Jewish Ozzies' Inter.Net
The electronic voice of the Australian Jewish Community
Human Rights and Morality Vs Pragmatism and Real Politik:
Mr. President, Members of the Board, Distinguished Ladies and gentlemen, Dear friends,
I thank you most sincerely for honouring me with your kind invitation to join in this event today. Nothing honours me more and is more meaningful than being part of a Jewish celebration. No other nation in history has crossed the desert as you have done. For hundreds of years you were persecuted, abused, discriminated, denied freedom and dignity, denied a home and land. Your religious beliefs and culture celebrated underground survived, kept you alive. The Holocaust must be remembered, must be spoken about and the evils that led this abominable crime must be dissected and understood so that it will never happen again. Apart from the European colonial experience in certain parts of the world where millions of indigenous people were decimated in the name of Christianity, and the slave trade that uprooted million of Africans, the Holocaust stands out as the single most shameful event in humanity's long history. Whenever I think of what has been done to the Jews over centuries culminating in the Holocaust, I lose faith in humanity. But whenever I think in the Jews resurrection from the ashes of the Holocaust to be again a great nation of creative and generous people, I regain my faith in humanity.
Yours have been a lesson of resilience, courage and generosity, an inspiration for all small persecuted nations of the world. We are gathering here today together with millions of our fellow human beings all over the world who are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). In the course of this half century significant progress has been made in the promotion and protection of human rights. Numerous treaties, conventions, declarations and resolutions have been adopted. Enforcement mechanisms have been established to follow up on the implementation of the binding treaties and conventions.
The UDHR is a truly universal document. Derived from the cultural and social values of many civilizations and belief systems, basic elements of the UDHR have found their way back into the Constitution of many countries. Even if we compare with only 20 years ago, there is today a more generally accepted human rights culture.
Human rights organizations exist all over the world. Governments have established national human rights bodies. Elementary schools and colleges have taken in human rights into their curriculum. The UN, though lacking in resources, has elevated human rights to a higher priority and importance with the appointment of a UNHCHR. Governments actions are scrutinized by the annual sessions of the UNCHR and the various treaty bodies, working groups and visiting missions. NGOs such as Amnesty International have acquired a special status within the UN system and their impact are not to be underestimated. However, much remain to be done. There cannot be true enjoyment of human rights as long as a culture of peace and tolerance does not prevail over ethnic and religious intolerance, as long as unemployment and poverty continue to affect millions of human beings the world over. While there have been significant advances in civil and political rights, the right to food, shelter, education, health care and basic clean water is not accessible to most people in the developing world. Even if a drop of clean water were to be the cure for AIDs, most Africans would not have access to this cure - they do not have access to clean water.
For us, the fortunate living ones, to enjoy our fundamental human rights, many lost their lives. Human rights defenders in many parts of the world died in the struggle for the promotion and protection of human rights. Many died a brutal death in the hands of security forces and death squads. For them, to remember them, to honour their memory, I ask you to join me in a minute of silence.
East Timor - a footnote of the Cold War
I left my native country, East Timor, exactly 23 years ago. One morning, December 4 1975, a light aircraft arrived from Darwin and I was flown out of the country, three days before the invasion of East Timor by Indonesia. Within days I arrived in New York to present our case before the UN. I have not been able to return to East Timor but I hope to do so soon. And how has the world has changed in the last 23 years!
We the East Timorese were a footnote of the Portuguese colonial empire, a sideshow and victims of the Cold War. As the US emerged in 1975 defeated and humiliated in Indochina, Secretary of State Kissinger threw his immoral weight behind every right wing dictator in the world, US proxies in the battle against Marxist or imaginary Marxist regimes. Lyndon Johnson 's famed domino theory unfolded in Indochina, Southern Africa and the Horn of Africa. Soviet and Cuban forces entered the battleground in Angola and Marxist forces were poised to root out white dominance in the then Rhodesia, Namibia and South Africa. Haile Selassie, the longest reigning US ally in Africa had been overthrown in Ethiopia by a group of radical army officers and Moscow gained an additional strategic foothold.
