More than 20 years and 200,000 starved, slashed and bullet-riddled corpses later, the world slowly awakens to the ongoing tragedy of East Timor. Confiscated to famine by its Japanese invaders and randomly brutalized for Western sympathies during the Pacific war, this isolated Portuguese colony buried fully a tenth of its population in the years from 1943-45. Thirty years later in 1975 as Portugal was finally withdrawing and the natives boisterously prepared for independence, violent disaster struck again as Indonesia invaded and brutally "annexed" the island. This time, however, the East Timorese fought back. Their fierce defensive war against the onslaughts of the Indonesian army lasted nearly four years before it was crushed with modern fighter jets and other high tech weaponry illegally supplied by the U.S. and British governments. Between the battle toll and subsequent massacres and starvation, the local Catholic Church estimates that Indonesia has killed at least a third of the pre-invasion populace. Although the struggle of resistance continues to this day and the per capita victimization ranks second only to the Holocaust for genocidal savagery, the international community and the mass media in particular have remained abjectly silent for decades. With the active complicity of Japan and most Western powers, Indonesia has also adroitly stifled United Nations action on all Portugal's appeals to grant its ex-colony the right of self-determination as clearly guaranteed by the UN charter and international law. What a distressing surprise for Indonesia's apologists and spin doctors then when the enigmatic octogenarians of Norway's Nobel Committee awarded the Peace Prize and global podium last year to East Timor's Cardinal Belo and Jose Ramos Horta. While Cardinal Belo morally appeals for his people’s rights in a style reminiscent of the Dalai Lama, Ramos Horta rages for justice with the passion and vehemence of an Old Testament prophet. In an increasingly ruthless new world order where human rights are routinely subordinated to economic advantage, this angry laureate has committed his life to disrupting the conspiracy of silence shrouding tyrannic terror both in East Timor and across the breadth of Asia.
WDK: Sri Jose Ramos Horta, here you are a Nobel Laureate for a lifetime spent campaigning for the freedom of East Timor. Can you give a capsule history of this struggle and how you became involved in it?
JRH: I became involved all the way back in the late 60s and 70s, first not too actively, projecting, planning, working towards the independence of East Timor under the Portuguese at the time. I was already part of a small group of East Timorese that projected an independent East Timor against the Portuguese colonial rule. But the Portuguese colonial rule was always extremely mild in East Timor. It was not so in Africa, but in East Timor the most you could say was benign neglect and the country was so peaceful and there was so much harmony among the various communities living there that it was a bit difficult convincing anyone, so we never got off the ground with more than 12 people. So, at that time the notion of an independent East Timor was not terribly realistic because the overwhelming majority of East Timor were content with the Portuguese colonial rule; not because Portugual was doing great things there, but because they left the people basically alone. And there was also some loyalty toward Portugual and that has to be understood in the context of East Timorese history. Because after the Portuguese first arrived in East Timor, for centuries there was a very strong relationship between the Portuguese monarchy and the East Timorese native kings. In fact, the Portuguese monarchies always treated the East Timorese native kings with respect. They signed treaties, treaties of blood; and the East Timorese sided with the Portuguese in the fight against the Dutch. So, it is not a typical colonial relationship. Of course, when the Republic came in Portugual, that's when they began to have a typical colonial policy towards East Timor as towards Angola, Mozambique, and so on.
I became much more involved then in the 70s prior to and after the invasion of East Timor in l975. My role has always been in the area of international relations and media. My job has been to canvas support at the grassroots level in Australia, New Zealand, in that region. That was in the beginning. To engage in dialogue with the governments of the region, parliamentarians, NGOs. And then as the invasion came I left for New York leading a delegation to the UN Security Council. There I remained for almost 15 years before I got exhausted, burned out with New York and left for Sydney, Australia.
WDK: So, a day in the life of a New York revolutionary. How did you actually occupy your time there?
JRH: Well, I was always busy, every single day going to that place called the United Nations, meeting with diplomats, finding them in the corridors, in the delegates' lounge, phoning them at the missions, always briefing them, talking to them, persuading them, preparing for the debates in the decolonization committee, in the General Assembly of the UN every year, also trying to give some lectures around the United States; also going to Washington, D.C. to meet with US Congressional Aides; also occasionally I would do some travels outside the United States like going to Cuba once. I went to Barbados, Ghayana, Mexico, Brazil, a few European countries, half of Africa I covered at that time. At the same time, trying to cultivate the American media: New York Times, Washington Post, Newsweek, NPR -- all without much success.
