Companion to East Timor - Denial of the East Timor Genocide

Denial of the East Timor Genocide

Dr Clinton Fernandes, UNSW Canberra

One may deny that genocide occurred in East Timor on straight-forward legal grounds; the Indonesian military’s actions were motivated by a desire to crush the independence movement in East Timor, and not to destroy either in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group as such. Killings and mass violence committed for the political purpose of defeating an independence movement are not covered under the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (1948). However, in the case of the deaths in East Timor, there have been attempts to deny their scale and causes.

The scale of the death toll in East Timor is perhaps the largest relative to total population since the Holocaust. East Timor’s Truth Commission received the assistance of Benetech, a California-based nonprofit organization devoted to using technology in the service of humanity. Its Human Rights Data Analysis Group (HRDAG) developed a database of three independent sources: narrative statements, a retrospective mortality survey, and a census of public graveyards. It found that, at the very least, 84,200 people died as a result of the conflict, and that the figure may be as high as 183,000. To improve on the accuracy of this figure, 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 period [was] 204,000 (± 51,000).” Staveteig considered it “likely that 204,000 is a conservative upper-bound estimate on excess mortality.”

This death toll was denied by way of numerically illiterate objections. One such objection was that the death toll was much lower because the official population count of 1970 was an underestimate. The reason the 1970 population estimate was unreliable, so the argument goes, is that the Portuguese collected a poll tax during each census and people therefore might have evaded the census-takers. What this objection misses, of course, is that an undercount of the population prior to the invasion actually makes excess mortality counts more conservative if later censuses are more accurate.

A different objection was that Indonesia had built hospitals, schools and other forms of infrastructure – unlike the Portuguese – and that its presence was more benign than claimed by supporters of East Timorese self-determination. This objection misses the consequence that any decreases in the natural mortality rate as a result of hospitals, doctors, schools, and so on would mean that the number of excess deaths to account for would be much higher. This is because, as Sarah Staveteig has argued, if East Timorese mortality due to “normal” circumstances was decreasing during the occupation as a result of better infrastructure, then the projected population totals would have been much higher, as would the number of missing persons.

The causes of the mass deaths during the famine in the 1970s were falsely attributed to “poverty, hunger, disease” by Peter Rodgers, a journalist and former diplomat who visited East Timor with the approval of the Indonesian military at the end of the famine, in time for the relief effort. According to Rodgers, “deprivation was well-established as a way of life long before the war.” Rodgers took photos of sick and starving people in Laga, 15 km east of Baucau. While his photos vividly showed the condition of the people of Laga, his written narative did not attribute the famine to the Indonesian military’s population-control centres, or its prevention, restriction and diversion of aid. Instead, he wrote that the East Timorese “had been the tragic victims of violence and neglect” which “should not be confused with deliberate intent on Indonesia’s part.” His 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.”

The true cause was that the Indonesian military targeted agricultural areas and other food sources such as livestock. Illnesses and food shortages forced large numbers of East Timorese civilians to come down the mountains and surrender. Indonesian forces detained the surrendering population in transit camps, which were established close to the local military bases. The transit camps were often little more than huts made from palm thatch with no toilets. They were not intended to care for the welfare of the surrendering population. Often, the only shelter in the camps was under trees. There was no medical care available. Many detainees, who were in a weakened state as a result of the destruction of their food sources, died in the transit camps from diseases such as cholera, diarrhoea and tuberculosis. Detainees were moved from transit camps to resettlement camps after a period of approximately three months. Sometimes the transit camps were re-designated as resettlement camps. By late 1979, there were approximately 300,000 to 370,000 people in the camps. Just as in the transit camps, the resettlement camps often did not have adequate food, medicine, sanitation or shelter. The famine that occurred under these conditions resulted in mass deaths. For Indonesia, the military objective of destroying the resistance overrode all other considerations.

East Timor’s Truth Commission inquired into whether El Niño may have been partly responsible for the famine. It received expert evidence from Dr John McBride of the Australian Bureau of Meteorology. McBride’s analysis of the potential impact of El Niño on East Timor showed that there was no El Niño event in 1979, and that the El Niño event of February 1977 to April 1978 was one of the mildest to occur in East Timor. Rainfall during the wet season was only 7% less than normal. There was normal average rainfall along the north coast of East Timor and an absence of consistent drought in towns around the region. The Commission therefore concluded that “only the actions of the Indonesian armed forces” could explain the famine.