It was against this Cold War background with US interests seemingly in retreat that the then US President Gerald Ford and Secretary of State Kissinger visited a reliable anti-Communist despot, Gen. Suharto of Indonesia, on December 6 1975. The fate of East Timor was sealed. The next day, December 7, a large invading force armed with American weapons landed in East Timor and began the systematic slaughter of the East Timorese.
Perestroika and end of the Cold War
As we look back the last 23 years, we must all feel overwhelmed by the extraordinary events that have marked our lives - perestroika in the Soviet Union which was meant to be a simple reform of the soviet system ended up causing the collapse of the whole empire, the dismantling of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of Germany, the liberation of Central and Eastern Europe and the Baltic States, the end of the much feared Warsaw Pact.
One-party Marxist regimes reinvented themselves and turned social democrats. Tyrants were deposed - Somoza in Nicaragua, Strossner in Paraguay, Galtieri in Argentina, the mighty Shah in Iran, Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines, the generals in South Korea, Suharto in Indonesia. A few still survive and limp on.
Marxism was challenged and discredited. For a while it seemed that the old economic schools of Adam Smith and John Maynard Keynes had become the dominant dogmas, obliterating the alternative Marxist thought. As the Soviet system imploded and with it the Soviet model of command economy, neo-liberal ideology triumphed. In contrast with the stagnant economies and poverty in the former Soviet bloc, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia were paraded as the success stories of market economy and globalization, darlings of global capitalism.
Impressive growth based on an export driven development strategy, labor intensive and slave wage practices, generous capital flow, easy access to financial markets, depletion of forests, and extraction of minerals elevated some East Asian peasant societies to the status of tiger economies. They were the envy of other less fortunate developing countries.
From South Asia to Southern Africa to Latin America all wanted to learn about the East Asian miracle. But then, starting in July 1997, the castle of sand began to fall. As much as Marxist economic models were challenged and discredited with the collapse of the Soviet Union, now is the market economy that is coming under fire. The Bretton Woods institutions founded at the end of WWII are being questioned with all that they represent. Marxist social thinking is making a comeback as capitalism is failing to respond to basic and fundamental problems such as jobs, housing, social security for the poor.
You know the rest of the story that is still unfolding.
As I observe from distance the unfolding events in Indonesia, my feelings are mixed of joy, hope and sorrow. These are my constant sentiments, mixed, contradictory. Joy because after all I had dared to predict Suharto's downfall and got it right.
The end of a myth
In an interview with the CNN taped in May 1996, I dared to challenge the prognosis for Indonesia by the highly paid economists who swore that Indonesia's economic boom would continue well into the XXIst century. Political analysts in Canberra and Washington predicted that Suharto would die in office.
In my CNN interview, I dared to say that Suharto would fall within two to three years due to corruption and cronyism that were eating up the system. Exactly two years later, Suharto was toppled by a student movement that has been a potent force of change throughout Indonesia's history.
My feelings of joy and hope are shared by all my compatriots and by millions of Indonesians. The mighty dictator, object of adulation by Western leaders, an habitue in the corridors of power in Washington, Tokyo, Bonn and Paris, and for whom red carpet was unfolded, is now a decrepit deposed dictator. His many good friends in Canberra and other Western capitals must be busy destroying pictures taken with the dictator in better times.
A respected Australian politician, overwhelmed by the half-illiterate dictator's well-known charm, once described Suharto as "Man of the Century". A former PM reportedly called the despot "father". Dictators can also be charming. Wasn't Hitler often photographed caressing little girls' head?