WDK: It sounds very strenuous but it doesn't sound much like the life of a revolutionary terrorist as you have been branded by the Indonesian government.
JRH: No, I don't know what terrorism is... Well, I know, but it's not something that I ever engaged in or even dream of or fantasize about. I never believed in it. I never was part of a guerrilla movement as such. Fretilin which I was a member of was a political movement but then it was forced to take up arms when Indonesia invaded, but by then I was already out of the country. And even if I had been in East Timor, I don't think I would have made much contribution on the guerrilla front because I believe in dialogue, I believe in negotiations, working through the international system and that's what I have been doing for the past 21 years - trying to persuade the international community by persuasion, by ideas, about the justness of our cause.
WDK: Over those 21 years you probably tried many, many tactics to bring justice and coverage to this case. What have been the most successful and least successful?
JRH: God, I tell you, I try every conceivable thing. Sometimes, you know, I think either I am the most intelligent person in the world, which obviously would be an overstatement, or I'm the most naive person in the world, which is most likely, because I have tried so many countless ways to get the media to cover us. In the beginning it was always unsuccessful, but I kept trying maybe because I was naive hoping that the journalists, the networks would listen. And I succeeded only in recent years as new international media, the Internet, CNN was created, as the Cold War ended - the Soviet Bloc collapsed.
Suddenly in the last five years or more there has been a sudden revolution in the information technology that made the world much smaller; where one can communicate information within seconds from one end of the globe to the other without government censorship. Because as industrialization takes hold in many countries, the dictators are no longer able to stop the flow of information in and out of a country; they are no longer able to control every laptop, every modem that is sold in the country, that is used in the country. At the same time, with the appearance of CNN, pictures are seen around the world. For instance, the people in East Timor see through CNN what is going on in the rest of the world and also we learned to use short-wave radio stations like the BBC, Radio Netherlands, Voice of America that are monitored in East Timor. It can convey hope to the country. And then we managed to slowly encourage journalists to go into the country. So, more and more journalists go into the country discreetly posing as tourists sometimes and then they manage to get stories out that slowly confirm what I've been saying for years.
I remember one day I went to England, that was November 4th, l991. I went to see various newspapers, went to see the Asia editor of the Independent. I think his name, his last name is Whittaker. I talked and talked as I did for years. He didn't publish anything. Then on November 12, '91 in the course of the day and following days he tried to reach me desperately. Only a few weeks later I managed to talk with him again and he said he felt so embarrassed because when I talked with him on November 4, he didn't publish anything and he listened to me with a big grain of salt. Then a week later, a huge massacre took place in East Timor. And for the first time pictures of that massacre came out because a British cameraman was on location when it took place. So, he realized that I was not bluffing, I was not exaggerating, I was not telling lies. Anyway, many more cases of that nature happened.
WDK: The original resistance you met from the media, was it just a matter of apathy or were they actively disinterested?
JRH: Apathy, I think, in general mostly, but also there have been journalists who became sycophants of the Indonesians, repeating Indonesian propaganda, particularly Australian journalists, not to mention obviously Indonesian journalists...most of them, 99 percent are real thugs of the regime. Only a handful of them are real journalists, others are essentially civil servants, intelligence operatives. One or two American journals, you know, like Time magazine is a propaganda sheet for the Indonesian government. Time magazine never once treated East Timor seriously even after the Nobel Peace Prize announcement. Their coverage was simply grotesque, totally unethical. Newsweek has been much more serious. I have enormous respect for many journalists in Newsweek. They have outstanding people, real professionals. While Time magazine is more like a mouthpiece for the preservation of American interests, preservation of capitalism, preservation of dictatorships...that's what they are. They pretend to be a bit more objective when a particular situation becomes also an aberration for American interests like Burma, but til the very end, until now they are apologists for the Suharto regime.
WDK: This is based on their perception of American policy or their prescription for American policy?
JRH: Based on their perception of American interests, and American interests are so far served by doing business with Suharto, by preserving the status quo and the dictatorship. And as long as East Timor is a nuisance to US relations with Indonesia, they attack East Timor. There is hardly ever any criticism of Indonesia in Time magazine, hardly any serious coverage of East Timor.
