East Timor letter to ed


Jan Slakov

Dear RN list,             Sept. 27

I feel it is important that we always reach out and make the links between
our various communities and so... I wrote a draft letter to the editor on
the East Timor issue and the imperative for us to say: NEVER AGAIN.

I sent the draft to a mainly Canadian peace list I moderate and got some
useful feedback, mainly from Janet Eaton and Eric Fawcett, whose suggestions
are incorporated below. 

The letter is too long for most papers but can easily be shortened. (Feel
free to use it as a base for writing your own letter.)

One of the people who replied to the draft, an activist with Canada's Voice
of Women peace group wrote movingly of her own feelings; I share them with
you just below:

Subject: Re: letter re: East Timor
Date: Sun, 26 Sep 1999 12:18:14 -0400

Dear Jan, 
thank you for writing this letter. I am heartsick about East Timor,
especially since I met three wonderful E. Timorese over the summer--young,
bright, educated men one of whom was a candidate in the elections-- and
exactly the people targeted to "disappear". I need to get beyond the pain
to some action, what exactly I don't know, but I can't cope with even
reading the news at the moment. 

Dear Editor,

Finally, after 24 years of genocide in East Timor, with the acquiescence of
the Canadian government, the massacres there are front page news. At least
one thousand people have been killed since East Timor voted for independence
under UN auspices in August. Political and religious leaders seem to be most
targetted. An example:  A nun, Canossian Sr Margarida, who has been
described as: " … about 80 years old, walks slowly, yet has an incredible
degree of energy.  She spends most of the day playing with young children,
in the garden of Bishop Belo - ... totally uninvolved in politics, devoted
to helping children and to prayer". Killed.

Probably most Canadians read this and feel some despair, that there is
nothing we could do to stop the murders. They may also feel some
gratefulness that such things are not happening here, where we live.

I look back over our record as a nation, and feel deep shame.  Let us
resolve that these deaths not be in vain. Let us truly say, NEVER AGAIN.

Canada always abstained or voted against UN resolutions recognizing East
Timor independence and right to humanitarian aid, Canada continued to sell
arms to Indonesia, even though we knew the Indonesian government had starved
or killed one third of East Timor's population after it invaded East Timor
in 1975. Canada wined and dined Indonesia's President Suharto (whose
government was repsonsible for the genocide) at the Vancouver APEC summit,
and kept him and other leaders of repressive regimes protected from having
to even see the protesters who were exercising their democratic right to try
to make the truth known to a too complacent society. Some of the protesters
were arrested (having committed no crime), some were pepper-sprayed, many
have paid a stiff price, continuing to try to hold our deceitful federal
government to account for its actions. 

Canada and the US acted this way because, as one Western diplomat stated
early this September, "The dilemma is that Indonesia matters and East Timor
doesn't." In other words, there is money to be made in sucking up to the
brutal Indonesian regime, but none to be made supporting the basic human
rights of the people of East Timor (or Iraq, etc., etc.)

Our official stance is all the more disgusting when juxtaposed with how we
reacted to the situation in Kosovo. As Nobel Prize winner José Ramos-Horta
stated in April,  "but I am really amazed, appalled at the statement issued
by the Canadian Foreign Minister, who took a strong stand on Kosovo,
[while ] in the case of East Timor, where a genocide has been going on
for 23 years,  the foreign minister has only the following to say: "I
am deeply concerned about recent events in Dili and in Liquica."
............. Doesn't he have any shame to pretend to be so vocal on
Kosovo and to make this disgraceful statement on East Timor when
children, women are slaughtered in a churchyard, in the capital, right
under the nose, the eyes of everyone. What an audacity, what an
hypocrisy.           -- José Ramos-Horta 

What does it mean to say: NEVER AGAIN? It means, since the mass media does
not tell us about what we could be doing to help bring peace and justice to
this world, we must find alternate sources of information. We must support
the activists who produce and distribute this information for they are part
of an essential global society which must now emerge and we must use the
information to make our governments act to end their complicity with
killing. If this means that we will no longer be able to buy things like
Nike running shoes (made in Indonesia, or some other place where the workers
are horribly exploited and environmental concerns disregarded) then so be it!

It means, opening our eyes and opening our hearts to imagine how it feels to
be a victim of slaughter. It means taking the time to learn about the
consequences of our foreign affairs and trade policies. It means questioning
global economic priorities which ride rough shod over 50 years of UN
policies set in motion to protect humanity and the environment. It means
taking action on the basis of what is right even if we seem, in the short
term, to be swimming against the tide.

Jan Slakov, Box 35, Weymouth, NS Canada B0W 3T0