On a point of information, will a Minister be present for the debate?
East Timor: Motion.
It is not the responsibility of the Chair to invite Ministers to come before the House. Is Senator Dardis in possession of any knowledge relating to this matter?
No. However, the Leader indicated that a Minister might not be present for the debate.
That is fine.
Under the circumstances, I propose that we proceed with the debate. I call Senator Norris and I compliment him on his attire.
My attire is out of deference to the House.
I thank the Senator on behalf of the House.
That Seanad Éireann, in the light of the partial and temporary troop withdrawal from East Timor by the Indonesian regime which has now been replaced by the heaviest troop saturation for five years (21,000 troops having been introduced which amounts to one soldier per 40 members of the indigenous population), calls for the immediate introduction of UN observers on the ground in the island of East Timor and calls for the release of the political leader of the East Timorese people, Xanana Gusmao so that he can participate in talks leading to a peaceful resolution of the conflict.
I am grateful to the Leader and to Members for allowing this motion to come before the House today. I tabled it in light of the fact that tragedy has again struck East Timor, on this occasion in the town of Alas where a number of people were recently murdered by Indonesian troops. The exact number is in dispute but even pro-Indonesian East Timorese confirm that at least 44 people were killed. Others estimate that up to 60 may have been killed but the Indonesians deny that anyone has died. I recommend that Members, if they have not done so, should read the good and detailed report on this matter in The Irish Times.
This tragedy was inevitable and predictable. Those of us who have supported East Timor — virtually every Member of the House — informed by the East Timor-Ireland Solidarity Campaign, have been aware for some time that the alleged Indonesian troop withdrawal was a sham. While the Indonesian Government under Mr. Habibie, the incoming president, was receiving the plaudits of the international community for having withdrawn troops, those troops were returning to East Timor in far greater numbers than heretofore.
I have in my possession an analysis of classified military documents which incontrovertibly show that the number of military personnel on East Timor has increased. The information analysed originated from documents belonging to ABRI, the Indonesian armed forces. In referring to those documents the analysis states:
They prove that ABRI regard East Timor as a place where they must maintain a pervasive and deep-rooted military presence to deal with people living in the towns, the countryside and in the bush, the vast majority of whom are totally opposed to the occupation. The documents also prove conclusively that — contrary to claims by the military and civilian authorities that the number of troops in East Timor has been reduced this year, the number has actually increased — contrary to claims that combat troops in East Timor have been greatly reduced and are being phased out altogether, combat troops have increased in number and amount to nearly 40 per cent of the total number of troops in the territory — the civil defence, Hansip or Pertahanan Sipil units which are clearly a key element in the control of East Timorese society, is barely mentioned in the documents; they are not part of ABRI but fall under the Department of Home Affairs, the most militarised department. ABRI provides the training, usually retired officers, and also supplies Hansip units with their weaponry. Hansip is the recruiting ground for Timorese members of ABRI — that the paramilitary forces in East Timor are under the direct command of ABRI and are not an independent force of vigilantes outside the command structure as is usually claimed, and finally — that army personnel occupy all the key posts within the civilian administration, giving them control over the political, economic and social life of the occupied country.. The tables show that in August this year, the number of troops in East Timor amounted to 17,941 if only regular soldiers are included. The figure rises to 21,620 if we include the armed and trained military personnel from the ranks of civil servants and the so-called wanra or "people's resistance" units. Since the beginning of Suharto's New Order, the Indonesian state has been heavily militarised. However, the figures show that militarisation of East Timor far exceeds Indonesia as a whole. In 1995, ABRI consisted for 507,137 men for a population of around 200 million, roughly 2,500 troops for one million inhabitants. The ratio in East Timor is nearly 18,000 regular soldiers for less than a million people or even higher as a ratio of the East Timorese people who currently amount to probably no more than 700,000. Put another way, whereas in Indonesia as a whole, there was roughly one member of the armed forces for 400 Indonesians, in East Timor, the ratio is seven times as high — one member for every 56 inhabitants of East Timor.
I have further documentation in my possession but it would be better if I did not spend my time placing the information they contain on the record. However, I am prepared to make them available to the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and to interested Members.
It is apparent that the Indonesians used their camouflage operation, which involved the transmission of images that apparently showed the withdrawal of troops, to again saturate East Timor with military personnel. The resultant tragedy in the town of Alas was inevitable.