My feelings of joy and hope are often tempered by sorrow at the pain and misery brought on the poor of Indonesia by this devastating economic and financial debacle in the region. Of Indonesia's 210 million people half are estimated to be living below the poverty line; 20 million are unemployed and this figure is climbing; 20 million children are out of school; millions go hungry every day; millions live off garbage picked off the clogged and fetid canals. Lured by the construction and industrial boom of the 80's, millions of peasants abandoned their villages for the cities. But as the cities can no longer provide jobs and food, they are moving back to the villages they had left, adding pressure on an already depleted environment, competing for scarce resources.
Indonesia is the worse off among the East Asian countries hit by the economic and financial meltdown. But it is not alone. Thailand, the Philippines, Hong Kong, South Korea, Malaysia, China, are all suffering in varying degrees.
Corruption, cronyism, nepotism and mismanagement are some of the reasons for this disaster. Our region's kleptocracy is responsible for this social calamity. But the World Bank, IMF and other Western financial institutions and governments cannot escape their share of responsibility and should shoulder the burden. So far, only the poor of the poorest are paying the price of this economic crisis.
While currency speculators are partly to blame for creating havoc with their assault on national currencies, they are the financial equivalent of vultures who chose their prey when it is showing signs of weakness. I therefore hesitate to share PM Mahatir bin Mohamad's charges that George Soros is the source of the financial turmoil in the region. He has a point but blaming Soros for all the ills that befell the East Asian economies without looking into the domestic roots of these problems will not solve them in the long run.
My point is that a lack of public debate, transparency and accountability that are part of an open and democratic society is also a cause of this crisis. Democracy is not a cure for all ills, but there is no better defense of the public good than democracy and the rule of law.
The ostentatious wealth of the very few acquired through illicit means, insulting to the extreme poverty of the majority, is simply not tolerable in a free and democratic society. Megaprojects, white elephants, wasteful public projects, excessive arms budget in detriment of health care, education and clean water, can be avoided in a country with an elected parliament, a strong civil society and a free media.
A window of opportunity for human rights
My hope is that out of this social calamity a new culture of democracy and human rights will emerge. I hope that the US, the EU and Australia seize on this opportunity to push a human rights agenda for East Asia, discretely but firmly with a generous strategic vision, supporting those forces in and out of government who are trying to democratize their countries.
The Philippines, South Korea and Thailand deserve our utmost support for their own efforts to consolidate their democratic gains. As imperfect as these democracies may be there is no denying that the three countries have made enormous strides in the path towards democracy.
I dissociate myself from those in the NGO community who expressed displeasure over Vice President Al Gore's public support for the democracy movements in East Asia.
If the Vice-President had opted for silence in the face of the scandalous behavior of the Malaysian authorities towards Anwar Ibrahim and the democracy movement, he would have been criticized. Because he did what we always demand of the US that it stands up for democracy, he was criticized. That VP Al Gore was criticized by Malaysian officials is obviously understandable but it is less understandable that some in the democracy movement chose to criticize him too.
The US and Europe do not have a monopoly on virtues. They do not have either a monopoly on double standards and hypocrisy. Unfortunately some of our mediocre leaders in the developing world too are well- known able practitioners of double standards and have even excelled in hypocrisy.
PM Mahatir bin Mohamad who was so outraged by Al Gore's thoughtful discourse on the advantages of democracy, never refrains himself from speaking his mind on occasion to blast Israel for its policies towards the Palestinians or to criticize Australia's immigration policies. But is Malaysia a heaven of racial tolerance?
While PM Mahatir is right to speak out for the Palestinians, he never say a word about the killings of thousands of Acehnese in Sumatra a few miles away from Malaysia. Israeli actions in Gaza and West Bank pale against Indonesian brutalities in Aceh and yet Malaysia is silent on this.
The "Asian way"?
The Malaysian PM and few other East Asian leaders argue that public criticism of each other is un-Asian. Asians reportedly prefer dialogue and consensus. May be so. But the actual practice of the Malaysian PM in dealing with his Deputy PM betrays this claim. The consensus approach and the culture of tolerance if they ever existed as method of problem solving and decision making have been abandoned long ago in the streets of Manila, Rangoon, Bangkok, Jakarta, Dili and Tiananmen.
