Further Reading
Memorial for victims of September 1999 massacres, Dili, East Timor.

Case Study:
East Timor (1975-99)


This case study of the events in East Timor in September 1999 is necessarily the most ambiguous of our studies of "gendercide." Indeed, it is impossible to state with certainty that a fully-fledged gendercide did occur, and on what scale. Nonetheless, in the opinion of Gendercide Watch, there are grounds not only for believing that genocidal atrocities occurred during the period immediately following Timor's independence vote, but that they were widespread, pre-planned, and systematic -- and were strongly gendercidal in character. We also devote extended attention to the quarter-century of Indonesian occupation preceding the independence vote of August 30, 1999, in which gendercidal atrocities were prominent, though not predominant.

The background

East Timor owes its territorial distinctiveness from the rest of Timor, and the Indonesian archipelago as a whole, to the fact that it was colonized by the Portuguese, not the Dutch, beginning in the mid-17th century. (An agreement dividing the island between the two powers was signed in 1915.) In alliance with local chieftains, the Portuguese established an increasingly harsh regime of exploitation and corvée (forced) labour that, by the turn of the twentieth century, swept up the entire able-bodied male population. The colonial regime was replaced by the Japanese during World War II, whose occupation spawned a resistance movement that resulted in the deaths of 60,000 Timorese, or 13 percent of the entire population.

East Timor Map

After the war, the Dutch East Indies rapidly became the independent republic of Indonesia. The Portuguese, meanwhile, re-established control over East Timor; but in April 1974, the Portuguese armed forces mounted a coup d´état against the fascist government in Lisbon, and announced their intention of rapidly divesting Portugal of its overseas empire (including Angola and Mozambique). Indigenous political parties rapidly sprang up in Timor. Elections for a National Constituent Assembly were set for 1976, with full independence anticipated three years thereafter. By 1975, the leading political force in the territory was Fretilin (the Revolutionary Front of Independent East Timor), which had established strong grassroots support throughout the countryside with progressive policies aimed at improving the lives of the peasantry. In January 1975, Fretilin formed an alliance with the other main political grouping, the UDT (Timorese Democratic Union), and local elections were held under the supervision of the Portuguese parliament's Decolonization Committee.

In May 1975, however, the UDT withdrew from the coalition, and when Fretilin candidates won 55 percent of the vote in the local elections, the UDT launched a coup attempt, apparently with the connivance of the Indonesian government. Fretilin forces crushed the revolt and expelled the UDT to Indonesian West Timor. This was followed by a declaration of independence on November 28. Just over a week later, on December 7, the Indonesians invaded East Timor in force, with military aid and tacit political approval from the Ford administration in the U.S. (Secret government documents published in 1980 showed that the Australian government also "had an extensive knowledge of, and acquiesced in, events prior to the invasion," according to John Taylor [East Timor: The Price of Freedom, p. 204.)

Fretilin forces were pushed deep into the countryside, and Indonesian president Suharto declared East Timor's annexation by Indonesia in July 1976. By November of that year, relief agencies in East Timor estimated that an extraordinary 100,000 Timorese had been killed since the Indonesian invasion less than a year earlier. What followed was a protracted guerrilla war by Fretilin forces, who eventually succeeded in establishing control over about half the remaining Timorese population. Indonesian "counterinsurgency" strategies reached a genocidal scale, causing widespread starvation. Indeed, Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman argued in their 1980 book, The Washington Connection and Third World Fascism, that the Indonesian assault had taken a greater per-capita toll -- killing about a third of the Timorese population -- than any genocide since the Jewish holocaust. But the slaughter took place at a time when western governments and media were resolutely focused on the atrocities committed by the communist Khmer Rouge in Cambodia/Kampuchea, and attracted barely a whisper of notice or official condemnation.

Despite repeated calls from the United Nations, Indonesia refused to withdraw from East Timor or allow a plebiscite on the territory's future. But the credibility of Indonesia's claim to the territory began to weaken noticeably with the November 12, 1991 mass killing of some 270 civilians at the Santa Cruz cemetery in Dili, the East Timorese capital. As part of a new crackdown, Indonesia began to rely more and more on locally-raised paramilitary forces (ninjas) to terrorize the population. These were supplied and overseen by Kopassus, the elite Indonesian army force that would play a critical role in the atrocities of September 1999.

Timorese independence flagIn 1996, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the leader of the East Timor Catholic Church, Bishop Belo, and Fretilin's leader-in-exile, José Ramos-Horta. The renewed publicity given to the Timorese cause was bolstered in 1998 when, with Indonesia suffering an economic meltdown, longtime dictator General Suharto resigned in favour of his vice-president, B.J. Habibie. As part of a wide-ranging liberalization program, Habibie first offered East Timor "special status" within a united Indonesia, a move that was rejected by the Timorese opposition. Finally, in January 1999, Habibie declared Indonesia's willingness to "let East Timor go" if its people chose independence. The United Nations, together with Portugal, rapidly announced their willingness to conduct a direct plebiscite, offering the Timorese autonomy within Indonesia or fully-fledged independence. After several delays, the vote was finally scheduled for August 30, and U.N. officials under the banner of UNAMET (The United Nations Assistance Mission in East Timor) arrived to supervise the process.

