The world's betrayal of East Timor

Indonesia's unprovoked and unjustified invasion of East Timor in 1975 and the world's subsequent 25 years of tolerance of Indonesia's cruel and genocidal rule of East Timor was a crime against humanity.

Amnesty International estimates that 210 000 people died as a result of the Indonesian occupation. In 2002 the total population of East Timor was 779 000, so it seems that the Indonesian treatment of the East Timorese was on a par for bloodthirstiness with the Killing Fields of Cambodia and the Rwanda bloodbath of 1994. The World, including a rich near neighbour (Australia, my country), stood by and did nothing.

This page was started 2020/11/30, last edited 2021/07/05
Contact: David K. Clarke – ©

A market at Baukau, East Timor, before the Indonesian invasion
Baukau market, East Timor
I visited East Timor in about 1973. This photo was from that visit.
When I visited East Timor in about 1973 it was a Portuguese protectorate or colony. There was a revolution in Portugal in 1974 and the subsequent Portuguese government virtually threw the country's overseas colonies (Angola, Mozambique and East Timor) onto their own resources. This could be called the first betrayal.

Not surprisingly there was a struggle for power within each of the ex-colonies. The detailed history of this period of East Timor's history can be read elsewhere, (see Wikipedia for example), however, I believe a fair and very short summary is as follows:

  • Fretilin, an organisation with leftist tendencies, reached dominance within East Timor;
  • At the time there was great fear of communism among Western nations, none of them wanted a new country with perceived communist tendencies in the southeast Asian region;
  • There seems to have been a behind the scenes flurry of conversations between particularly the USA, Australia and Indonesia about the situation;
  • The result was that Indonesia was told that neither the USA nor Australia would stand in the way of Indonesia forcing East Timor's integration into the Indonesian nation (sometimes called the Javanese Empire – therein lies another story).

Of course Indonesia was the primary culprit in the East Timorese genocide. The Indonesian treatment of West Papua (Irian Jaya in Bahasa Indonesia) is possibly just as bloody and criminal as their treatment of East Timor. The West, and the rest of the world, hears very little about West Papua because the Indonesian government hides their crimes in that state to the best of their ability (and The West seems not to be very interested anyway).

I have written about Australia's specific (and repeated) involvement in the betrayal of East Timor's on another page on this site. East Timor, or Portuguese Timor as it was then, was one of Australia's closest neighbours. It is a matter deserving of national shame. However, Australia redeemed itself to some extent by sending troops to East Timor to restore order in 1999 following Indonesia's granting of self determination under President Habibie.

More information

Death of a Nation: The Timor Conspiracy; a movie exposing the world's shame over East Timor by John Pilger.

Indonesian invasion of East Timor; Wikipedia.

Indonesian occupation of East Timor; Wikipedia.

Australia and the Indonesian occupation of East Timor; Wikipedia.

1999 East Timorese crisis; Wikipedia.

Australia's shame over East Timor; Sydney Morning Herald.