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Menyangkal Genosida di Timor Leste

Dr Clinton Fernandes, UNSW Canberra

Orang mungkin menyangkal genosida yang berlangsung di Timor Timur karena semata-mata alasan hukum; bahwa tindakan militer Indonesia didorong motivasi menumpas gerakan kemerdekaan di Timor Timur, dan bukan membinasakan seluruh atau sebagian kelompok kebangsaan, etnis, ras atau agama. Pembunuhan dan kekerasan massal demi tujuan menundukkan suatu gerakan kemerdekaan berdimensi politik tidak termasuk dalam Konvensi PBB tentang Pencegahan dan Penghukuman Kejahatan Genosida (1984). Namun, dalam kasus korban tewas di Timor Leste, sudah ada upaya membantah klaim itu berdasarkan skala dan penyebabnya.

Skala korban tewas di Timor Timur mungkin relatif terbesar dengan seluruh populasi sejak Holocaust (pembantaian Yahudi oleh Hitler di Eropa). Komisi Kebenaran Timor Leste menerima bantuan dari Benetech, organisasi nirlaba berbasis di California yang memanfaatkan teknologi dalam tugas kemanusiaan. Lewat Human Rights Data Analysis Group (HRDAG), Komisi mengembangkan basisdata dari tiga sumber independen: pernyataan tuturan korban, survei kematian terdahulu, dan sensus pemakaman umum. Mereka mendapati sekurang-kurangnya 84.200 orang tewas akibat konflik, dan angka itu mungkin bisa lebih tinggi sekira 183.000 jiwa. Guna meningkatkan akurasinya, Sarah Staveteig, pakar demografi dari Universitas California, Barkeley, mengajukan metode demografi standar berupa perkiraan tak langsung, dan mendapati “batas atas wajar tingkat kematian selama periode itu sebesar 204.000 (± 51.000).” Staveteig mempertimbangkan “kemungkinan 204.000 korban tewas adalah kisaran batas atas konservatif untuk angka kematian” selama pendudukan.

Jumlah korban tewas ini disangkal lewat hitungan numerik yang sulit dipastikan. Salah satu bantahan bahwa jumlah korban jauh lebih rendah karena hitungan populasi resmi tahun 1970 sulit dipercaya. Alasan perkiraan populasi 1970 tak bisa diandalkan, sehingga argumen itu muncul, karena Portugis mengumpulkan pajak pemungutan suara setiap sensus dan karenanya penduduk mungkin menghindari pegawai sensus. Apa yang bikin bantahan itu melenceng, tentu saja, mengurangi angka populasi sebelum invasi sebenarnya justru menjadikan angka kematian lebih konservatif jika sensus selanjutnya lebih akurat.

Bantahan berbeda bahwa Indonesia telah membangun rumahsakit, sekolah, dan infrastuktur lainnya—tidak seperti Portugal—dan, karena itu, kehadiran otoritas Indonesia di sana lebih ramah ketimbang apa yang diklaim para pendukung penentuan kemerdekaan Timor Leste. Bantahan ini mengabaikan konsekuensi lain bahwa, setiap penurunan angka kematian alami berkat adanya rumahsakit, dokter, sekolah, dan lain sebagainya, akan mengisyaratkan jumlah kematian berlebih boleh jadi dihitung jauh lebih tinggi. Ini karena, sebagaimana Sarah Staveteig berpendapat, bila kematian rakyat Timor Leste disebabkan keadaan “normal” mengalami penurunan selama pendudukan berkat infrastuktur lebih baik, maka proyeksi jumlah populasi boleh jadi jauh lebih tinggi, yang akan dihitung sebagai jumlah orang hilang.

