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The Hon. Justice Marcus Einfeld AO QC (left)
at the the 1998 B'nai B'rith Human Rights Oration

23rd December 1998  


by Steven King

"Mr Jose Ramos-Horta's address, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights, is a timely reminder of the human suffering caused by political pragmatism and so-called even-handed diplomacy. The recent political unrest in Indonesia has focussed the world's attention on that country's leaders, while the suffering of the East Timorese people has continued unabated." Judith Shapira B'nai B'rith Anti-Defamation Unit President. 13.12.98

THE STANDING OVATION given to Jose Ramos-Horta after the annual B'nai B'rith Human Rights Oration to a packed King David Room at the Hakoah Club at Sydney's famous Bondi Beach on the 13 December 1998 gives evidence to the strong support among members of the Australian Jewish Community to Independent Self-Determination for East Timor.

In December 1996 Jose Ramos-Horta became the 101st recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. His oration titled "HUMAN RIGHTS AND MORALITY Vs PRAGMATISM AND REAL POLITIK" was given almost two years to the day since he received the prize and 23 years since he was hurriedly flown out of East Timor by light plane to Darwin Australia. Three days later, on December 7, 1975 a large Indonesian invading force armed with American weapons landed in East Timor and began the systematic slaughter of the East Timorese.

Per head of population, the East Timorese have experienced one of the worst cases of mass murder in the twentieth century. In a 1996 paper on East Timor Prof. Antonio Barbedo de Magalhoes compared the killings of the East Timorese with that of other groups including Jews in the Holocaust and the Pol Pot regime of former Kampuchea (Cambodia). No matter how the figures are calculated, East Timor rates uncomfortably close to the Holocaust and substantially in excess of other similar events.

It's not surprising then that Ramos-Horta has developed a strong identification with the Jewish people and their history, but to say that the genocidal experience is all that the identification consists of is to say very little about his mind-set. In the political battle for independence Ramos-Horta has experienced that other vile dimension of the Holocaust, denial, the attempt to murder for a second time, the memory and facts of the original killings.

Playing on the difficulty of the Timorese under extreme circumstance to establish precise figures, the Indonesian government has sought in a way similar to the tactics of Holocaust deniers, to substantially revise the number of killed downwards. But their efforts to do so have been greatly enhanced by other countries who, because of interests of their own, seek to appease Indonesia. Australia together with Indonesia has substantial oil interests in the Timor Sea and, in May 1992 Richard Woolcott, Australian Ambassador to Indonesia from 1975-1978, had this to say to the Sydney Institute.

"That many people died is tragic but the deliberate exaggeration of the number of deaths to discredit Indonesia is simply dishonest. In 1976, Fransisco da Cruz, spokesman of the East Timor Provisional government was quoted in the international press as having said that "60,000 had been killed" in East Timor. The next day, however, the same spokesman said that 60,000 had "lost their lives or homes" and this figure included the 40,000 refugees who had fled to West Timor. Through a process of mutual citation-and with the active assistance of the Indonesia's critics/pro-Fretilin lobby, what began as a figure of 60,000 - was gradually escalated to 200,000 or one-third of the population."

His statement is used by the Indonesian information services as an antagonistic source of "fact" from a supposedly disinterested country.

Relativisation and denial are part and parcel of the tactics of ruthless states of both the left and the right which seek to cover up extreme behaviours but the actions of bystanders animated by considerations of self-interest are no less reprehensible. With a hint of bitterness in his voice Ramos-Horta noted;

"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."

After the Holocaust, essential prosecutions and the unearthing of necessary documents were halted as the Cold War blossomed, and for a time the Holocaust was relegated to the place of a footnote in history. Now, in the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the effective ending of the Cold War, documents which should have been uncovered after the Holocaust are at last coming to light - like a torrent - but too late to prosecute many of the perpetrators.

In a similar fashion East Timor was also a victim of the Cold War, it too became a footnote in the interests of Real Politik and Pragmatism. Since the West saw the rabidly anti-communist regime in Jakarta as necessary to keep the spread of communism contained it turned away when, in 1975, Jakarta invaded East Timor.