In the run-up to the plebiscite, the Indonesian military raised and supplied a number of new paramilitary groups, consisting mostly of Timorese collaborators and Kopassus commandos. (For an overview of the founding and training of these notorious "militias," see Human Rights Watch, "Background: The Indonesian Army and Civilian Militias in East Timor", April 1999.) The militias that played the greatest role in fomenting violence during the pre- and post-plebiscite periods included the Besi Merah Putih ("Iron Rod for the Red and White"), Mahidi ("Live or Die for Integration with Indonesia"), and the Halintar ("Thunderbolt"). An estimated 5,000 Timorese were murdered by these forces and their army allies in 1998 and the first eight months of 1999, and an estimated 60,000 displaced from their homes. Despite these widespread atrocities, the U.N. chose to designate the Indonesian armed forces responsible for providing "security" before, during, and after the plebiscite. This proved a disastrous decision; when an organized campaign of mass destruction, and possibly genocide, erupted in the aftermath of the vote, it would be orchestrated by these same "security" forces.

Gendercide in East Timor (I),

Gendercidal massacres of males, and in at least one case of females, were prominent in the period immediately following the Indonesian invasion of December 1975. "One of the most bizarre and gruesome ... atrocities" of the Indonesian invasion itself "occurred within 24 hours of the invasion and involved the killing of about 150 people. This shocking spectacle began with the execution of more than 20 women who, from various accounts, were selected at random ... The women were led out to the edge of the jetty and shot one at a time, with the crowd of shocked onlookers being forced at gun-point to count [out] loud as each execution took place." (Carmel Budiardjo and Liem Soei Liong, The War Against East Timor [Zed Books, 1984], pp. 128-29.) Immediately thereafter, however, a typical gendercidal massacre of males took place, according to a source quoted by John Taylor in East Timor: The Price of Freedom (p. 68):

At 2 p.m., 59 men, both Chinese and Timorese, were brought on to the wharf ... These men were shot one by one, with the crowd, believed amounting to 500, being ordered to count. The victims were ordered to stand on the edge of the pier facing the sea, so that when they were shot their bodies fell into the water. Indonesian soldiers stood by and fired at the bodies in the water in the event that there was any sign of life.

In the wider slaughter in Dili, males appear to have been targeted overwhelmingly. According to John Taylor (East Timor: The Price of Freedom, pp. 68-69), one of the main killing sites "was the area surrounding the Portuguese police barracks in the south of the capital," where one survivor claimed that

At about 12 noon, the green berets began to land. ... They advanced to where I was. They ordered us all out of our homes, to gather in the street. We were taken to an open space, women, children, old people and men, including me. ... There were about fifty of us then, all men, just picked up at random. All able-bodied men. ... Then the soldiers, there were three of them, started spraying us with bullets. Many died on the spot, some managed to run off, falling as they fled because they had been hit. As far as I know, only 3 or 4 out of the 50 men are still alive. (Taylor, pp. 68-69.)

Jill Jolliffe writes in her book East Timor: Nationalism and Colonialism (University of Queensland Press, 1978) that "in late 1976, letters smuggled via [the West Timorese town of] Kupang reached relatives in Darwin [Australia], listing whole families killed during the invasion. ... [One letter] said that many of the inhabitants of Dili had fled to the mountains before the invasion but that of those remaining 80% of the men were killed by Indonesian troops" (p. 279). According to Taylor (p. 68), the death-toll in Dili reached "2000 men." In May 1976, a further "67 boys were shot in Suai" (Taylor, p. 71).

The trend continued into the 1980s. In July 1984, a priest described military actions against the Kota Boot tribe "from March 1984, [when] many men and youths were imprisoned and killed ... almost all men and youths disappeared. They were taken by Indonesian soldiers, killed and thrown on a fallow piece of land. There are eye-witnesses to what happened." (Quoted in Taylor, pp. 102-03.)

A particularly massive roundup of Timorese males was conducted as part of Operasi Keamanan ("Operation Security") in March-April 1981, when "virtually the entire male population from the ages of 15 to 50 was pressed into service. In some places, boys as young as 9 and men as old as 60 were ordered to join." (Budiardjo and Liem, p. 41.) "Those recruited for Operasi Keamanan were given no advanced warning," writes Taylor. "The army marched into villages, ordered together all men and boys and took them to the region from which the [so-called] fence of legs was to begin. Once assembled, they were organized into small groups and forced to walk in front of units of soldiers, searching the countryside for Fretilin cadres. ... Since they were forced to leave without any notice, they were unable to take with them supplies of food or clothing. Provided with the most meagre food rations, many died of starvation." (East Timor: The Price of Freedom, p. 117.) Many thousands of Timorese, also overwhelmingly "able-bodied" males, were rounded up for brutal torture and incarceration -- although many younger women also suffered this fate, being exposed especially to sexual torture and rape.

Thus, when the Indonesian occupying forces discriminated according to gender, the victims of the most serious abuses were generally male. But to present this period as one of predominantly gender-selective violence would be deeply misleading. Entire families of "Fretilin suspects" were often annihilated together with the suspects themselves, or out of frustration at the Indonesian soldiers' inability to locate them. In many cases, whole village populations were targeted for savage atrocities -- most massively, in the region of Aitana in July 1981, where "a ghastly massacre occurred ... They murdered everyone, from tiny babies to the elderly, unarmed people who were not involved in the fighting but were there simply because they had stayed with Fretilin and wanted to live freely in the mountains." Perhaps 10,000 people died. (Source cited in Taylor, p. 118). At Lacluta near Dili in September of the same year, "at least 400 people were killed, mostly women and children." (Taylor, p. 101.) And at Malim Luro in August 1983, "after plundering the population of all their belongings, [Indonesian troops] firmly tied up men, women and children, numbering more than sixty people. They made them lie on the ground and then drove a bulldozer over them, and then used it to place a few centimetres of earth on top of the totally crushed corpses." (Source cited in Taylor, p. 103.)