WDK: There is hardly any criticism of Indonesia in the American government either.
JRH: Yes. For instance, in the Nobel Peace Prize coverage of East Timor they came up with a figure that no one ever, ever talked about, heard of - that in the civil war in East Timor, Fretilin slaughtered one thousand of its opponents in the town of Alieu. Well, I happened to be in the town of Alieu at least once, visited the prisoners there, Fretilin prisoners, some I managed to free myself by fighting within the organization, but there were no more than l50 prisoners - all visited by the Dutch Red Cross. And by the time people were killed in Alieu, most of them either fled it themselves, escaped in the confusion or had been freed by the Red Cross. So, all together, maybe a maximum 30 to 40 people that I know were killed in Alieu. Time magazine comes with the figure of l000 in Alieu. That figure is higher than for all the people killed in the entire civil war in East Timor.
When you have a civil war, you have two parties in it. You don't have just one party killing himself or herself. So, in the civil war, which involved two parties, the Fretilin and U.T.D. in our assessment at the time, total casualties which included wounded was between two to three thousand. Actual people dead in the whole country in the three week period that civil war lasted was about 500 on both sides - Fretilin supporters, Unity supporters. And most of the killings were not political killings. There were also revenge attacks by communities over land disputes that had gone on for centuries in the countryside.
Time magazine came up with the figure that in Alieu alone 1000 people were slaughtered by Fretilin without ever bothering to check. And Time magazine also made the allegation that I have been criticized for wasting money meant for the guerrillas without ever checking with me. And I would certainly welcome them to check my bank accounts. And at the same time they were saying that I waste money in high living instead of sending money to the guerrillas. Well, should I send money to the guerrillas? If I sent money to guerrillas, if I had it, then I am called a terrorist. If I don't send money to the guerrillas then I am using up the money meant for the guerrillas. The fact is there has never been any money for the guerrillas. No government gives any money to the guerrillas; most NGOs give money, if they do at all, only for humanitarian work to help prisoners, school children, orphans in East Timor. We hardly ever receive any money from any NGO for our international work. Yet, that is the tone of Time magazine.
WDK: Who have been your major supporters over the years?
WDK: For example.
JRH: Well, not too many. I would say in Australia probably the most consistent since '74 would be Community Aid Abroad. Community Aid Abroad is a very respected, community-based development humanitarian agency that from time to time has supported education campaigns on East Timor in Australia, has launched initiatives to alert the Australian public about East Timor and a few times in the past they're the ones who pay my air fare to go to Geneva or travel within Australia and so on. In the last few years, a few others joined mainly in Europe, France, Germany, but always to the tune of...I tell you our budget, our annual budget to cover everything including money to send to the resistance in East Timor, is about 200,000 dollars US. I don't have a salary from this CNRM. Not once in 21 years was I paid by the resistance.
WDK: Your official title during all this activity is Special Representative of the National Council of Moubere Resistance. What does this Council actually do?
JRH: The Council was created in East Timor in l987 by Xanana Gusmao, who is now in prison, as a vehicle, an instrument to unify all East Timorese and it has been the most successful thing that we have done in all these years. The Council brings together every East Timorese. We have people of all persuasions: people who are members of Fretilin, people who are members of the guerrilla army, student bodies, some priests...they're all members of the National Council. The National Council is the leading body of the resistance both on the armed resistance front and the underground.
WDK: As the special representative, you work in their name when you speak overseas?
JRH: Yes, special representative is a title which shows I have a function equivalent to a foreign minister in exile, or secretary of foreign affairs, or whatever. I supervise our international operations meaning all the diplomatic contacts, international campaigns, strategize about our work throughout the world. But also I take part in the policy-making decisions inside the country, meaning that if there are crucial decisions to be taken inside East Timor on any matter, I am listened to. For instance, if the resistance decide to take, inside the country, to take an initiative to declare a cease-fire, or to make another peace proposal, I am listened to. Myself, Xanana Gusmao and Koni Santana -- Koni Santana is the head of the guerrilla army in East Timor. We three are in a system we call a 'troika' - we are part of a collective leadership, the three of us. Xanana as the top, myself and Koni Santana.
WDK: This is a network that could function as a shadow government or does function as a shadow government?