I understand the motion will be passed unanimously by the House. I suggest that it be despatched to certain locations with an accompanying letter, which should draw attention to this tragedy and also to the fact that this is an immediate and urgent response — a fact which is highly unusual and for which I am grateful — given in the context of the Seanad's knowledge and understanding of the situation in East Timor. It is valuable to signal to the Indonesian authorities that we are observing events. I do not believe we should place ourselves in the same situation as the Skibbereen Eagle and appear slightly ludicrous.
The East Timor-Ireland Solidarity Campaign is an extraordinary organisation and it enables us to become aware, almost instantaneously, of events taking place on the tragic island of East Timor. Mr. Tom Hyland from that organisation and one of the Timorese guests in Ireland, José, are present in the House and this debate holds special importance for them. As Members are aware, Mr. Hyland has been active in this area for many years. East Timor is José's homeland, he has witnessed the devastation visited on his family and his people and, at a remote distance, he is now obliged to witness similar tragedies befalling others.
As already stated, I suggest that the text of the motion, an accompanying letter indicating the circumstances in which this highly unusual step was taken by Seanad Éireann, the Upper House of the Irish Parliament, and a copy of the debate be sent not only to the Indonesian Embassy in London, where it will probably be immediately thrown in the bin, but also to Jakarta, the United Nations and Mrs. Mary Robinson, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. Such action is appropriate because we are seeking the introduction of UN observers to East Timor which is vital in ensuring the protection of the indigenous people.
The town of Alas has been secured, cordoned off and no one is allowed to enter or leave. The people there are terrified and the only individuals who have been given permission to enter or leave are Roman Catholic priests. I honour these men and Bishop Belo for their continuing struggles in East Timor.
The motion before us also seeks the release of Xanana Gusmao, the leader of the Timorese people, who has played the same role as that played by Nelson Mandela in South Africa, so that he can participate in realistic talks leading to a peaceful resolution of the conflict. We all bear in mind the sufferings not just of the Timorese people but also of the Indonesians in the current turmoil brought about by the despotism and crookery of former President Suharto. I am grateful to the House for allowing us this opportunity to pass this resolution unanimously, as I hope will happen.
I join with Senator Norris in condemning the events in East Timor. I am glad this is an all-party motion, which is unusual. The situation in East Timor has deteriorated dramatically in the past week. I am glad that what is happening there is being brought to the attention of Irish people by Conor O'Clery in The Irish Times, and by the work of Tom Hyland and the East Timor-Ireland Solidarity Campaign and Senator Norris.
The people of East Timor have been let down by the world, the media and its appalling Government. It seems that, rather than the situation improving since Habibie took over from Suharto, it has deteriorated. Many people thought the East Timorese would at least get some form of human rights back and that they would be able to live in relative peace.
We do not need to go into what effect this motion will have as it does not make a difference whether it has an effect in Indonesia. It has be brought to the attention of the United Nations, the Commissioner for Human Rights, the Irish governmental agencies, the Department and Minister of Foreign Affairs, the foreign affairs committees and the subcommittee on human rights. It is a unanimous motion and the fact that it has been discussed here should be brought to everyone's attention.
Conor O'Clery is sending back disturbing and accurate reports. This is important as a further example of what might be done to bring the East Timorese to the fore of people's minds. I am glad The Irish Times is doing that because to my knowledge no other bunch of the media has gone to East Timor to bring back details in a concerted way.
East Timor was discussed at the Fianna Fáil Árd Fheis on Saturday and a motion was passed unanimously. The young people who supported that motion are well aware of what is going on out there. I was delighted that motion was passed as it shows a maturity entering the debate on foreign affairs and a recognition that Ireland does not exist in a cocoon and that we have certain human rights which others do not have. We must ensure that governments far removed from here apply decent standards. In areas such as East Timor, where so many have died, we should acknowledge that and fight for their human rights as if they were our own. The world is now an extended family because of instant communication. It is no longer fitting that regimes such as that in Indonesia should be supported by the Australians. They are imposing a continuum of problems on the East Timorese.
The introduction of independent observers under the aegis of the United Nations would highlight what is going on. They would have to be even handed and give an exact account to the United Nations, which unfortunately today is not the organisation it was meant to be as it is controlled by the United States and Britain who think they can undertake measures bilaterally, even against the wishes of the United Nations Security Council. We have to be careful if we send in observers that they are impartial and will send back proper reports which cannot be appropriated by Britain or the United States for their own uses.