The most destructive strategy of all was the starvation and heavy bombing inflicted on populations remaining in the "liberated zones" outside the Indonesians' control, or in concentration camps set up, in classic counterinsurgency fashion, to separate the Fretilin guerrillas from their "base of support." Many tens of thousands of Timorese died as a result of this "'generalized warfare' of encirclements, bombing, uprooting of the population, malnutrition and generalized brutalities" (Taylor, p. 151), constituting the bulk of the estimated 200,000 victims of Indonesia's genocidal occupation policies between 1975 and 1999.

Gendercide in East Timor (II)?
After the plebiscite

Atrocity in Dili, September 1999: the decapitated body of a
young Timorese male is dragged behind a motorcycle by an
Indonesian policeman and his accomplice.

Dili, atrocity, September 1999The events in East Timor in September 1999, particularly the issue of genocidal killing, are still clouded by considerable uncertainty. Indeed, it is impossible to say with full confidence that largescale gendercidal slaughter did occur. The difficulty arises in part from the unwillingness of the international community, particularly the United Nations, to conduct a wide-ranging investigation into the atrocities. A key purpose of launching this Gendercide Watch case-study, with its attendant press release, is to encourage such an investigation.

On August 31, 1999, East Timorese went to the polls to vote for autonomy within Indonesia or fully-fledged independence. But as noted, despite clear signals that the Indonesian military and its Timorese militia allies would respond with violence to a vote for full independence, the U.N. assigned responsibility for "security" to the Indonesian armed forces. When widespread violence and destruction broke out on September 2, the U.N. and the international community were therefore unable (and initially unwilling) to address the consequences of the plebiscite that they themselves had overseen.

East Timorese voted almost en bloc, with more than 98 percent of those eligible casting a ballot, and 78.5 percent voting for independence. When the results of the plebiscite were made public, the Indonesian military and its allies implemented a well-prepared and systematic policy of murder and destruction ("Operation Global Clean-Sweep") aimed at preserving Indonesian control over the territory, or at least a substantial portion of it.

Scorched earth, East Timor, September 1999.
Scorched earth, East Timor, September 1999.The gender-selective character of the atrocities was evident from the outset. (Note: Extensive excerpts from most of the following reports can be found in "Gender-Selective Atrocities in East Timor", a news digest compiled throughout the crisis, and afterwards, by Gendercide Watch executive director Adam Jones.)

On September 4, Matt Frei of BBC Online provided gruesome eyewitness testimony of the murder of a young Timorese independence supporter. "While I was running towards the UN compound a pro-independence supporter was being hunted down like an animal. The young man fell after being hit on the head with a machete. Then six black T-shirts descended on him. A colleague hiding in a shack just opposite the gates to the UN compound filmed the whole thing. It took only 30 seconds to hack the man to pieces. The attack was so ferocious that bits of him were literally flying off. The sound reminded me of a butchers' shop -- the thud of cleaved meat, I'll never forget it." (Frei, "Face to Face with Timor Terror," BBC Online, September 4, 1999.) Also on September 4, Joao Brito, a young Timorese man, claimed to have witnessed the killing of possibly hundreds of people in the town of Ermera. Indonesian soldiers "called house-to-house and they burned out the political leaders," he said later. "When the houses burnt, they let the women and children out, but they pushed the men back into the fire where they died." (Dennis Schulz, "Refugees Recall the Flames of Death," The Age [Melbourne], September 16, 1999.)

Timorese leader José Ramos-Horta spoke on September 5 of "information that many males have been disposed of, have been killed and dumped into the sea." (Quoted in Stephen Powell, "International Pressure Builds on Timor Crisis," Reuters dispatch, September 7, 1999.) The Guardian's John Aglionby wrote on September 9 of "Villagers [who told] of men being marched to the waterfront in Dili and gunned down out of view of observers trapped inside safe houses." (Aglionby, "City's Destruction Now Complete," The Guardian, September 9, 1999.) The following day, Aglionby described "a young man [who] ran into the house telling a terrible story. He had come from the port, where he and some pro-independence friends had been trying to leave on a ship. The women boarded, but the men were dragged away. Five were stabbed to death in front of him and their bodies dumped in the sea." (Aglionby, "To Survive I Knew I Had to Get Out," The Guardian, September 10, 1999.) Craig Skehan and Malcolm Brown of The Sydney Morning Herald reported that

One distraught young mother said she witnessed the murder of two refugees on the back of a truck inside West Timor. She said she saw the two men tied up in a truck by militiamen on a road inside West Timor. "Suddenly, in front of lots of people, a militia member drew a sword and slowly stabbed one of the people in the truck. Lots of blood began gushing, flooding the floor of the truck until it began to drip out," she said. "The other man's hands and feet were tied like a pig and he was thrown like a bag of rice onto the asphalt then thrown into another truck." Another man said he watched terrified at the West Timor port of Akapupu, near Atumbua at the northern end of the border, as militia used machetes to kill men alleged to be independence supporters. They were among East Timorese disembarking from a ship which had come from Dili. "Other men had their hands tied and they were put on trucks and taken away," said one source, who is collecting accounts for presentation to the international community. (Skehan and Brown, "Refugee Plight Compared to Nazi Terror Against Jews," The Sydney Morning Herald, September 10, 1999.)