JRH: We do function as a shadow government to some extent, in the sense that throughout East Timor there are CNRM cadres in every area: in health, in education, in the bureaucracy, in the development sector, in the army, in intelligence. We have people in these areas whose identities are obviously not known but whose function is precisely to follow the events, to manipulate the events, to influence events, to study policies, to report to the leadership, but also to be ready for any eventuality. If the Indonesian government collapses in Indonesia and in East Timor, the CNRM is ready automatically to take over without any breakdown of law and order, without any anarchy or chaos. It means we have a leadership and we have an administration ready to take over in the country, in East Timor at short notice.
WDK: Okay, if we can drop back one level here and review a little history... Much of Suharto's military powerbase in Indonesia has been linked to groups that cooperated with the Japanese Imperial Army, that were armed and trained by them. Could you describe some of that history and how it's coming to bear in terms of East Timor these days?
JRH: In '92, I had a brief conversation with a tiny little Japanese diplomat in Geneva. I'm not exactly the tallest person in the world but he managed to be even shorter than me. Very lively, energetic. We discussed the behavior of the Indonesian army in East Timor and in Indonesia, and I told him they have a culture of violence. He said, "Yes, we taught them. The Japanese Imperial Army taught them." He said it in a critical way. He didn't seem to have much respect for the Indonesian army or its practices.
But. yes, it is true. Throughout World War II while peoples in Asia, in Burma, Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore fought off Japanese occupation in Indonesia, the Japanese military was seen as liberators and there was active complicity by the Nationalist movement and Sukarno with the Japanese Imperial Army. And they're proud of it, of that relationship. And that explains in part, the very strong relationship today between Japan and Indonesia. It's not only the economic ties. The people in the bureaucracy in Japan who have had no courage yet like the Germans to apologize for World War II, they feel indebted morally to Indonesia, they feel some loyalty to Indonesia because Indonesia is the only country who collaborated with the Imperial Army in World War II. There was hardly any Indonesian resistance to Japanese occupation. Violence in Indonesia perpetrated by the Japanese Army was very mild, compared with that in Burma and elsewhere. Yes, there were casualties, there were problems in Indonesia at some point. When they were running out of resources, the Japanese Army started using forced labor in Indonesia as well. But by and large they were conniving with each other.
I remember when in New York, in a meeting of the UN Security Council in April '76, I tried to attack Indonesia by exposing its role during World War II, in collaboration with the Imperial Army in Japan, the response from the Indonesia side, in the mouth of a Timorese puppet who also spoke in the Security Council, he said, "they were proud because Japanese were the liberators of Asian peoples from Western rule."
WDK: That line is still alive today, of course, and bringing us up to the present day, you haven't exactly had a warm welcome in Tokyo. Leaders here obviously seem more concerned about the foreign cars coming into Indonesia in competition with theirs than it does about the plight of any of the occupied peoples. Did you anticipate this kind of rebuff from the government and how do you see it playing out in the future?
JRH: Well, I had no illusions whatsoever that I would be able to meet with the Japanese foreign minister because a meeting with a Japanese foreign minister would signify a directional change in Japanese policy regarding East Timor. And that is unthinkable. I never had any illusions because I have followed quite closely Japanese foreign policy for years, its behavior in the UN, General Assembly, Security Council, in many crises going back to the time of apartheid in South Africa when there was successful campaign for divestment, and foreign companies were pulling out. And then the Japanese companies immediately jumped in. In the '70s and '80s, in the case of Burma, where Japan has an even greater responsibility, where there is a greater awareness about the struggle in Burma, where we even have a greater profile of a leader, Daw Aung Suu Kyi, yet Japan has also played a shameful role, conniving with SLORC. So, I would have to be utterly naive to believe that Japan would make an exception in regard to East Timor just because of the Nobel Peace Prize.
No, I accepted an invitation to come to Japan by my friends in Japan - in Sendai, Tokyo and Osaka - and I was warmly received. There were hundreds and hundreds of people in the meetings and that is a dramatic change. But I do not believe that the Japanese government will ever change. There are about l85 countries today in the world. l84 countries will recognize our right of self-determination. Japan will be the l85th country.
