Human Rights and the Borders of Suffering: The Promotion of Human Rights in International Politics

By M. Anne Brown | Go to book overview

5
East Timor

EAST TIMOR WAS forcibly incorporated into Indonesia in 1975 and managed, through a confluence of circumstances that was at once remarkable and yet another example of a suppressed people snapping back like bent but unbroken twigs (to use Isaiah Berlin’s phrase), to become independent almost twenty-five years later. Now the territory, poised on the edge of statehood, is undergoing transition, but also flux and confusion. At the time of writing the United Nations Transitional Authority for East Timor (UNTAET) is effectively the Government of East Timor, with elections for a constituent assembly to determine a constitution expected in August 2001.

The following discussion looks in broad terms at the immediate background to Indonesia’s violent process of incorporation and the pattern of abuse that characterised it, and touches briefly some of the issues facing the new state. It does not focus on East Timor’s political struggles or the development of its contemporary political forms. As told here, the story of East Timor’s occupation underlines what in conceptual terms is a very simple point, if difficult to grasp in practice: that is, the significance of approaching questions of rights and abuse not only through convictions about what must be done, or the dealings of international diplomacy, but through attentiveness to and engagement with the social practices, circumstances and perceptions of the people directly involved in the situation. This is the work of listening to the parties and the people involved and creating conditions where they can be more clearly heard.

Directions taken in the period leading up to the invasion of East Timor were shaped within a preponderantly realist understanding of international possibilities. The polarisation of pragmatics and principle – a polarisation that shapes much study of international relations as well as much rights talk – was a distinct feature of this approach. To emphasise human rights promotion as grounded in exchange with the actual patterns of social practice involved casts a different light on the apparent self-evidence of that polarisation, as the story of East Timor suggests. Now the territory is administered by the liberal inter-

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Human Rights and the Borders of Suffering: The Promotion of Human Rights in International Politics
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Preface vii
  • I - The Question of Human Rights 1
  • 1 - Opening Up Conceptions of Rights 3
  • 2 - The Construction of Human Rights- Dominant Approaches 19
  • 3 - The Pursuit of Grounds 56
  • II - Case Studies 90
  • 4 - China – The Tiananmen Square Massacre of 1989 93
  • 5 - East Timor 128
  • 6 - The Status of Indigenous Australians 162
  • 7 - Conclusion 198
  • References 212
  • Index 221
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