Machete victim, East Timor, September 1999.Agence France-Presse cited "reports [that] men in UN gear were loading young men into C-130 aircraft for unknown destinations." ("Refugees Starving in East Timor Mountains, Living Off Roots," AFP dispatch, September 13, 1999.) In an "urgent action" of September 14, the East Timor Human Rights Centre in Australia reported that "Indonesian military, police and militia are patrolling both Kupang and Atambua [in West Timor], and are carrying out operations, particularly at night, where they search for East Timorese men, including independence supporters. Between Monday September 6 and Thursday September 9, the streets were deserted, and the town extremely tense. Sources fear that East Timorese men and independence supporters are being rounded up to be assassinated."

On September 10, a confirmed gendercidal killing took place at Passabe in the enclave of Oecussi. Reporting investigators' findings in February 2000, Mark Dodd wrote: "Evidence gathered so far indicated the victims were mostly men taken on September 8 from villages near Passabe, identified by Indonesian authorities as pro-independence strongholds. According to accounts from independence supporters, between 52 and 56 men were marched across the nearby border into West Timor for registration. Their hands were then bound with palm twine and they were marched a short distance back into East Timor where they were executed." (Mark Dodd, "Passabe Massacre: Marked for Killing Frenzy," The Sydney Morning Herald, February 9, 2000.)

One of the most detailed and powerful reports of gendercidal atrocities was published in The Washington Post on September 14, 1999:

Jani thought he was safe on the ferry. After three days of terror in East Timor, the boat would take him and two college friends to safety, he thought. Then the militiamen boarded. No young men may leave East Timor, they announced as the boat prepared to depart. Jani, 27, tried to hide; the militiamen caught his friends. "Are there any others?" they demanded, Jani recalls. "No, no other young men," his friends replied in a last gift of kindness. They marched Armando Gomez, 29, and Armando DiSilva, 30, to the front of the boat and killed them as 200 refugees watched. Gomez's body was dumped into the sea, DiSilva's on the ground by the dock. Jani raced through the boat. "Please help me," he whispered to the other refugees. A woman motioned to him to hide between her and her children. The searching militiamen walked by.

The account of Jani, now a fearful refugee in western Timor, adds to the mounting evidence that victims of the murderous rampage by militia gangs in East Timor following the territory's overwhelming vote for independence from Indonesia were systematically culled from the population at large. Young men, political opponents of the Jakarta government, Roman Catholic clergy and anyone else suspected of favoring the independence opposed by the militias were targeted, in a chilling echo of the techniques of systematic killing seen in Kosovo. (Doug Struck and Keith B. Richburg, "Refugees Describe Method to Murderous Rampage in E. Timor," The Washington Post, September 14, 1999.)

On September 24, Amnesty International detailed "credible reports that 35 young East Timorese men were killed on board a ship bound for Kupang from Dili on 11 September. According to an eyewitness account, the bodies of the victims were dumped overboard. Amnesty International has collected accounts of other incidents of East Timorese being beaten and killed on boats leaving Dili." (Amnesty International, "Fear, Intimidation and Forced Relocation in the [Indonesian] Archipelago," AI Index: ASA 21/166/99, September 24, 1999.)

The situation in the concentration camps of West Timor, to which much of the Timorese population had been abducted by Indonesian forces, was no less grievous. John Aglionby wrote of the "refugees" being "herded, sifted, and cut off." He cited one witness's testimony that "Many of the men are [being] 'taken away for questioning' ... The women have no idea what happens to their husbands. Many have not returned." One woman reported a militia camp guard's comment that "You may have got your country but it will be a land full of widows." (Aglionby, "Herded, Sifted, and Cut Off," The Guardian, September 10, 1999.) A detainee who returned safely, Domingos Dos Santos, told Agence France-Presse that "pro-Indonesian militias were hunting down male refugees and planned to kill them all." ("Timor Refugees 'Can Return'," BBC Online, October 3, 1999.) On October 10, Timorese leader Xanana Gusmao spoke of "more than 230,000 East Timorese [having] been taken to camps in Atambua, Kefa, Kupang, Alor, Wetar and Kisar where the men were selectively murdered, leaving only women, children and the elderly." ("Gusmao Appeals to Indonesia to Free East Timorese from Camps," Agence France-Presse dispatch, October 11, 1999.)

Occasional concerns for the fate of Timor's men were expressed by prominent figures in the international community. The Deputy British representative to the United Nations, Stewart Eldon, told the U.N. Security Council on September 11 that "There are reports of women and children being forced into trucks to be taken to West Timor while men and boys are left behind. We know and we fear -- from Kosovo -- what that may mean." Most dramatically, in mid-September the Canadian ambassador to Indonesia, Kenneth Sunquist, raised the alarm over an apparent deficit of adult men in the West Timor camps. His account appeared in the Toronto Globe and Mail under the headline, "The Chilling Disappearance of East Timor's Young Men":

Thousands of East Timorese men have disappeared en route to the relative safety of refugee camps in the western section of the embattled island, Canada's ambassador to Indonesia said after a tour of the area. Ken Sunquist and Norway's ambassador here are the first foreign diplomats to visit the camps in the West Timorese capital of Kupang, home to more than 100,000 refugees fleeing anti-independence militias responsible for an orgy of violence in neighbouring East Timor over the past two weeks. "The refugee camps themselves are filled overwhelmingly with women and children, so we're wondering where the men are, whether they've been segregated elsewhere, whether they're up in the hills in East Timor or if there's some more sinister explanation," Mr. Sunquist said after touring three Kupang-area refugee camps on Tuesday. "We tried to ask these questions on several occasions but it's clear that the people felt we were putting them at risk even talking to them. There were lots of police around everywhere we went."

