's role with regard to East Timor, he 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. The quiet contributions of John Sharkey at the Washington Post (the only American reporter to write a revealing article about reports of atrocities in 1977) were significant until his retirement in the 1990s. At the New York Times, the work of the late James Markham (whose interviews with East Timorese refugees were without parallel in the American press), Richard Halloran (who consistently drew attention to Congressional efforts in the 1980s) and Philip Shenon (who, from his groundbreaking 1993 interview with Bishop Belo through his penetrating articles on US policy during the crisis of 1999, performed with excellence) should not be overlooked. All of these reporters and editorial writers exemplified the best traditions of their professions.

From 1979 until his final retirement in 1986, the quiet fervor of the late Edward Doherty, a retired US Foreign Service Officer then working with the United States Catholic Conference (the policy arm of the US Catholic Bishops), made its influence felt within Catholic circles for many years after his retirement and death. The role of the chairman of the American section of Amnesty International, David Hinkley, was also of special importance during this dark time and thereafter, as was that of Anthony Goldstone, then Amnesty International's researcher on East Timor, whose efforts, including his wisdom and sound advice, were extremely valuable over a period of more than two decades. Michael Chamberlain, founder of the East Timor Human Rights Committee that existed from 1979-84, one of a tiny group of grassroots activists during this time, did significant work, including in Washington at strategic moments, which should be properly acknowledged.

Veronica Prichard Parke provided wise counsel and was s source of strength in the course of her participation in Washington efforts during this time, and with her husband, Dr. William Parke, generously provided accommodation for several East Timorese visitors for extended periods. Help with Congress and the nedia was also provided by Jeremy Mark.

In addition to information on the role of Congress, the news media and the churches, the organizers of the CAVR have asked me to provide accounts of work by American civil society as well as my own experiences from 1975-99 with regard to efforts to bring about self-determination for East Timor, as well as details and anecdotes that help to illustrate what took place. I am therefore briefly recounting the role of certain key individuals and groups to help describe the history of efforts to draw attention to East Timor in the United States. I have chosen to concentrate special attention on the period surrounding the catastrophic famine of the late 1970s because it was a seminal period during which many members of the US Congress, media, churches and related institutions first became engaged in the East Timor issue in Washington and elsewhere. The gross injustices visited upon the people of East Timor began to receive a measure of American attention during this period, planting seeds that in some cases matured many years later. Although official United States policy on the issue of self-determination did not change, knowledge of the issue slowly began to permeate key quarters of American society, laying the groundwork for later actions.


Photo by Clinton Fernandes.

I should also say something about the strategy underlying these various efforts. To put it simply, it was necessary to make the most of limited human and financial resources on all levels, whether in Congress, the media, churches or civil society, bearing in mind the very difficult historical period from 1975 through 1991. There was limited awareness of East Timor before it appeared on television after the Santa Cruz events of Nov. 12, 1991, and before Santa Cruz, with the very limited exception of the papal visit in 1989, there was no opportunity to bring East Timor to television viewers. In addition, the internet was not a factor in spreading awareness during most of that period from 1975 to 1991. At the same time, East Timor was closed to the outside world until 1989. Churches and politicians were under great pressure from Indonesia's rulers and their many international friends. We were grateful to have Pat Walsh of the CAVR, then Father Pat Walsh, working with us in Washington for several weeks in 1980, facilitating the visit of Father Fernandes to Washington, when Walsh was able to experience the political atmosphere at that time. Once again, this was during the Carter Administration.

While there was no change in American policy toward self-determination for East Timor during the Reagan-Bush years from 1980-1992, the East Timor issue received periodic attention. When President Suharto paid a State Visit to Washington in 1982, I helped organize a number of Congressional letters about the human rights situation as well as a call for self-determination led by the late U.S. Senator Paul Tsongas (Democrat of Massachusetts and his late aide Lawry Payne [When Tsongas ran for President of the United States in 1992, his earlier statements on East Timor were given special mention by the national news media.] There was good coverage of the Congressional actions by some major American newspapers. The conservative Far Eastern Economic Review was more than justified in writing that the East Timor issue had "dominated" Congressional and press commentary on the Suharto visit. From late 1981 through 1982, we were fortunate to collaborate in Washington with Vicente Guterres Saldanha -- the brother of Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri's chief of staff, Jose Manuel Gomes Guterres, now a lawyer (who was then a political prisoner and had been tortured). Vicente Guterres Saldanha risked his family's safety (to reiterate, this was a time of severe threats against East Timor refugees who spoke about their experiences) in coming to the United States to join in our work, which including advocacy for the release of political prisoners and humanitarian aid, in addition to self-determination. We distributed numerous appeals in Congress while meeting with scores of staff members there, in addition to meetings with the news media. And for more than three years, I was also assisted by Ao Seu Ki, whom I met in Lisbon while interviewing refugees in early 1980. Ao, like Vicente a native of Ermera, was able to translate the words of East Timorese refugees for the New York Times, the US Congress and government, and many others. And, not least, in Lisbon we worked with the late Justino Mota, an original member of Fretilin whose life was shortened by tuberculosis, which was aggravated when Justino was detained in Comarca Prison, THE VERY PLACE WHERE THE TRUTH AND RECONCILIATION COMMISSION IS NOW LOCATED.