The millions who have marched and the tens of thousands who died throughout Asia against European colonial rule and Asian tyrants are the proof that human rights, democracy and rule of law are very much rooted in Asians' tradition.
Mahatir bin Mohamad's autocratic reign is coming to an end and it is a pity that he has not chosen the honorable path of other autocratic but revered rulers who sensed their time was up and left. Julius Nyerere of Tanazania and Senghor of Senegal are two names that come to mind. Unfortunately I had to search in another Continent to find examples of leaders who voluntarily cede power.
Whenever I hear the invocation of the vague concept of "Asian values" I try to figure out what they are supposed to be. The proponents of the "Asian value" concept have never actually articulated it for our benefit. "Asian values" are stated and invoked more as a state slogan than as a substantive theory.
However, if we stretch our own imagination and put some meaning into this slogan, maybe we could say that the teachings of the major Eastern religions and philosophies, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism provide the intellectual, ethical and moral substance of an "Asian value" system.
And if we can then talk about "Asian values" as a convergence of all these religions and philosophies we find that they all teach us about humility, tolerance, honesty and social justice. These virtues are to be found also in the Judeo-Christian tradition and in the rich tradition of Indigenous peoples in Australia, Aotearoa, the Americas and in fact all over the world. The question is, do the state proponents of the "Asian values" actually practice what they preach? Do they practice tolerance towards their own people? Are they models of moral rectitude, austerity and humility? Do they seek out their youth, students, intellectuals and workers and engage them in dialogue on the crucial issues facing their country? The answer unfortunately is no.
Weapons and poverty
The statistics are numbing. At least 40 million people have died since the end of WWII. An estimated 4 million died since the end of Cold War when hopes were high that we would be living in a more peaceful world. Some 30 low-intensity armed conflicts are being waged in the world. At least 30 to 40 million people are refugees or displaced. I do not wish to oversimplify the complex nature of these conflicts that have different roots and reasons.
But I submit that most of these conflicts are fuelled and exacerbated by the sale of weapons. I ask, who is selling weapons to UNITA in Angola? Who is selling them land mines that are being planted again? The same people who have been paid tens of millions of dollars to de- mine in Angola, Cambodia and Mozambique were the ones who sold the land-mines in the first place. It is estimated that it costs less than $3 to plant a land mine but over $100 to deactivate it.
Many governments spend more money on weapons than on education and health care. Hundreds of millions of people in the developing world have no access to clean water and while the Aids epidemic, malaria, cholera, malnutrition ravage an increasingly large number of communities in the world, the rich of the North continue to manufacture weapons and then try to sell them to the poor of the South.
Alarmed by the growing arms race and the unrestricted flow of weapons from the developed countries to the poorest nations of the South, a group of Nobel Peace recipients established the Commission of Nobel Peace Laureates for Arms Control. In May 1997 a group of us met in New York and launched the International Code of Conduct on Arms Transfers. We are now almost 20 Nobel Peace Laureates who have joined in this initiative.
Our aim is simple and modest. We are calling on the weapons exporting countries to stop contributing to more misery and suffering in the world. We are calling for a ban on weapons deliveries to countries listed as human rights violators, to governments that are engaged in wars of aggression, military occupation and annexation, and spend more money on weapons than on education and health care. The weapons producing countries of the North must stop this immoral trade. While I welcome the small arms initiative by Canada and Norway, this is only a small start. I am not alone in expressing misgivings about the restrictive objective of interdicting only the illicit weapons. Illicit weapons started off through the legal trade channels. One effective way to curtail the flow of illicit weapons in the world would be for the weapons producing countries to simply stop selling weapons to repressive regimes and poor countries. A few months ago, travelling in the US, I read a front-page story in the premier American newspaper, the New York Times, on a decision by President Clinton to block the importation of some 600,000 Chinese assault rifles into the US. The story went on to say that the President also ordered the suspension of consideration of one million applications for import weapons.