Most of refugees seen by the joint mission, which accompanied five Indonesian cabinet ministers to Kupang, were older men, women and boys under the age of 16, he said. "While we were at the airport, for example, a plane came in with 171 people aboard, 150 of whom were children under the age of 10, older women and several younger men who appeared to have been wounded, but whether this was done by the militias before they left or not we couldn't tell," he said. (Paul Dillon and Jeff Sallot, "The Chilling Disappearance of East Timor's Young Men," The Globe and Mail, September 16, 1999.)

In an interview on September 20, Sunquist expanded on his perceptions of the situation:

The question is, for instance, the camps have women and children but no men. What's happened to those men? You can either take one approach, which is most of them went up in the hills to fight. That is probably true for a lot of them. A second one is that they were segregated. There's a lot of reports that say the men were segregated. ... In fact, from what we've now heard, there are some camps along the border which are almost entirely male. So maybe the husbands, fathers, brothers, were segregated and are sitting in camps by themselves. I really hope that's true. And then there's the third one, that they were killed. No one, I mean, not anyone is willing to say that they were killed, because they don't know what happened to them. The wives don't know. They know they are missing. But they don't know where they are. And that's what a commission of inquiry [is needed for]. (Quoted in Richard S. Ehrlich, "The Military and East Timor's Militias", The Laissez Faire City Times, 3: 38 [September 27, 1999].)

A Timorese man displays empty shell cartridges
from the massacre at Suai, September 6, 1999.

Aftermath of the massacre at Suai, September 1999In addition to the apparent largescale gendercide of Timorese males, at least one sizable massacre predominantly targeted females, at the church in Suai on September 6. Up to 200 people who had taken refuge in the church were attacked by militia members and massacred. "The number of victims and their identities are uncertain," reported The Globe and Mail's Michael Valpy. "What is known is that most were women and girls [and, according to other reports, elderly men]. The evidence attests to that: the jumble of bras, underpants and sanitary napkins on the steps leading up to the church; the children's leg bones; a hank of a woman's hair; the scorched skeletal remains of two women behind the church; the thick bloodstain on a schoolroom door, covered by bougainvillea petals baking beneath the sun. ... What happened was male savagery as old as history -- rape, killing, burning, razing -- in a church, a school, in the adjacent huge, grey, concrete shell of a cathedral called Ave Maria under construction to the glory of God. Savagery against the defenceless, as women and children usually are; vengeance on a people who voted for independence from their Indonesian military overlords and landowners." Afterwards, surviving "women and children were carted away on trucks to Indonesia's neighbouring West Timor province, about 30 kilometres away, where they are still being held. The whereabouts of many of the men is not known." (Valpy, "Rape and Murder in the Sight of Our Lady," The Globe and Mail, November 1, 1999.)

A number of younger Timorese women are reported to have been killed as known or suspected independence supporters. Reports also reached the international media of young Timorese women being raped, or abducted for use as sex-slaves. A representative of the aid agency World Vision stated in mid-October that "Apparently when the militias went on their rampage, they herded people into the marketplace to make forced evacuations and during that time, many young girls were dragged away and raped by the pro-integrationist forces." ("Aid Agency Claims to Have Evidence of Mass Rape by Militias," ABC [Australia] News Online, October 20, 1999.) Some of the worst cases of sexual assault, accompanied by mass killing, occurred at Suai on September 6 (see above). Rape was also allegedly widespread in the detention camps in West Timor, according to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, Radhika Coomaraswamy, who was sent to Dili to file a report in November. (No special U.N. rapporteur on violence against men was appointed, and no report on the subject filed.)

How many died?

Were the atrocities that took place in East Timor in September-October 1999 on a "genocidal" scale? The consensus position of internatonal commentators has been "no" -- that in fact, the deaths amounted to no more than a few hundred people, perhaps only "dozens," as an Associated Press report claimed in mid-2000. Gendercide Watch considers these estimations to be highly suspect, and deriving in part from the desire of the international community (especially the U.N.) to avoid blame for its failure to intervene promptly in the slaughter and destruction.

The evidence is threefold that killings occurred on a much larger scale than has been generally recognized. First, independent investigators, operating with very few resources, have uncovered subsantially greater evidence of mass killings than has the tiny group of investigators dispatched by the United Nations -- but most death-count estimates have been based on the U.N. efforts. Second, there is strong physical, eyewitness, and circumstantial evidence of bodies being disposed of in large numbers at sea, or otherwise destroyed and hidden by Indonesian forces and Timorese militia-members. Last, and most significant, tens of thousands of Timorese remain "missing" and "unaccounted for" a year after the horror -- though this subject has attracted no attention in international media for many months.