I tell you, this country, talking about the rulers, the people in the bureaucracy, most of the politicians are people with no morals whatsoever, no sensitivity, no concern about anyone but themselves. I tell you, it is extraordinary how a country manages to surrender so much of its own dignity. Japan is absolutely nothing in world affairs except for its money. With its money, it managed to buy a seat in the Security Council...recently it was elected to Security Council and managed to defeat India, the two rival candidates for the Security Council. But it managed because of its money, not because of its prestige. Small countries like Costa Rica, like Norway, like Sweden have enormous influence in world affairs beyond their economic clout or size. Japan has absolutely nothing except for its money. And they seem to be quite happy with that.
KJ: You recently announced that your shadow government is preparing to sue the Japanese government for war reparations for the death of 50,000 East Timorese civilians during Japan's war-time occupation of the island. Where did you get the numbers this is based on?
JRH: The numbers that were killed? Well, these are figures derived from Portuguese records and statistics before and immediately after the war. And the well established figure for East Timorese deaths is at least 40,000 to 70,000 -- this is the figure that was established at the time and is widely accepted by historians of East Timor and the Japanese occupation of East Timor.
KJ: Well, when I talked to the Japan Foreign Ministry they said they had records of some engagements with Australian troops in East Timor but they had no records at all of any deaths among the East Timorese people.
JRH: Well, the Indonesians would say the same today about the situation in East Timor. The Russians would have said the same about losses in Afghanistan. This is a predictable response.
KJ: So what is the next step with this?
JRH: Well, I am assembling some lawyers in different parts of the world -- in the United States, in Australia -- to mount the case against Japan.
KJ: And what will be the court of appeal?
JRH: I don't know -- that part of the strategy is still being studied and developed by the lawyers. One possibility is a court in Portugal itself. If they agree to hear the case, they could make the decision and order Japan to pay. And if Japan does not pay, they could order Japanese properties to be seized and confiscated for the payment. Or it could be an international people's tribunal similar to several that have been done in the past for other issues. It would carry only moral and political weight, no legal weight, but it would be pressure enough to expose Japan's World War II record.
KJ: Are you now thinking of any monetary figure?
JRH: Not at the moment, but it could run into hundreds of millions of dollars.
KJ: But why 50 years after the fact is this issue still pending?
JRH: Japan has never apologized to anyone for World War II. East Timor is no different. East Timor was invaded and occupied by Japan. Tens of thousands of people were killed. Members of my own direct family were victims of the occupation. There are Japanese World War II veterans who are prepared to testify about the Japanese role -- that they themselves were involved in killings and raping and looting in East Timor.
KJ: Why wasn't all this settled in the San Francisco Peace Treaty in '52 or the other post-war agreements?
JRH: Because Portugal was neutral in World War II, and this is another reason why Japan's invasion of East Timor was outrageous. Japan breached Portuguese neutrality, and then after World War II, the victorious powers obviously did not invite Portugal because Portugal did not take part in World War II.
KJ: So Portugal is not party to any treaty with Japan?
JRH: No, Portugal was neutral, they clearly declared their neutrality during the war. They were not participants in any aspect of the war. For this reason, Portugal was not invaded by Germany like Spain under Franco which was more sympathetic to Germany. Portugal was neutral, but it was also a fascist state -- there were some sympathy toward Germany, but in reality Portugal played it both ways during World War II, a bit like the Swedish. In the case of Japan in East Timor, Japan invaded without any reason. The argument is there were some Australian troops there so they had to go in, but the invasion was absurdly out of proportion, and their occupation was ruthless and brutal.
KJ: Has anybody from the Japan-side approached you since then?
JRH: No, in no way, and I don't even really care. They have showed the most despicable behavior regarding East Timor. Since after the war there has been no word of apology or regret. And then after the Indonesian invasion, their record has been one of the most despicable, and I don't expect them to make any contact whatsoever.
KJ: Their record has been despicable with respect to?
JRH: In terms of their conniving and complicity with Indonesia in suppressing the East Timorese people. They have been the ones supporting the Indonesian regime all along -- with money and aid -- and at the UN they have voted against every motion on East Timor.
KJ: Japan didn't even abstain?
JRH: No! In the Commission of Human Rights, in March '93, they even supported a non-action motion to stop all further discussion of the situation in East Timor. This is what I mean by despicable.
WDK: About this spotlight of opportunity you are granted now -- the Nobel Prize is a very bright light but it tends to grow dimmer as the years progress. How do you plan to exploit this and what is your best case scenario for use of this time?