The paper quoted President Clinton who bravely stated that he would not allow foreigners to turn American cities into war zones. Other Western countries, the UK and Australia for instance, have had some high visibility cases of mass killings by deranged elements. Our heart goes for the grieved families.
In reading the NYT story I could not but sympathize with the President's sentiments of anger at the loss of so many innocent American lives as a result of the proliferation of hand-guns in the US. But I also dare to ask, when will the American President show the same sentiments when American weapons exported to our dictators kill our people, rage our towns and villages, destroy our economies? After all, the US controls some 40% of the world's arms market and roughly 75% of the US weapons recipients are governments that systematically violate human rights.
But the US is not the only culprit. All five permanent members of the UN SC who are supposed to look after our collective security are also the most reckless arms exporters in the world. But let us be blunt. They are not alone either. Many small and medium size countries too have a robust arms industry and an aggressive export policy.
As the Cold War ended and official arms procurement in Europe diminished, weapons producing countries target Asia, Africa and Latin America to make up for the diminishing European market. Weapons and drugs
Weapons sold to our poor countries are far more destructive than the cocaine is for Western consumers. If the US and other Western governments were to display the same determination in curtailing weapons flows to the developing countries as they do in combating the drug trade, the world would be a much safer place. The drugs harvested in Colombia and Burma find their way into the streets of New York, Amsterdam, Sydney or Zurich and ravage so many precious lives.
Guns produced in the US and Europe find their way into our countries in the South and ravage so many precious lives. Why leaders in the rich North, sensitive to the suffering and killing of your children, display such a lack of feelings when other children in other parts of the world are being killed? Is it racism?
Nuclear weapons proliferation
One fall-out of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the continuing deterioration of Russia's economy is the very real danger of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons being acquired by rogue states or terrorist groups.
Sadly, human civilization is being threatened by the products of our science and ingenuity.
Some of the poorest countries in the world opt for dangerous short- cuts routes to super-power status. Their best brains are developing doomsday weapons that would annihilate their own people and yet are incapable of resolving chronic unemployment and poverty. Nuclear power status is no longer exclusive to the five permanent members of the UN SC. The Indian sub-continent and the immediate region are now more dangerous than ever.
Expressions of condemnation and concern came from many quarters in response to India's and Pakistan's nuclear tests. But our colleague, Nobel Peace Laureate, Dr. Kissinger, must be the only person who believes that more nuclear weapons do not necessarily mean more risks of war.
The eminent American statesman, responsible for the destruction of Cambodia, architect of the carpet bombing of Vietnam, advocate of the apartheid regime in South Africa and of the white minority in Rhodesia, apologist of an endless list of despots around the world, is now lecturing us that "In a perfectly rational world, you'd think more nuclear weapons makes war less likely".
In the face of the Pakistan's "Islamic bomb", will we be surprised if Israel detonate its own bomb sometime in the future? And if Israel carries out its first test, will Iran stand by?
The possession of nuclear weapons by one country pushes another to acquire the same destructive power. Only an international treaty for the total elimination of nuclear weapons can reverse this dangerous course.
The US could lead the way by closing the Nevada test site and then call on other nuclear power states to join in an international treaty that would rid the world of such grave danger.
Poverty, greatest threat to peace
Poverty knows no boundaries, has no culture or nationality, travels without passport and visas. It lives and coexists with opulence in Indonesia, China, the Philippines, India, Pakistan, Brazil, South Bronx, Chicago, Down Town LA, in the banlieu of Paris, London, Moscow. It is spreading. It is the gravest threat to peace in the world.
No amount of conventional weapons will ever be enough to deter it. India's and Pakistan's nuclear status will not resolve this greater threat to their internal security and stability.
The armies of hundreds of millions of poor people, the unemployed, landless and homeless, who live below the poverty line, who cannot afford more than a meal a day, who cannot send their children to school, are closing in on the cities of the rich and privileged. India and Pakistan cannot nuke their poor to resolve the problem of an expanding and threatening army of poor people. The two countries certainly cannot expect that in the eventuality of a confrontation, resulting from a political decision, computer failure or accident in its nuclear command and control, that the two countries will not be doomed for generations.