The physical evidence. The possibility of turning up extensive forensic evidence of the atrocities has diminished drastically since September 1999, as a result of two factors: the apparently systematic attempts by Indonesian forces and militia to destroy such evidence; and the pathetically inadequate efforts by the U.N. to investigate atrocities on the ground.

Reports of the destruction of evidence are widespread. According to Australian doctor Andrew McNaughtan, "It is very clear that there has been a very organized, orchestrated, systematic cleanup of bodies" by Indonesian forces. (Jackie Woods, "Human Rights Activists Decry Slow U.N. Probe," Kyodo News Service, November 2, 1999.) Australian army lawyer Jens Streit told The Washington Post in October 1999 that "The great lengths the militias have gone to to hide and destroy the bodies makes it very difficult for us to figure out what happened. We have eyewitness accounts, but other than things like shell casings and blood stains, we don't have a lot of physical evidence. ... The Indonesians are extremely concerned about saving face. They want to be able to deny any of this happened." (Rajiv Chandrasekaran, "A Killing Ground Without Corpses: Bodies of E. Timor Victims Apparently Burned, Dumped," The Washington Post, October 22, 1999.) It is also certain that many victims were trucked across the border to West Timor and buried there: in late November 1999, 25 bodies were discovered by Indonesian non-governmental investigators in three mass graves on the western side of the border. Recall also the frequent testimony, already cited, of young men being taken out to sea to be killed, and their bodies dumped overboard.

As for international investigations, in marked contrast to the hundreds of forensics experts who were rushed to Kosovo in the wake of the Serb killing campaign earlier in 1999, only a handful of investigators were made available by InterFET (the International Force in East Timor), most with no forensics training. "Requests to the U.N. headquarters in New York for forensic investigators" went unheeded. (Woods, "Human Rights Activists Decry Slow U.N. Probe.") After nearly three months of stalling, a special U.N. advisory team toured the territory for a mere ten days in late November, gathering information and evidence for a possible war-crimes tribunal along the lines of Bosnia and Rwanda. In all, InterFET and U.N. investigators have recovered some 120 bodies across East Timor. ("You know what we call it when we find a well stuffed with dead people?" an Australian soldier asked The Laissez Faire City Times. "A manhole.") Many international observers have expressed exasperation at the limited scale and glacial pace of the investigations. "It's like you come home, the house is burnt down, grandma's been murdered and the kids have been kidnapped and you know who did it," said one American intelligence officer. "But everyone just keeps saying, 'Oh, how awful. She's dead, the house is burnt, the kids are gone -- they should just have more kids and build another house.' I say use the evidence to drag the murderer, the arsonist, the kidnapper into court then lock his ass in jail." (Quoted in Paul Daley, "U.N. Stalling Holds Up Horror Inquiry," The Sydney Morning Herald, November 13, 1999.)

The limited international efforts were cast into sharp relief by the work of the East Timor Human Rights Commission, a group of 79 Timorese volunteers, mainly students, who on their own "found evidence of 364 recent killings in Dili" and vicinity alone. Bodies found on beaches were not included in the total. (Paul Daley, "Massacre Evidence Grows", The Age, November 12, 1999.)

Intelligence data. Some of the most significant evidence of the Indonesian killing campaign in September 1999 almost certainly resides with U.S. and Australian intelligence agencies. A key component of any serious investigation into the atrocities must be to call for these agencies to turn over all relevant data to investigators. What has surfaced so far, through media sources, may be taken as indicative of the wealth of information currently held in secret files.

In a chilling report in the Melbourne Age, reporter Paul Daley wrote that "Evidence of hundreds of killings in Dili alone -- and potentially many more at sea -- confirms the view of Australian intelligence figures that thousands, rather than hundreds, of East Timorese have died in recent months." Citing "allegations that the Indonesian military (TNI), police and militias killed a large number of East Timorese students aboard a passenger ferry on route from Java to East Timor on 7 September, before dumping them at sea," Daley added:

The allegation is given weight by Australian signals intelligence, whch specifically indicates a large number of East Timorese students were killed at sea. The signals intelligence generally points to many other East Timorese being killed on boats -- or land -- before being dumped into the ocean. The Australian intelligence officers believe the discovery of more than 90 bodies on beaches on the north and south coasts of East Timor in recent weeks, also indicates a large number of people were disposed of at sea. "You have a situation where, in some cases hands and feet were tied, in other cases bodies have wounds or were burnt. It leads to the conclusion that large numbers of East Timorese could be dead -- some killed at sea, others killed on land, then burnt and hidden at sea," an intelligence figure told The Age. "This takes some effort and it points to a systematic cover-up." (Daley, "Massacre Evidence Grows", The Age, November 12, 1999.)

In a subsequent story, Daley cited another intelligence officer who told him that "The bodies found [by InterFET] weren't meant to be found -- that is, they were stuffed in drains, dumped in wells, buried in shallow graves and charred in burnt buildings. We believe they are the ones that the Indonesians themselves missed after cleaning up what they thought were all the bodies, before InterFET arrived and while journalists had been forced out of the place."

"It is possible to reach only one conclusion," Daley wrote. "East Timor is the scene of a massive crime against humanity -- and an even bigger attempt at cover-up -- by Indonesia's security forces." (Daley, "U.N. Stalling Holds Up Horror Inquiry.")

The missing. Of all the data to emerge from East Timor since the Indonesian onslaught of September 1999, estimates of the missing are the most disturbing. (For an in-depth examination of the phenomenon, see Adam Jones, "East Timor: Where Are the People?", ZNet, November 15, 1999.)