If Gusmao is released and he can participate in talks leading to a peaceful resolution of the conflict, the Indonesians will be giving a signal they are willing to do something. We must acknowledge that he is the man who can give hope to the Timorese. That part of the motion is extremely important. We send our sympathy to the people of East Timor. We have passed motions similar to this about other places — we hope someone will listen to this one and give some solace to the people in East Timor who have suffered for so long.
I am glad of the opportunity to contribute to this debate at what is a sadly opportune time. We are here again discussing the problem of East Timor, a subject which has been vented in this House a great deal since it was first brought to our notice after the massacre in Dili in 1991. We are returning to the issue following the further massacre of possibly 60 people or more — as Senator Norris said, the figures are not clear — in a small remote town in the south of the territory called Alas.
The West must be more insistent that the Indonesians honour the United Nations Security Council Resolutions 384 of 22 December 1975 and 389 of 22 April 1976 which call upon all states to respect the territorial integrity of East Timor as well as the inalienable right of its people to self-determination. That is a resolution of the United Nations of which we are a member and the resolution demands action by the states party to it. That should mean exactly what it says when it calls on the world to recognise the inalienable right of its people to self-determination.
An independence movement in East Timor is nothing new — it goes back to 1912 when they first sought their independence from the Portuguese. The Portuguese left precipitously in 1975 which allowed the Indonesians to invade. Ironically, the day before the Indonesian invasion, Mr. Henry Kissinger, the then United States Secretary of State, left Jakarta after what was described as a very successful visit to the then very favoured client Government — the Suharto regime — in Jakarta.
Senator Norris read from a document which makes frightening reading. Indonesia is one of the most militarised countries in the world. It has a large population of approximately 200 million people. It holds a standing army of in excess of 500,000 men. That is approximately one troop for every 2,500 people. That is an extraordinary level of militarisation in peacetime in any country. There are in the order of 800,000 people in the territory of East Timor, approximately 18,000 troops and between 3,000 and 4,000 military personnel who are there to infiltrate the administration on the island. This means there are approximately 22,000 military personnel in the territory of East Timor. This is an extraordinarily high ratio of military personnel to population.
It is often forgotten that the tragedy of East Timor in terms of its invasion and annexation by Indonesia in 1975 and 1976 is one of the greatest genocidal and human rights tragedies, proportionately speaking, of this century. In 1975 and in the two years that followed, more than one-quarter of the population of the territory — 200,000 people — died. They were either shot, murdered or starved to death in a famine. Proportionately speaking, that was one of the worst tragedies of the 20th century, and terrible things occurred in this century.
I support the call for the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Andrews, to take up this matter immediately with the Indonesian Government. We have every right to do so as a supporter and signatory to two United Nations resolutions. We should immediately inform the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson. We should also take the case to the European Union. Member states of the European Union are the major arms suppliers to the Jakarta regime.
We must insist that the arms trade conducted by countries like Britain, Germany and France, who sell the most modern military material and hardware to the Jakarta Government, must stop.
The Jakarta Government is one of the most unstable regimes in the world. Indonesia has its own tragedy in that it is inherently an unstable country made up of several ethnic groups with no history of democracy or participation by its people. The repression of Suharto kept the lid on the cauldron for 30 years but it is at least half off since he was thrown out of power and the people saw they could destroy someone as powerful as he by demonstrating on the streets. However, the violence on the streets of Jakarta last May when this was taking place was an ugly manifestation of the violence of the native Indonesian population against ethnic Indians and ethnic Chinese. Thousands of ethnic Chinese were murdered when law and order broke down in that country last May and we saw the removal from office of General Suharto and his replacement by his protégé, Mr. Habibie.
The issue tonight is about East Timor and the second massacre in a few years which has temporarily brought an end to the United Nations brokered talks between Portugal and Indonesia. Portugal is still recognised by the United Nations as the administering power in East Timor since it is a former colony. Since last Friday Portugal has suspended talks with the Indonesian Government on future autonomy for East Timor. A very serious situation has arisen and Ireland can play a part in resolving it. There is no resolution to this other than recognition by the international community, by action rather than empty words, of the right of self-determination by the people living in the territory of East Timor. I enthusiastically support the motion.
It is important that this House should once again express its solidarity and support for the people of East Timor in their continuing suffering. This suffering has gone on since December 1975. This is a significant occasion. It is usual to have statements on matters such as this, international matters, foreign affairs matters and domestic matters. What is less usual and noteworthy is that this is an agreed motion from all the groups represented in the House, that it has the support of all the parties in the House and that it is a substantive motion. In my experience this is only the second time this has occurred — the previous motion also related to East Timor, when we endorsed the resolution adopted in Portugal several years ago.