JRH: Well, I tell you, when the November 12, '91 massacre took place, one thing I said, "We will not allow the issue of East Timor to fade again into oblivion." And we succeeded - steadily, on and on, creating new events, new dramas, new ideas to keep the issue alive and the pressure on.. Namely, for instance, when the APEC meeting took place in Jakarta in '94, our students stole the limelight by politely entering the US Embassy. And Clinton was quite nice. I tell you, President Clinton...at that point in time I began to respect and to like him. He could have said these students are hooligans, that they have no right to enter our embassy. But instead he said spoke quite differently. He said, "we understand their reasons, their feelings and we will talk with them." And he raised the issue quite forcefully with Suharto. So, Clinton's own statement also preceded by a positive statement by Warren Christopher, in fact almost legitimized the action by the students. And we stole the limelight. People talk about it. We created and developed new ideas like a conference in Manila in '94 also. For the first time, we were gathering major human rights spokespeople from around Asia to send out a message on East Timor. Indonesia blundered its way by trying to bully the Philippines into stopping the conference. East Timor was covered all over the world: CNN, televisions in Mexico, Brazil, not to mention Europe, editorials in New York Times, Times of London, again and again.
With the Nobel Peace Prize we have even a greater chance to keep the issue alive: namely in '98, a four-hour miniseries produced by four TV stations - British, Australian, French and Portuguese and a two-hour motion picture will be out on the life of Xanana Gusmao. There are numerous other initiatives like international concerts. We are stepping up our contacts, our relations with South Africa, with Nelson Mandela. I was in September in South Africa, met with President Mandela, and was warmly received there. I was in Brazil in November, met with the Brazilian president and almost anyone you can think of in the government. There a gigantic solidarity movement for East Timor brewing in Brazil. And there are numerous other initiatives.
But I am aware of the danger. In fact, even long before I got the Nobel Peace Prize, I thought, my only concern was that Bishop Belo would get it one day and I remember discussing with Bishop Belo in '95 that there are Nobel laureates who today no one ever hears of and I could cite a few names. Why does no one ever hear of them? One reason is their lack of contribution, their lack of action in support of causes around the world, their lack of creativity, of energy to make use of it. Some only work for their own causes, in some cases they finish with the cause. But take, for instance, Adolfso Esquivel?? in Argentina. He got the Nobel Peace Prize for his work for human rights in Argentina. That has been resolved because democracy has been restored to Argentina. But he made human rights in Latin America a regional cause for him and he fought for that. So, in my discussion with Bishop Belo we decided we cannot focus narrowly only on East Timor. We must use the moral authority given to us, the opportunity given to us to speak out, not only on East Timor but on other issues in the region, other situations, to make an imprint on the debate in the world about human rights, about democracy, environment, the rights of indigenous peoples, disarmament, abolition of death penalty, the fight against weapon sales...conventional weapons that are transferred more and more to developing countries, land mine issues...all of that. Yes, then people will always remember the two Nobel laureates from East Timor.
WDK: In the immediate neighborhood there seems a possibility for some sort of network...for example, with the people fighting for independence in West Papua, or against the occupation that is occurring in Acche, not to mention Burma or Tibet -- are you developing any linkages with these movements?
JRH: We have tried over the years to develop linkages with everybody possible from West Papua to Acche, to indigenous peoples all over Asia, to Chittagong hill tribes in Bangladesh, Tibetans, the Karen in Burma, the Moors in Mindanao, the minorities in China, East Turkestan... So we have developed a vast network of contacts. But the priority for the next two or three years for us has to be to strengthen the relations with the pro-democracy movement in Indonesia, help them in whatever way we can; strengthen relations with the pro-democracy movement in Burma, help them in whatever way we can; and spread the word and information about East Timor in the rest of the East Asia region and Southeast Asia.
WDK: Regarding the movement in Indonesia itself, there have been stirrings of democracy within the last year that have provoked rather brutal and naked censorship and sabotage of citizen-based movements and media there. How do you see that playing out over the next five years?
JRH: Well, I hope that the democracy movement does not lose courage, vision, strength; that it goes from strength to strength.
WDK: How would you assess its current grassroots support though?