Muasal kematian massal selama kelaparan pada 1970-an itu dikaitkan “kemiskinan, kekurangan pangan, penyakit” yang disebarkan dengan palsu oleh Peter Rodgers, seorang jurnalis dan mantan diplomat yang mengunjungi Timor Timur seizin militer Indonesia pada akhir periode kelaparan, saat itu untuk upaya bantuan. Menurut Rodgers, “masa sulit sudah lama berlangsung sehari-hari sebelum perang.” Rodgers memotret rakyat Leste yang menderita sakit dan kelaparan di Laga, 15 kilometer sebelah timur Baucau. Saat fotonya dengan jelas menggambarkan kondisi rakyat Leste di Laga, keterangan tulisannya tak mengaitkan kelaparan itu dengan pusat-pusat kendali populasi militer, atau pencegahannya, pembatasan dan pengalihan bantuan. Sebaliknya, dia menulis bahwa rakyat Timor Leste “telah jadi korban kekerasan dan penelantaran tragis” yang “tak harus dibuat bingung dengan upaya sengaja jadi bagian Indonesia.” Ceritanya menyerupai beberapa argumen yang diajukan Departemen Luar Negeri AS, yang gilirannya dipelintir dengan canggih oleh rezim Indonesia. Sebulan setelah laporan Rodgers, pejabat Departemen Luar Negeri dan dutabesar AS untuk Indonesia, Edward Masters, menyampaikan testimoni untuk Kongres AS pada 4 Desember 1979. Mereka enggan memakai kata “kelaparan” dan “mati kelaparan,” merujuknya alih-alih “busung lapar akut.” Atas perkara ini, Masters menyalahkan kondisi ganas rakyat Timor Timur pada “pertanian dengan cara tebas-bakar,” “keterbelakangan ekstrem,” “kemiskinan umum,” “kurangnya infrastruktur,” “erosi,” dan “kemarau.”

Penyebab sebenarnya adalah militer Indonesia menargetkan areal-areal pertanian dan sumber pangan lain seperti peternakan. Bermacam penyakit dan kekurangan bahan pangan memaksa sejumlah besar penduduk sipil Timor Timur turun dari pegunungan dan menyerah. Pasukan Indonesia menahan penduduk yang menyerahkan diri ke dalam kamp-kamp pengangkutan, yang dibangun di dekat markas militer setempat. Kamp transit ini seringkali tak lebih berupa gubuk yang dibuat dari daun palem tanpa toilet. Mereka tak berniat merawat kesejahteraan dari penduduk yang menyerahkan diri. Acapkali, satu-satunya tempat bernaung di kamp di bawah pepohonan. Tak ada perawatan kesehatan. Banyak tawanan, yang keadannya diperlemah negara melalui penghancuran sumber-sumber pangan mereka, tewas di kamp transit akibat penyakit seperti kolera, diare dan tebese. Para tawanan dipindah dari kamp transit ke kamp penampungan setelah periode sekitar per tiga bulan. Kadang-kadang kamp transit dibangun ulang sebagai kamp penampungan. Pada akhir 1979, sekira 300.000 hingga 370.000 orang tinggal di kamp. Tak lebih seperti di kamp transit, kamp penampungan juga sering tak menyediakan makanan cukup, pengobatan, sanitasi atau tempat bernaung. Kelaparan berlangsung di bawah kondisi itu yang mengakibatkan kematian massal. Bagi Indonesia, tujuan militer menghancurkan perlawanan mengesampingkan semua pertimbangan lain.

Komisi Kebenaran Timor Leste menyelidiki kemungkinan gelombang panas El Niño turut menyumbang kelaparan. Ia menerima bukti pakar dari Dr John McBride dari Biro Meteorologi Australia. Analisis McBride soal dampak potensial El Niño pada Timor Timur menunjukkan tak ada kejadian El Niño pada 1979, dan El Niño yang berlangsung pada Februari 1977 hingga April 1978 adalah salah satu yang paling rendah terjadi di Timor Timur. Curah hujan selama musim hujan hanya 7% kurang dari normal. Ada rerata curah hujan normal di sepanjang pantai utara Timor Timur dan tak ada kekeringan di kota-kota di seluruh wilayah. Komisi lantas menyimpulkan bahwa “satu-satunya tindakan angkatan bersenjata Indonesia” yang dapat menjelaskan kelaparan.

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