Senator Tsongas as well as Senator Dave Durenberger (Republican of Minnesota) led a letter-writing effort among his colleagues that gathered widespread support and received positive attention in the New York Times during the Suharto visit, efforts that Durenberger and his aides, Steve Ockendon and Randy Scheunemann, continued throughout the 1980s. Similar efforts were made by Rep. Tony Hall for nearly twenty years, often in collaboration with friends like Rep. Frank Wolf (Republican of Virginia) and Rep. Jim McGovern (Democrat of Massachusetts).

Francesc Vendrell was the UN official whose attention to the East Timor issue never wavered from 1976 onward and who refused to be deterred by the general indifference of those with whom he was working. (The dedicated work of Tamrat Samuel in the 1990s must also be recognized.) Mr. Vendrell was a great source of inspiration to me personally, for many reasons, not least when he told me in 1984 during an extremely dismal period when diplomatic options for East Timor were extremely limited that such Congressional efforts helped keep the flame of hope alive. It must also be recorded that it was Mr. Vendrell who personally arranged a private meeting in Oslo for Bishop Belo with a representative of the Nobel Peace Prize Committee in mid-1995, the year before Bishop Belo received the award (I accompanied Bishop Belo to this meeting).

These continuing efforts by Congress were carried out under very tough political circumstances. It was a time when East Timor was given very little if any attention, as Jose Ramos Horta records in his account of his first visits to Washington in his book, Funu. The difficulty of the situation can perhaps best be described through the experiences of Monsignor Martinho da Costa Lopes, the head of East Timor's Catholic Church until he was forced by the Vatican to resign in 1983. Later that year, I met Dom Martinho when he came to America to attend a conference at Harvard Law School, and I was privileged to work with him from that time until his death in 1991.

While he was visiting Harvard, I accompanied Dom Martinho to the Boston Globe. The result was an editorial comment written by Alan Berger, the first of many that Berger was to write in support of East Timor over the next twenty years. The November 1983 editorial furiously attacked the Indonesian occupation of East Timor, and was widely circulated in Church and Congressional circles at the time. I helped Dom Martinho publish articles in The New York Times and other newspapers. But when Dom Martinho came to Washington, he could barely get a meeting with a low-level State Department official, let alone a serious reconsideration by the United States of its policy on self-determination for East Timor. In a meeting with senior officials in Congress, Dom Martinho stated that his primary concern was self-determination for East Timor. One of the Congressional officials responded by saying that because the U.S. government had given de facto recognition of Indonesia's claim to East Timor, that Dom Martinho was "out of luck." Understandably furious, Dom Martinho, then 68 years old, seemed to jump across the room, and replied: "OUT OF LUCK? You send the arms that kill my people and then tell me that I'm out of luck??.

Dom Martinho was extremely depressed by the reception he received, and felt that he had somehow failed to convey his message properly. I tried to convince him that he had not failed. As someone who had witnessed Dom Martinho's meetings with Congress and church officials, I believe his witness was very convincing and had a long term impact. The real problem was not with Dom Martinho; it was that in the Cold War atmosphere that then prevailed, a change of policy that could well have paved the way to self-determination for East Timor was impossible to obtain.

For many years, the situation was no better for Dom Martinho's successor, Dom Carlos Ximenes Belo. When he wrote his celebrated letter to the United Nations in 1989, calling for a referendum on self-determination, he was chastised for his efforts by senior Catholic officials in Jakarta and Rome.

However, in late 1989, there were two events, one which received world attention, the other much more obscure, that together eventually helped to produce a certain momentum.