JRH: Still limited, still disorganized, still unfocused, still without a charismatic leader. Megawati Sukarno Puta is emerging but who knows, maybe others will emerge. In a country of 200 million, there are obviously hundreds of people, thousands of people who could show leadership. In a movement, in a dynamic movement, sometimes when you least expect, leaders emerge that really make a breakthrough, that galvanize the people, that capture their imagination. The fact that we might not see today too many visible faces in the opposition in Indonesia does not mean necessarily that there is no one. So, I am still quite optimistic, hopeful that in the next two, three years as Suharto grows older, as the regime is also older and discredited, as Suharto by the age factor begins to lose grip on the economy, on the political situation, on the infighting with the army, on the jockeying for power for succession, it will leave room, more space for the opposition to position itself and to strengthen itself.
And regarding East Timor, there is no way that the pro-democracy movement in Indonesia, to succeed, to gain credibility internationally, that they can at the same time ignore the right of the people of East Timor to self-determination. In any post-Suharto government, whoever comes will be in a vulnerable situation. They need to stabilize, they need to consolidate, they need to gain international sympathy. And one test case for them will be East Timor. So, one of the first actions of whoever comes after Suharto is to address in a serious manner the problem of East Timor. Otherwise, we will escalate dramatically our actions and make it impossible for them to ignore it.
WDK: But there is this abiding mystery -- you have so much moral power and truth and factual history on your side out in the public arena right now and yet you still have governments shrinking from the case very actively, very visibly, not just in Japan. And given this increasing cowardice or willingness to ignore these issues in Asia that you see happening, the questions are, where do you see the new sources of energy coming from for structural change? And how can public opinion focus itself in a way that's going to change the major power relationships?
JRH: Regardless of the policies, the positions of governments, changes always come from the bottom, from the people. Ferdinand Marcos was supported to the bitter end by the major powers. What happened in the Philippines was not by the design of the Americans. The Americans worked against it for decades. Marcos is gone. Anastasio Somoza in Nicaragua, long gone. Duvalier in Haiti, long gone. Stroessner in Paraguay, long gone. All those dictators in Argentina, long gone. The dictators in Brazil, long gone. And the Americans, the Japanese, they all supported the status quo. They all worked against changes. In the end, no matter the amount of weapons they poured into those regimes, unpopular regimes will always crumble. The one in Indonesia is crumbling...too slowly, I must acknowledge, but the time will come when it will crumble very fast. And in East Timor, we will continue to work towards that end. Time will come when they will be facing 500,000 angry East Timorese in the streets. Our people have shown what they are capable of.
In November this year, after a visit to Indonesia where he was so maltreated by the Indonesia side and the demonstrations they orchestrated against him, when Bishop Belo returned to East Timor he was welcomed by 200,000 people in the streets of Dili, waving the victory sign, carrying banners "Long Live Xanana", "Long Live Ramos Horta" and so on. It was a referendum on self-determination.
We can, when the right time comes, when necessary, when we see that we must make the final move, we could have half a million people in the streets who will stay there for hours, days, weeks if necessary until the world is forced to do something, until the Security Council is forced to do something.
WDK: But they've ignored the Security Council before. What is the power of Indonesia? Why are so many countries afraid to cross it?
JRH: Only because there has been not yet enough public opinion in the West to do anything. That's the only reason. Because when there is enough public opinion, then these governments will start distancing themselves. East Timor became an issue in the election campaign in the United States; and it has been a major issue in some countries - in Australia, in Sweden, Norway - increasingly more and more. And the time comes when governments will no longer be able to ignore East Timor, ignore the dictatorship in Indonesia...
WDK: But specifically, what is their power? The Cold War domino theory has pretty much gone down, there's no communist threat down there that anybody believes in, the economy is significant but not overwhelming like China, and yet they command the same kind of timidity.
JRH: Yes, that is exactly what I've said that Indonesia is not even China. It does not even have the economy of China, so then why are countries not prepared to challenge it? They are not prepared to challenge only because there is no motivation. Motivation can come from two fronts: one, moral, they don't have that; the other is public opinion, political pressure from their domestic constituencies. That is not yet enough. We look at Japan, it is very limited. The United States, it is still limited. It is considerable in some countries in Europe, but not yet enough. But this will increase. I am quite confident and we are working towards that. '97 is our year where we hope to multiply our activities to educate the people. And we hope that by '98, '99 there will be significant changes around the world at the same time as the democracy movement grows in Indonesia.