The voting drive conducted by the U.N. mission in East Timor registered 438,000 Timorese who were of voting age -- over 17 -- and who expressed a desire to cast a ballot. The U.N. then estimated the total population of East Timor as between 850,000 and 890,000, in keeping with standard "Third World" demographic trends in which 50 or even 60 percent of the population are minors. Thus, the international community never had as clear an idea of the number of Timorese in the territory as at the very point when the slaughter broke out at the beginning of September 1999.

In the early days of the September crisis, estimates of Timorese "unaccounted for" ranged from 200,000 to as high as 600,000. In October, José Ramos Horta spoke of the possible "disappearance" of 100,000 people in the territory. As the Indonesian armed forces prepared to depart, many thousands of Timorese subsequently returned from hiding to their shattered communities. But on November 3, the head of InterFET, Maj.-Gen. Peter Cosgrove, told media that "There is a discrepancy, we feel, of about 80,000 [people]. Are these in the hills or just unlocated? We are not sure. There could be more in West Timor than we've found, there could be more in the hills, or in the wider area of the Indonesia archipelago." But he also mentioned "speculation about a fourth fate." Cosgrove, it must be noted, was basing his estimate on a total Timorese population of 800,000 -- some 50,000 to 90,000 fewer than the U.N. estimates made at the time of the voter-registration drive. On November 5, The Sydney Morning Herald reported: "Different U.N. officials calculate that the human cost of Indonesia's bloody withdrawal could be close to 200,000." As the East Timor Observatory (a Portuguese body created to monitor the transition process) noted grimly, "Whatever figures are used, the difference is in the region of tens of thousands, probably many tens of thousands. It would be illogical to dismiss the possibility of genocide before finding out what has really happened to all the 'disappeared.'"

The last mention of the missing that Gendercide Watch has unearthed in the international press was on January 29, 2000 (Marian Wilkinson, "Justice Must Be Done," The Melbourne Age). The article stated: "Tens of thousands of Timorese are still unaccounted for since September. While these figures are now thought [sic: claimed] to be the result of statistical errors, even InterFET's General Cosgrove says the numbers still trouble him." Since that time, the issue -- barely visible for two months prior to Wilkinson's article -- has entirely evaporated from media coverage. The conundrum, however, remains unsolved, and the so-called "statistical errors" that may have led to a miscount have never been explained.

If tens of thousands of Timorese are indeed "missing," where might they have gone? One possibility is that large numbers were forcibly dispersed to distant corners of the Indonesian archipelago. Some may simply not have been listed as "accounted for" within East Timor itself. But Dr. William Maley of the Australian Defence Force Academy has been quoted as saying that "a lot" of the missing could have been murdered. He cites the obviously extensive planning that underlay the terror campaign of September as "one reason I think it would have been possible to kill a lot of people in a short period of time. It wasn't just a ragged-edge exercise with a few people running amok because they were disappointed with the result. ... At the early stages of a genocide investigation one does not start with body one and then go on to count a pile of bodies. It's in terms of population estimates and population deficits. If you have a population of, say, 880,000 and then you count everyone and there are only 700,000, that doesn't mean you can explain at this stage what happened to every individual. But it is very strong evidence that something very nasty has happened. People don't disappear into thin air if they are alive." (Quoted in Brendan Nicholson, "Grim View on Timor's Missing 80,000", The Age [Melbourne], November 12, 1999.)

A snapshot of the quandary was provided by Sydney Morning Herald reporter Lindsay Murdoch in April 2000. Writing from the district of Liquica, 40 kilometres west of Dili, Murdoch noted that "almost every day people trail into the Liquica police station to tell the United Nations police stationed there about new grave sites." According to a U.S. police officer assigned to the force, Alan Williams, "Officially we must stay with the number of bodies that we have actually lifted, but the total number of people killed in this district is much, much higher than that, perhaps even astronomical." (Murdoch, "Horror Lives on for Town of Liquica", The Sydney Morning Herald, April 8, 2000.)

With most of the physical and forensic evidence of atrocities washed away by monsoon rains, the only feasible way of determining the scale of the killings in East Timor is by conducting a fullscale census of the Timorese population. Such a survey "is necessary and urgent," the East Timor Observatory proclaimed in November 1999. This would take no more effort than the efficient voter-registration drive carried out immediately prior to the plebiscite, which permitted an accurate estimate to be made of the overall Timorese population.

Who was responsible?

The major share of responsibility for the genocide in East Timor since 1975 rests with the Indonesian military, which has long been the dominant force in national politics and, over the long years of occupation, amassed a wide range of lucrative economic interests in East Timor. The Commander of the Armed Forces and Defence Minister, General Wiranto, oversaw the atrocities of 1999 conducted under the aegis of Operasi Sapu Jagad ("Operation Global Clean-Sweep"). As well, "senior generals playing active roles included Lieutenant-General Tyasno Sudarso, head of military intelligence, his predecessor Lieutenant-General Zacky Anwar Makarim, and Major-General Adam Damiri, commander of the Udayana military command which includes East Timor. This group was strongly supported by influential retired Generals Tri Sutrisno and Benny Burdani, the latter having been intimately involved in East Timor operations ever since 1974. Despite his exile, sacked Lieutenant [sic: Major]-General Prabowo [former commander of the Kopassus special-forces unit, and son-in-law of deposed President Suharto] gave advice at every stage of the campaign. Lieutenant-General Yunus Yosfiah, Information Minister in the Habibie cabinet, also played an active role ... Crucial local military commanders were Lieutenant Colonels Asep Kuswanto in Liquica, Burhanudin Siagan in Bobonaro, Muhammed Nur in Emera, and Colonel Mudjino, Dili deputy commander." (Taylor, East Timor: The Price of Freedom, pp. xix-xx.)