The October 1989 visit to East Timor of Pope John Paul II drew international attention to East Timor for the first time in many years. A demonstration by a courageous group of young East Timorese (and the heavy-handed Indonesian response to it) during the Pope's final Mass was, in effect, the first time since 1975 that East Timorese resistance had come to the attention of a worldwide audience.

Dozens of young people arrested after that demonstration were beaten and tortured. At the urging of the New York-based Asia Watch, of which he was a board member, the then-recently retired Episcopal (Anglican) Bishop of New York, Paul Moore Jr., went to East Timor with his wife, Brenda. I did not know Bishop Moore at the time, but at the request of Asia Watch's executive director, Sidney Jones, I arranged a number of contacts for Bishop Moore that led him to Bishop Belo and others in the East Timorese Church. I am most indebted to Ms. Jones for establishing the link with Bishop Moore, and other strategic contributions over many years. (Sidney Jones went on to a leading position in the United Nations human rights investigation in East Timor after 1999.)

It is worth noting some pertinent background on Asia Watch (now called Human Rights Watch/Asia). From its earliest days (then led by the lawyer Eric Schwartz, who later served the cause of human rights with distinction, often under extremely difficult circumstances, as a Congressional aide and throughout the Clinton Administration) in 1986-87, when I worked there on matters related to Indonesia and East Timor as a consultant, Asia Watch forged an exemplary record in defending the rights of Muslim victims of repression in Indonesia, as has Amnesty International. There have been accusations from some quarters that the international human rights organizations were only concerned about Christians. It is important to state that this is manifestly untrue. (It is also important to acknowledge the work of the former head of Human Rights Watch, Aryeh Neier, as well as the late Mike Jendrzejczyk, Washington director of Asia Watch from 1990 until his untimely death on May 1, 2003, the same day Bishop Moore died.)

Bishop Moore, a highly-decorated hero at the Battle of Guadalcanal during World War II, knew repression and fear when he saw it. He came away from his 1989 visit to East Timor moved by the bravery of the young people he had met, and by the courage of Bishop Belo, and was determined to find ways to act on his feelings.

Bishop Moore and I became acquainted soon after that. Together we formed an organization (which ultimately became the Humanitarian Project) with the purpose, among other things, of helping to change U.S. policy on East Timor and encouraging appropriate international assistance. For the next 13 years, until Bishop Moore's death in May 2003, I was fortunate enough to have Bishop Moore as a collaborator and mentor on East Timor and other matters, and to act as his advisor. This collaboration made a huge difference in the quality of subsequent work, which was supported by such groups as Cafod, the overseas aid agency of the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales, where a number of people, including Julian Filochowski, Steve Alston, Clare Dixon, Cathy Corcoran, Catherine Sexton and others too numerous to mention, provided staunch support, Similar Catholic groups in Ireland, Canada, France, Norway, Belgium, Germany and the USA, including Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers, were important as well, with the efforts of Father Tom Marti and Father Ed Killackey of enormous importance during the dark years of the 1980s when awareness of East Timor was very limited. I would like to particularly recognize the role played by Tom Johnston and Jack Panozzo, both of the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace from 1983 onward, of Bernt Gulbrandsen and Gloria Rosa-Wendelboe of Caritas Norway, and the late Bert Van Mulders of Broederlijk Delen and Karl Wintgens of Entraide et Fraternite (the lately two organizations in Belgium). The early work of Eileen Sudworth and Father Mark Raper - later with the Jesuit Refugee Service -- has been second to none in facilitating international support for East Timor. And it must be emphasized that, quite apart from the networking efforts of Father Raper, the Jesuit Refugee Service, led by Father Frank Brennan, has done groundbreaking work both in East Timor and across the Indonesian border in West Timor.

While support for advocacy from the Maryknoll Fathers was appreciated, it is the Maryknoll Sisters, who have done truly heroic work in Aileu, East Timor, for many years, especially during the crisis of 1999. I take this opportunity to salute Sister Susan Gubbins, Sister Dorothy McGowan and Sister Rosemary Huber for their unceasing efforts, as medical missionaries and as women of uncommon valor.)

Important contributions have also been received from Christian Aid (an ecumenical agency in the UK and Ireland), several Oxfam agencies in Great Britain, The Netherlands and America, and various foundations, including the Overbrook Foundation, the J. Roderick MacArthur Foundation, the Open Society Institute, the Samuel Rubin Foundation and, most recently, for international networking to promote sustainable development in East Timor, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, which was provided through the good offices of President Jonathan Fanton in recognition of the work of Bishop Moore.

