Editorial – Timor-Leste

By Right Now

Right Now‘s March 2014 issue, dedicated to Timor-Leste.


Clinton Fernandes, Cutting the Gordian Knot – Solving the East Timor v Australia Dispute


Sharna Jade Bremner, Asylum Seekers: Fear and Uncertainty in Timor Leste

Sayomi Ariyawansa, Bugged: Espionage in East Timor

Tom Clarke, Timor’s Oil

Melissa Reid, Conscience Vote: the Human Rights Records of Indonesia’s Presidential Candidates

Interviews and Reviews

Maya Borom, The Love Story of East Timor’s Independence: Alex Meiller’s Alias Ruby Blade

We can measure our capacity to uphold human rights in the treatment of our neighbours. In an increasingly global world, our neighbour is no longer simply the person next door we approach for a cup of sugar, but also the person who lives in another corner of the earth, living out an entirely different culture and experience to our own. Yet for decades, Australia ignored – indeed, was complicit in – the plight of one of our closest neighbours in their struggle for freedom and independence: Timor Leste.

The question is, was Australia willfully blind to Timor Leste’s struggle against Indonesian occupation, brutality and torture, with our eyes affixed on our own political and economic gain? Tom Clarke writes that since the 1970s, oil has been an ever-present third player in Australia’s relationship with Timor Leste, with financial interests trumping concern over Indonesia’s bloody invasion of our close neighbour. In “Timor’s Oil” he writes that the establishment of permanent maritime borders would grant some closure in Timor Leste’s long and determined struggle for independence.

Maya Borom reviews Alias Ruby Blade, which gives a behind-the-scenes look at the major players of the resistance in the lead up to Timor Leste’s freedom from Indonesian rule. The documentary is as much a love story about two people – Kirsty Sword and Xanana Gusmao – as it is about their love for Timor Leste. It tells the story of how the Australian Sword (under the alias Ruby Blade) forever altered the history of a country and its people.

Sharna Jade Bremner writes that Timor Leste is no stranger to the “push factors” that spur refugees to leave their home countries. In 1999, when 80 per cent of East Timorese voters chose to reject Indonesian occupation, they were faced with “vicious beatings, shootings, machete attacks, decapitations, torture, sexual violence and mass killings, at the hands of pro-integration militias and the Indonesian military”. More than 250,000 East Timorese fled. Despite the fact that the Timorese people were once refugees themselves, the Timorese government has been condemned for its current treatment of asylum seekers. Bremner talks with Thomas, an asylum seeker she met in Dili, who told her that asylum seekers in Timor-Leste live in a state of constant fear and uncertainty.

Sayomi Ariyawansa explores the “legal black hole” of espionage, asking: “did Australia spy on East Timor to obtain a financial advantage in an essentially commercial negotiation with one of the poorest countries in the world? And if so – is that okay?” She writes “spying on the poorest country in Asia in peacetime for pure commercial gain goes too far” and “reinforces the spectre of Australia as a bully of the Asia-Pacific”.

In “Conscience Vote”, Melissa Reid takes a look at Indonesia’s candidates in the lead up to the presidential elections in July. Indonesia is required to vote in a new president, but which of the candidates has the cleanest human rights record.

Finally, in our feature article this month, Clinton Fernandes provides a comprehensive analysis of the East Timor v Australia dispute brought before the International Court of Justice. He calls for Australia to “cut the Gordian Knot”: “instead of wasting time, money and international goodwill on arm-twisting an impoverished neighbour (with a GDP of $6 billion in contrast to ours of $1,400 billion), we could simply agree to negotiate in good faith and in accordance with international law.”

“Let us keep what is rightfully ours,” he writes, “no less, no more; and let the East Timorese do the same”.

Perhaps it is time for the Australian government to treat our neighbours in the way we wish to be treated.