On August 18, 2000, the People's Consultative Assembly in Jakarta issued a blanket amnesty for all human-rights abuses committed by the armed forces, in Indonesia as well as in East Timor. "Top serving and retired officers ... put enormous pressure on politicians to pass the decree banning retroactive prosecution of human rights cases ... The ban effectively rules out charges against senior officers, because Indonesia's criminal code does not recognise culpability by those in command. Only those who carried out orders could be charged and prosecuted." (See Lindsay Murdoch, "Blanket Amnesty for Officers: They Were Only Issuing Orders", The Sydney Morning Herald, August 19, 2000.) The United Nations responded by appointing a senior prosecutor, Mohamed Ottman, to investigate atrocities over the entire period of the Indonesian occupation of East Timor. There were hopes that the investigation would lead to the creation of a fully-fledged war-crimes tribunal under U.N. sponsorship. (See Mark Dodd, "War Crimes Lawyer to Study 1975 Invasion", The Sydney Morning Herald, August 26, 2000.)

The killings, property destruction, and forced translocations of September 1999 were carried out at ground level by Indonesian army and police forces in coordination with the Timorese militias described earlier. At all levels, those who commanded and conducted the killing were men; Timorese males, mostly youths, were recruited for militia service with promises of good pay and other "benefits" (including a free rein when it came to raping and sexually abusing Timorese women). A number were also former detainees who had been released from brutal treatment in Indonesian custody after pledging to collaborate with the occupying forces.

The aftermath

Tens of thousands of people rally in Australia to protest the Indonesian rampage in East Timor.Massive public demonstrations in Australia, North America, and Western Europe against the atrocities in East Timor, along with the recent precedent of intervention in Kosovo, finally pushed the West to intervene. Pressure, especially from the United States, forced the Habibie government to accept an international force, InterFET, composed mainly of Australian and Nepalese Gurkha troops. The forces began deploying in Dili on September 20, 1999, and a week later Indonesian forces finally ceded control to the international contingent, though troops would remain in the territory until the end of October. On September 28, the United Nations voted to establish an international inquiry into the atrocities in the territory, though it was still unclear at the time of writing whether this would be followed by an international criminal tribunal along the lines of Bosnia and Rwanda.

The Indonesian killing campaign was accompanied by property destruction on an almost inconceivable scale, apparently aimed at "the virtual demolition of the physical basis for survival in the territory," according to Noam Chomsky. ("East Timor Is Not Yesterday's Story", ZNet, October 23, 1999.) In a lengthy feature article published in The New York Times in April 2000, Seth Mydans described the state of the territory in the post-plebiscite period:

DILI, East Timor -- People here have gotten used to the scene: a mob of unemployed young men shoving, shouting and weeping in anger outside the headquarters of the United Nations, held back by an impassive multinational police contingent. "Nothing has changed!" they shouted the other day, and their complaint has become a theme for critics -- both foreign and Timorese -- as the United Nations passes the six-month mark in its first experiment in building a new nation. As monsoon rains bring added misery, whole towns and villages still stand burned, roofless and silent, devastated by the rampage of destruction that followed East Timor's vote last August to end 24 years of Indonesian occupation. As many as 80 percent of the territory's 700,000 people still have no jobs. Another 100,000 or more remain in camps across the border in Indonesian West Timor, still afraid to return. ... Aid workers and diplomats say they fear that this discontent could lead to lawlessness and political disarray and could open the door to trouble from the Indonesian-backed militias that crossed the border to Indonesian West Timor after laying waste to the territory last September. (Mydans, "Ruined East Timor Awaits A Miracle," The New York Times, April 22, 2000. For a more optimistic assessment of the prospects an independent East Timor will face, see Lindsay Murdoch, "Peace Stirs a New Nation to Work towards a Prosperous Future", The Sydney Morning Herald, August 26, 2000.)

Indeed, at the time of writing (August 2000), renewed militia violence was reported in the regions along the West Timorese border, and was feared to be rapidly spreading east towards Dili. There were indications that the militias were seeking to destabilize East Timor ahead of the country's formal attainment of independence in 2001.

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Gendercide and Genocide


Gendercide and Genocide

Edited by Adam Jones

The most wide-ranging book ever published on gender-selective mass killing, or "gendercide," this collection of essays is also the first to explore systematically the targeting of non- combatant "battle-age" males in various wartime and peacetime contexts.

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Genocide, War Crimes & the West

Genocide, War Crimes and the West

Edited by Adam Jones

"This exceptionally well selected, brilliantly edited collection provides the most comprehensive treatment of Western responsibility for mass atrocity yet published. The cumulative impact of the volume is a devastating indictment of state terrorism as practised by the West, both historically, and now after September 11 in the name of 'anti-terrorism.'" - Richard Falk, Professor Emeritus, Princeton University

Link to ordering information and a full table of contents.

Researched and written by Adam Jones.
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