Bishop Moore did not hesitate to press his strongly-held views about East Timor whenever possible. For instance, in April 1991, at the time of a conference on East Timor at American University in Washington (sponsored by the Social Science Research Council and the Ford Foundation), Bishop Moore arranged a meeting at the Washington Post through his old friend Benjamin C. Bradlee, the legendary editor of that newspaper. Donaciano Gomes, one of the students arrested and tortured after the Pope's visit in 1989 (now a senior officer in the East Timor Defence Force, F-FDTL,), was a speaker at the conference and participated in the Washington Post meeting, which laid important groundwork for numerous particularly strong editorials (by Stephen S. Rosenfeld, who had earlier written on the subject) after the Santa Cruz massacre in the months that followed and thereafter.

Far more than that, Bishop provided spiritual strength and moral support to what was by then a rather lonely effort of nearly 15 years duration by a variety of small groups.

This is not to detract from continuing efforts by church institutions or grassroots groups. It is only to say that East Timor badly needed a powerful and benevolent friend in America, and it gained one in Bishop Moore -- just as East Timor was later blessed to have the strong engagement of Gunnar Stalsett, now the Lutheran Bishop of Oslo, Norway, and Dr. Geir Lundestad, senior member and permanent secretary, respectively, of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, both of whom played key roles in the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Bishop Belo and Jose Ramos Horta in 1996. It goes beyond my brief to speak of the situation outside the United States, but I must affirm here my long-considered view, based on numerous pieces of evidence, that the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize was a decisive factor in setting processes in motion that ended the Indonesian occupation.


Photo by Clinton Fernandes.

At the same time, activities by less-heralded individuals and groups in Europe were vital. The influence of Dr. John G. Taylor of London, was, in historical terms, enormously important, as was that of the life-saving humanitarian diplomacy of the International Committee of the Red Cross during and after the catastrophic famine of 1978-79, carried out by Michel Veuthey and Jean de Courten. In addition, Victor Scheffers, of the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace in The Netherlands, Robert Archer and Francis McDonagh, (then of the Catholic Institute for International Relations in London) and co-founders, with Scheffers, of the Christian Consultation on East Timor, as well as the indefatigable Tom Hyland of the East Timor-Ireland Solidarity Committee, must also be acknowledged.

During several months in 1990, I participated in efforts to gather the support of a majority of members of the United States House of Representatives for a letter initiated by Rep. Tony Hall to then-Secretary of State James Baker, calling for talks that might lead to a political solution in East Timor. In 1991, a majority of United States Senators led by Senator Malcolm Wallop, a conservative Republican who was the cousin of Bishop Moore, drew wide attention and editorial comment by initiating an even stronger letter to the Bush Administration signed by a majority of senators, particularly because it was released to the news media in the weeks after the massacre at Santa Cruz cemetery.

Santa Cruz, of course, was the great turning point. For the first time, unspeakable atrocities in East Timor were flashed across the screens of televisions throughout the world.

In 1993, Bishop Belo visited the United States for the first time, winning support from leaders in Congress and the Catholic Church. Opportunities to talk to the world about East Timor had greatly expanded after Santa Cruz, thanks to the bravery of East Timorese youth and that of journalist/filmmaker Max Stahl as well as journalists Amy Goodman, Saskia Kouwenberg, Allan Nairn, Steve Cox and others.

Bearing in mind the twin themes of truth and reconciliation, allow me to make to the following observations. I have reflected over the years about the impact on American efforts on East Timor of different generations of East Timorese- for want of a better term, the pre-Santa Cruz era, and the Indonesian speakers of the decade following the Pope's visit through the cataclysm of 1999, as well as those who are on the border of the generational divide. Speaking as an outside observer with close knowledge of the genesis of activity on East Timor in the United States and elsewhere, I would make the following observations:

I believe that without Santa Cruz and the courage and sacrifices of the younger generation, independence would never have been achieved. It is also my firm belief, based on many pieces of evidence, that without the seminal efforts of Jose Ramos Horta, Dom Martinho, Bishop Belo and his recently-appointed successor, Father Alberto Ricardo, and many of their contemporaries, East Timor would never have remained an international issue in 1991. By keeping the issue alive, these individuals contributed to the circumstances in which fundamental change became possible after Santa Cruz.