Canberra's appeasement of Jakarta was predicated on mutual economic interests and the tacit threat of a huge military presence on it's doorstep. Now, as Jose Ramos-Horta pointed out the Asian economic crisis is having an effect on this thinking.

"Indonesia's economy has collapsed by almost fifty percent, "the rupiah has lost 80% of its value since the crisis sending food prices sky rocketing and it is estimated that by next year, half of the Indonesian work-force of 84 million will be out of a job or underemployed. 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."

Economic interests still exist between Australia and Indonesia chiefly in oil, but the political and military possibilities have changed and this has reopened the possibility of independence for East Timor and a rethink by Canberra towards the East Timorese. Only three months ago Labor's foreign affairs spokesman in opposition, Laurie Brereton, indicated support for East Timorese secession and began the process of distancing Labor from the then Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam's legacy of the dismissal of the Timorese conflagration and it's attendant denial of Human Rights.

23 years is a long time in the life of a brutalised East Timor, but the invincible dictator Suharto has fallen, riots have broken out along religious faultlines, ethnic conflict erupts while economic tensions and dissent are threatening to fragment Indonesia due to the legacy of corruption, nepotism, cronyism, structural racism, and economic mismanagement.

Ramos-Horta predicts the inevitability of Timorese independence. And if that prediction seemed remote only two years ago, it seems highly probable now. The image that Ramos-Horta portrays is the image of the resurrection of the Jews as Israel after the Holocaust.

"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."

The similarity with East Timor is not hard to see. With a third of it's original population decimated, Ramos-Horta believes that Timor will rise once again from the ashes into a viable state. And it will. For although the struggle is far from over the inevitability of Independence is almost a forgone conclusion. The question is when. And it is the 'when' that determines the struggle - for what East Timor needs more than anything right now is international recognition, and the task for those countries like Australia who haven't given it, is to throw off the formulaic cynicism of the Cold War and recognise East Timor as an independent state.

"In 1975", said Ramos-Horta, "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."

In issuing a vote of thanks to Ramos-Horta, The Hon.Justice Marcus Einfeld AO QC, a prolific exponent of Human Rights, summed up the sentiment with this comment;

"The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much. It is whether we provide enough for those who presently have too little. This is a lesson our generation must not forget. For it is the challenge facing us all in the last minutes of the 20th century. Our freedom and our standards will not be secured by police forces, armies or compulsion, nor will they be assured by constitutions, elections, politicians or parliaments. Only something much more fundamental will provide our children with the inheritance they deserve a consensus amongst all of us, the people who make up and are this great country, on freedom, justice and human dignity.

As the people who above all others have hit historic depths of discrimination and horror, we Jews, sir, know how your people suffer. We understand their struggle. We feel for their endurance. In thanking you for being with us tonight and for the power of your message, I say only: We are with you in your battle. The tide of history always turns eventually towards the people. Unwavering determination and the eternal sanctity of the human condition ensure that together we will succeed."

If Ramos-Horta sees similarities between the experience of the East Timorese and the Jews, many Jews relate to the plight of the East Timorese. And if the spontaneous standing ovation to his 1998 B'nei B'rith oration is any indication, Australian Jews support the unequivocal independence of East Timor.


(1) Re "Lies and cover-ups" - The Sydney Jewish Museum opened an important new exhibition this week entitled "Within the Walls: Theresienstadt Ghetto 1941-1945" It tells the story of those who were sent to Theresienstadt as well as the Hoax played on the world by the nazis. It features many artefacts which have not been seen before.

(2) Mr Ramos-Horta 1996 NOBEL PEACE PRIZE CO-LAUREATE and The Hon. Justice Marcus Einfeld AO QC have graciously made the full texts of their speeches available to JOIN

(3) For discussion of this and other matters of Australian/Jewish interest please subscribe to and participate in our discussion forum

(4) JOIN thanks volunteer Steven King for his excellent contribution.

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