If in India's strategic thinking, China is the main threat to its security and hence its bombs are directed at China, does it actually believe that it will survive a nuclear showdown with its giant neighbour Political mediocrity, intellectual and moral bankruptcy, insanity - these are the words that spring to my mind as I think about India's and Pakistan's decision to go nuclear.
Deterrence might have been credible before the nuclear age and might have been justified a century ago. Nuclear deterrence is obsolete and the risks and costs it entails far outweigh its hypothetical usefulness. The best deterrence against wars is dialogue and cooperation among states in the search for solutions to common problems.
The greatest challenge we face as we approach the new millennium comes from a world ever smaller for our expanding human population, where competition for livable land, water and food will be increasingly desperate. We expand as fast we use up nature's non- renewable resources and as fast as we destroy the forests, rivers, lakes and oceans we depend upon for our survival.
When will scientists turn away from the arms industry and devote their intelligence and creativity to these urgent problems we all face? When will Pakistani, Indian and Chinese scientists abandon their nuclear labs where the concoct new formulas to destroy each other and work together to resolve the problems of poverty and of environmental degradation that are the gravest threat to all three countries?
The Pinochet case and fight against impunity
The Indonesian army was part of the Suharto regime and is equally responsible for the mismanagement of the country's resources, an accomplice in the corruption and nepotism that ate away the public funds. It has a lot to answer for crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide in East Timor, West Papua and Aceh.
If Augusto Pinochet can be arrested for the killings, torture, and abduction in Chile, so too should Suharto and his clique of generals be brought to trial for the 1965-66 massacre of more than 1 million Indonesians, the death of more than 200,000 East Timorese, and the many thousands of people killed in West Papua and Aceh.
The principles of international humanitarian law invoked in the case of Pinochet are universal principles and must be applied in all similar cases of war crimes and genocide.
The arrest of Pinochet in a London clinic is one of the most important events in recent times - and if he is finally extradited to Spain to face trial this would be the single most important development since the adoption of the UDHR.
The "Balibo Five" and the Pinochet precedent
Despots all over the world and potential dictators are served notice that they will be held responsible for crimes committed under their command.
Following the creation in July in Rome of a permanent International Criminal Court, the Pinochet 's case marks a new chapter in the process of establishment of an effective deterrence against war crimes and crimes against humanity.
In October 1975 five newsmen, two Australians, two British and one New Zealander were murdered. In December 1975, a sixth foreign journalist, Roger East, was also murdered. Ever since, the Indonesian government has refused to acknowledge the direct responsibility of its army in these killings. Successive Australian governments engaged in systematic evasion of the issue for lack of courage and compassion.
The most senior Australian diplomat in Indonesia at the time, Amb. Richard Woolcott, said in a TV interview that the five newsmen shouldn't have been where they were murdered. Lacking moral integrity and political courage to point the finger at the real culprits he blames the victims, the dead ones.
President Habibe has refused to allow judge Sherman to travel to East Timor to further investigate the killing of the five newsmen. In the face of Indonesia's defiance, maybe there is a courageous prosecutor in Australia who will follow the example of the Spanish judge and indict Suharto and other Indonesian commanding officers responsible for the killing.
Justice, reconciliation and peace
In seeking justice we do not want revenge. In seeking justice, all we want is peace and reconciliation. For there cannot be real peace if justice is not done. The victims of torture, rape, abduction, the families of the deceased ones, will never rest in peace with themselves and the community, the whole nation cannot heal itself, if perpetrators of crimes are not brought to justice.
In East Timor, Indonesia and Chile, rape victims see the rapist walk by, defiant, arrogant. They see the assassins of their relatives on their way to work everyday. The grown up children whose parents were abducted when they were babies still do not know what really happened to their parents. And almost everyday they cross path with the men who abducted their parents.