As I wrote in my book, it was seeds planted by Ramos Horta that created the basis for world consciousness about East Timor. It is true to say that had Ramos Horta been prevented from leaving East Timor in 1975, it is unlikely that East Timor would have won its independence.

Dom Martinho played a crucial early role in alerting international church organizations about the situation in East Timor and its right to self determination.

Bishop Belo's witness was a vital factor in lending legitimacy to the East Timor cause, from his letter to the United Nations in 1989 to his numerous statements and actions over many years.

His successor, Father Alberto Ricardo, demonstrated great consistency and fortitude throughout the years as he quietly conveyed much important information to the world, and demonstrated wide, if unsung, leadership at home.

In speaking of work with the principal leaders in the East Timorese Church the unique role of Korinna Horta must also be noted. Ms. Horta, a native of Germany who lived in East Timor from 1972 until the end of 1974. was virtually the only non-Portuguese European to reside there for such an extended time during this period. A former neighbor of President Nicolau Lobato, the original leader of East Timor's independence movement, she was well known for her extraordinary sensitivity to the people of East Timor. This, combined with her linguistic skills, made Ms. Horta a trust interlocutor of many East Timorese, including refugees in Portugal as well as the key East Timorese Church leaders like Dom Martinho, Bishop Belo and others described here, in addition to many others. This, in turn, greatly assisted my work with these individuals, providing insights and a degree of confidence that might not otherwise have developed, It was this confidence and trust that ultimately created excellent cooperation with long term benefits for the East Timorese people.

Santa Cruz created the opportunity for greatly increased grassroots activity on East Timor in the United States, with groups like the East Timor Action Network (ETAN) and East Timor Religious Outreach following in the footsteps of earlier efforts by such groups as the United Methodist Office for the United Nations, the Timor Defense Committee, Clergy and Laity Concerned, the East Timor Human Rights Committee and others. ETAN and ETRO have worked tirelessly and done a great service, which continues to this day, together involving many more members of Congress: it is to be hoped that this important work will find the resources to persevere.

The special role of the United Methodist Office for the United Nations and its director, Mia Adjali, should also be underscored. From the earliest days after the 1975 invasion of East Timor, Ms. Adjali and her office provided invaluable assistance to civil society efforts. And it was Ms. Adjali's husband, Boubaker, who made the first documentary film on East Timor in the U.S. in 1976, entitled, "Timor: Island of Fear, Island of Hope."

The Nobel Peace Prize in 1996 did much to elevate the level of interest in the East Timor issue, in Washington and elsewhere. The fact that the Nobel Committee in its citation chose to highlight the issue of self-determination was extremely significant in the international arena. Yet despite the greatly expanded interest, the Clinton Administration still did not support self-determination, not until it was forced to do so by the fierce reaction of religious organizations, the news media and the public after the terrible inferno that East Timor became in August and September of 1999.

It is worth analyzing a few of the most revealing examples of what was done (or not done) by the Clinton Administration, Congress, the media, the Catholic Church and civil society networks.

In early February 1999, I was asked by State Department officials to support a conflict resolution proposal for talks between militias and pro-independence forces. After quickly consulting with Bishop Belo and other friends in East Timor, I confirmed what was obvious to most observers: the real need was to disarm and disband the militias formed by the Indonesian army. U.S. officials not only agreed with this assessment (an incredible development in itself, in light of the past history of official American deception on East Timor), they also made it clear that the Indonesian army had indeed created the militias. Nonetheless, no real policy changes followed. As retired U.S. Senior Foreign Service Officer Edmund McWilliams (who served in the United States Embassy at the time) stresses in the notarized statement which I have brought with me to Dili, the United States failed to demand that the militias be disarmed and disbanded. I would like to take this opportunity to salute Mr. McWillams, his colleague William Gary Gray, as well as Colonel Mike Bailey, who was previously a Military Liaison Officer with the United Nations mission in Dili, for their willingness to risk their careers to advocate just US policies for East Timor.

On September 7, 1999, shortly after Bishop Belo's residence was attacked, when the inferno that East Timor had become was featured on television in the United States and internationally, there was an unusually revealing moment. President Clinton's National Security Advisor, Samuel Berger, made a flippant remark to journalists indicating that even then, when hundreds of thousands of East Timorese had been uprooted, thousands had been killed and wounded, most of the territory's buildings had been destroyed, and Bishop Belo's house had been assaulted and burnt down, that even then senior White House policy makers still had no coherent plan to address the East Timor crisis. Information I received that very day from independent sources in the Clinton Administration confirmed this assessment.

