Genocide: Conceptual and Historical Dimensions

By George J. Andreopoulos | Go to book overview

East Timor: A Case of Cultural Genocide?

James Dunn

The term genocide has been used on occasion in connection with the tragic consequences of Indonesia's seizure of East Timor, but seldom with the specific purpose of invoking the Genocide Convention.1 It has usually been employed as an emotive appeal for attention to the huge loss of life resulting from Indonesia's invasion and subsequent military operations, and not with any specific international humanitarian instrument in mind. The Convention is not one of the better known international instruments, and its application to this particular case has not been actively promoted. In this chapter I do not intend to address the legal definition of genocide -- a task best left to international lawyers -- but rather to attempt to identify and bring together the various strands of the Timor tragedy relevant to a discussion of how it might be applied to this case.

To do this, however, it has been necessary to work out an appropriate analytical framework. This approach is inevitably selective, and some important aspects of the Timor case will not be considered. At this point I ought to say something about my own credentials in relation to this matter. I first went to the Portuguese colony of East Timor in the early sixties, with only a cursory knowledge of the island and its people, Indonesia at that time being the centerpiece of my professional interest. It was, however, the beginning of a long association, which provided me with an opportunity to observe, sometimes in close quarters, the sequence of events from the last years of the colonial period up to the aftermath of the invasion.

The late fifties and early sixties were a time of changing perceptions in Canberra of Timor's importance to Australia, and during this period I worked first as an analyst of Southeast Asian affairs in the Defense

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