Often societies have to make hard choices between justice and political compromise. This was the case of Chile. But the political compromises hammered out in the name of peace and stability do not bring justice and peace. If Pinochet is finally brought to trial, then the process of true reconciliation and true peace can return to that great country.
There is a fine line that separates justice and revenge. In highly charged cases such as Pinochet's or of any other major political or military leader, the danger is always there that justice becomes revenge. We have to appeal to our best sentiments of humanity, tolerance and forgiveness not to allow the demand for justice and the temptation for revenge to be blurred.
The East Timor conflict and the futility of war
Since the onset of the economic and financial crisis in Indonesia, about half of the 210 million people in the country, have descended below the poverty line. More than 20 million people joined the unemployment line in the last 12 months. The rupiah has lost 80% of its value since the crisis sending food prices sky rocketing It is estimated that by next year, half of the Indonesian work-force of 84 million will be out of job or underemployed. More than 20 million children cannot go to school. Yet, the government of President B. J. Habibie continues to waste $1 million dollars a day on its colonial occupation of East Timor to maintain an army of more than 20,000 troops there.
More than the freedom fighters in the mountains of East Timorese and the youthful students protesting in the streets of Dili, it is Indonesia army's and political elite's arrogance and intolerance that pose a greater danger to Indonesia's future.
Ethnic and religious violence threaten to engulf the entire country and tear apart the Republic along religious fault lines. Anti-Chinese and anti-Christian violence are instigated by irresponsible elements in the military and political elite to attain their short-term goals. The manipulation of religion by certain sectors of the power structure is not a new phenomenon in Indonesia. In the last 10 years, more than 300 Christian churches have been torched. Ethnic Chinese who have made Indonesia their home for many generations are the favourite scapegoats in time of crisis.
Time and again history has taught us that no amount of force and violence is ever enough to resolve conflicts that are eminently social and political.
The ongoing lesson of this is the conflict in East Timor. After all, this is a country of only 800,000 in an area several times smaller than Tasmania. Indonesia, the fourth largest nation in the world and possessing the largest army in Southeast Asia, has unleashed all its might on the helpless East Timorese.
All major Western powers provided the decrepit Suharto's regime with the tools of repression and war. Lies and cover-up were part of Jakarta's arsenal - and of its friends in Canberra, London and Washington. To protect its rotten relationship with the Suharto regime, Australian leaders and diplomats went as far as covering up the truth about the tragedy in East Timor and of the murder of their own citizens.
Yet the East Timorese have survived. Like the Jews before us who survived centuries of persecution and resurrected from the ashes of the Holocaust, like the Armenians, Burmese, Kurdish, Tibetans, West Papuans, the indigenous peoples of Australia, Aotearoa, Hawaai and the Americas, the East Timorese are proving once again that against the might of armies, cynicism and pragmatism of States our power is our own will, our ideals and dreams, our convictions and faith. We have survived five American Presidents, three French Presidents, three British PMs and I lost count of the Australian PMs since 1975. I refer only to those Western democracies that more loudly talk about democracy and also more weapons sold to their friends in Jakarta.
A week ago, 7th of December, marked the 24th anniversary of the invasion of East Timor. 23 years ago this day, December 6 1975, President Gerald Ford and Secretary of State Kissinger gave the green- light for Indonesia's invasion of East Timor following a meeting with Suharto.
23 years later, we are still there, alive and kicking, witnesses to dramatic events in the region, our giant neighbour collapsing to its knees, crushed by its own arrogance and corruption.
East Timor is going to be free - whether Indonesia likes it or not. Like Nelson Mandela before him, Xanana Gusmao will walk free, tall, having survived his enemies and captors.
And when this time comes, let us assure everyone that an independent East Timor will put aside all disappointments, anger and resentment and will be a good neighbour, a responsible partner, a reliable ally.
Australia will have an important role in our future. It should not fear an independent East Timor.