WDK: What do you want people to do now? I mean, people learn about this, they're suitably horrified, so what is the next step?
JRH: Pick up the phone, call the newspaper editors, harass them, question them, hassle them - why are you not doing anything on East Timor. Don't do only one phone call - get 10, 20, 50 colleagues to do it constantly, regularly. Picketing them, embarrassing them, shaming them. Do it with the local politicians. Do it with the local trade union leaders who don't do anything. Letters, pouring letters to that place called the government in Tokyo. Harass them. Or to your own governments back home in United States, Canada, wherever you are from, write letters. Yes, that can help. That's what individuals can do. It costs them very little - costs them only a few stamps, maybe a few minutes to write a letter, make a few phone calls. But that is my suggestion.
I believe that each of us has a responsibility toward other human beings. I have spent many, many hours talking about Eritrea for years when everybody was silent, to the point of losing support, losing votes in the UN in New York because of my actions on Eritrea. I was threatened physically by Ethiopean diplomats who said that if I did not stop spreading information about Eritrea they would stop voting with me. Eritrea today is independent. I have spoken hours and hours and hours on Burma, so much so that Daw Aung Syu Kyi sent me a message the other day, saying that she knows that I speak all the time about Burma, and she feels sorry that she cannot do much now, but she hopes that one day she can reciprocate by helping East Timor.
So, I have obligation not only towards East Timor. I have obligations toward Burma, towards Tibet, towards West Papua, towards the indigenous people of Australia, towards the Ainu people, the Buraku people. Likewise, your readers have an obligation toward East Timor.
WDK: Last thing. The Bangkok Declaration a few years ago was sort of an authoritarian attempt to project the idea that human rights was essentially Western and imperialist concept and that Asia is more group-oriented and the rights of the group come first, etc. Well, you know the logic that went into that. On the other hand, there are many people who object to this obviously because people have been fighting for human rights in a very universal sense here for many decades. But looking around at the problem of systemic human rights violations, as opposed to acute outbreaks that may occasionally occur, for example, in Africa, there does seem to be a real problem in Asia. Considered per capita or per country, there seem to be a larger number of governments either actively involved in human rights violations or willing to overlook them here than elsewhere. ASEAN as you said is not a democratic club. Do you see any commonalty in the Asian neighborhood that allows these kinds of governments or these kinds of abuses to continue?
JRH: Certainly, there is not much difference among the ASEAN countries with the exception of the Philippines. The Philippines within ASEAN, they surrender to the rest of ASEAN. They are economically more vulnerable, they are isolated. The Thais are extremely corrupt - and of course, I refer here to the elites in power. The Thais are probably next only to Japan in absolute lack of principles. It was never colonized. It never fought anything, so it has no history. But even in Thailand, there have been marked changes after the massacre in Bangkok a few years ago. The military was discredited and forced back to the barracks, but still command a lot of power. Of course, the arguments by regimes like Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and so on, we all know are false, are hypocritical. And what is ironic is that they're using exactly the same argument that was used in the past by the Communist Bloc. In the debate in the UN for many years about human rights, the Communist Bloc was saying precisely the same thing -- that human rights were a Western, imperialist maneuver, a trick to discredit, embarrass socialist countries; socialist countries have a notion of human rights and that is collective and so on and so on. And today, the dictatorships in Asia are using those arguments, the ideological arguments of the extinct Communist Bloc. Certain Asian rulers talk about collective rights, about the group....well, self-determination is not an individual right, self-determination is the right of a group. So, what are they doing about self-determination? For East Timor? For indigenous peoples in Asia? No, they are also violating that collective right. They talk about social/economic/cultural rights as more important, as rights that take priority over civil political rights. But economic/social rights for whom? For the workers in Indonesia, in Thailand, Philippines, Malaysia? No. Economic rights for Suharto, for Lee Kwan Yew, for Mahathir. Not for the workers.
No, they are morally bankrupt. They are afraid of democracy, of the rule of law. They're panicking over what happened in South Korea when for the first time two leaders, two ex-presidents are put on trial for crimes, for corruption. They are scared of the eventuality of democracy being restored in Burma. So, they desperately try to counter what is already universally accepted. And that is the rule of law, democracy, human rights, and fundamental freedoms.
Originally published in Kyoto Journal, Spring '97