What brought about change? There were many factors at work, but some help to illustrate the themes of my testimony. A series of furious editorials in the Washington Post written by editorial page editor Fred Hiatt severely criticized both the Clinton Administration and National Security Advisor Berger and demanded a reversal of policy. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops sent a series of passionate letters and made other representations to the Clinton Administration between 9 and 15 September 1999. The US Bishops' words were largely written by Mr. Tom Quigley, who had traveled to East Timor in early September, staying in Bishop Belo's house the night before it was destroyed. Meanwhile, through the ingenuity of journalist Steven Steele, who had recently reported from East Timor for Catholic News Service and Catholic New York, I established links with a prominent Catholic Republican, Judge William P. Clark, who had been National Security Advisor under President Ronald Reagan and was well-known in Republican circles as one of Ronald Reagan's closest friends. Judge Clark, with great energy , determination and decency, contacted many Republican friends in the Congress, and other areas of political life, including staff of George W. Bush, who was then running for president. Actions by Judge Clark contributed to broadening support for constructive American action on East Timor at crucial moments, both in 1999 and again in 2001, when Clark helped lead efforts to protect East Timor from renewed militia attack.

Elsie Walker (a cousin of President George W. Bush) did valuable work in September 1999 as well. A long time supporter of East Timor who attended the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize events in Oslo for Bishop Belo and Ramos Horta, Ms. Walker, also known for her work on Tibet and Burma, became the chairwoman of the United States-East Timor Society after the death of her close friend, Bishop Paul Moore. The U.S.-East Timor Society is an association dedicated to strengthening United States relations with East Timor. I am also a member of this group, whose members include the courageous East Timorese lawyer and human rights advocate, Aderito Soares; the scholar Dr. Geoffrey Robinson, who served the United Nations with distinction during the 1999 crisis and thereafter; the Rev. John Chamberlin, a United Methodist Minister who has long headed East Timor Religious Outreach; Lynn Fredriksson, former Washington director of the East Timor Action Network; Bruce Cameron, who has brought his considerable skills in Congressional advocacy to efforts on East Timor since he was chief foreign policy lobbyist for Americans for Democratic Action in 1975; and the aforementioned Edmund McWilliams, who serves as secretary.

In addition, Elsie Walker and I, together with an international advisory board, have initiated efforts to build a clinic in East Timor in memory of Bishop Moore. I am pleased to announce that with the approval of his widow, Annie, this clinic will also honor the memory of Sergio Vieira de Mello, the Special Representative of the Secretary General to East Timor, who was killed so tragically last year in Iraq. We are grateful for the service of Mr. Vieira de Mello's former deputy in East Timor, Jonathan Prentice in supporting these efforts.

I have tried to speak to the diverse nature of American support from the late 1970s through the 1999 crisis and beyond. But there is one final item that must be noted. A key Congressional supporter of self-determination for East Timor before, during and after 1999 was Joseph Rees (a former aide to Rep. Chris Smith- Republican of New Jersey). If anything symbolizes the positive evolution of United States policy, it is the fact that Mr. Rees is now American ambassador in Dili.

I will conclude by reiterating the need for positive American action as recompense for the policy it adopted in 1975 and reversed belatedly and only under severe pressure in 1999, as demonstrated here. Past leaders, from Carter to Clinton, should feel a special obligation to help East Timor build a secure and prosperous future. So should former National Security Advisors like Samuel Berger, who is now advising John Kerry, the Democratic candidate who will oppose President Bush in the American national election in November 2004. Both Berger and Henry Kissinger (who remains a person of great influence), can find ways to assist East Timor and help protect it from further harm. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, a leading policy maker on East Asian affairs during the Carter Administration (who is also advising John Kerry at present), has shown by his active efforts on the East Timor issue since 1996 (which were greatly needed, and should continue) that it is indeed possible to play a positive role after making grievous policy errors in the past.

Finally, it should be underscored that every nation in mortal danger cannot receive Nobel Peace Prizes or the powerful spotlight that this brings. This makes it all the more important that steps are taken to foster humane policies by the powerful throughout the world, and to promote better media coverage, both of the developing world and its relations with the West. In addition, there must be stronger and more effective advocacy by civil society and religious organizations on the local, national and global levels to insist on such humane policies. A decent world cannot tolerate a repeat of what has happened in East Timor.


Photo by Clinton Fernandes.