I welcome someone from East Timor to the House and to recognise the work done by Tom Hyland and the East Timor Ireland Solidarity Campaign over many years. They have been instrumental in ensuring this matter was kept to the forefront of public debate in Ireland. One might question why it is appropriate that a small country on one side of the world should be concerned about another small country many thousands of miles away on the far side of the world. This is not surprising because there are many parallels in the history of the two islands — ours going back much further than theirs. Nevertheless, freedom is cherished everywhere and it is the responsibility of this House to on all occasions proclaim the right of any people to their freedom. It is not enough for a people to be autonomous under some other rule. There has to be freedom and that freedom has to be by self-determination by the will of the people. There are parallels with our recent history with that principle. The Good-Friday Agreement adopted in Belfast states that the status of Northern Ireland can change through the expressed wish of the majority of the people there as expressed through the ballot box. It is the minimal right of the East Timorese people to ensure any arrangement, whatever that may be, should have their support and that they are entitled to have it implemented through the ballot box.
There is an urgency about this matter. I am pleased the Leader found time this evening to have it debated and dealt with by way of substantive motion. The history of East Timor and what has occurred since the invasion in December 1975 has been well catalogued in this House. There is no need for me to repeat this other than to say virtually one-third of the population of a single island on the far side of the Pacific was wiped out through tyranny and occupation. It can be compared with the Holocaust. More recently, in 1991 when students attended a funeral in the Santa Cruz cemetery in Dili, 300 people were mown down by occupying forces. In that context it is surprising the response has not been more vigorous and violent. The international community has a solemn responsibility to ensure the terms of UN resolutions and other resolutions passed in the intervening period are adopted.
I wish to read the reaction of the Timorese political parties to President Habibie's proposal for a type of political autonomy for East Timorese. At the time that was announced, hopes were expressed in this House that it would lead to a more secure future. However, one has to be sceptical now. It was hoped when there was a change of leadership in Indonesia from President
Suharto to President Habibie that things would improve. There may have been an illusion that would happen.
In that context it is important to read the statement of the leaders of the Timorese political parties on this matter. It is noteworthy that those who signed this statement issued on 11 August 1998 includes leaders of political parties who previously would have been supportive of Indonesian occupation. One of these is Apodeti, the Democratic Popular Association of Timor. The others are Timorese Democratic Union, Fretilin which has campaigned vigorously for autonomy over many years, the Traditionalist Monarchist Party and the Labour Party. Their statement reads:
1. We completely reject any discussion of East Timor being an autonomous province within Indonesia as proposed by Indonesia.
2. We demand Portugal send a committee of observers to East Timor to observe the situation on the spot before entering a dialogue and substantive discussion with Indonesia about the autonomy for East Timor proposed by Indonesia.
3. We wish to go ahead with dialogue under the proposal in our joint declaration by UDT, Fretilin, Apodeti, Kota and Trabalhista, dated 25 July 1998.
They completely rejected the programme proposed by the Indonesian Government for East Timor. They stated it is essential — and we agree with this, it is in the motion — that the President of the National Council of Timorese Resistance, Xanana Gusmao and all other East Timorese political prisoners be freed and that there is dialogue to find a solution to the problem of East Timor. This is proposed by the motion.
They also talk of the need for the presence of a UN High Commissioner with powers to participate in identifying and resolving problems. In this context, it would be appropriate for the resolution proposed by Senator Norris to be circulated to various international bodies such as the UN.
My final point regards the response of the European Union. The Troika should also be appraised of this motion. There was a three day visit by EU ambassadors in June 1998 and a report was prepared. According to the October 1998 edition of Timor Link, the report recognised the importance of bringing the East Timorese directly into the peace process, called for a ceasefire and called on the Indonesian Government to withdraw troops from East Timor. This evening we are confirming this position of the EU.
Like the other speakers, I am pleased to be party to this all-party motion which condemns the repressive regime in East Timor and calls for the introduction of human observers and the release of the political leader Xanana Gusmao and other political leaders so as to achieve a peaceful resolution of the conflict.
As Senator Dardis stated, this is a unique occasion. The last time a similar discussion took place was after the Good Friday Agreement where all parties came together with a common view on the issue. It is unusual to have no serious divisions in a parliament on a political issue, domestic or international. There is a total harmony of views of events in East Timor, the repression, the holocaust and the genocide by the Indonesian Government since it annexed East Timor in 1976 when Portugal withdrew. Given the number of people who have been killed and the regime of terror imposed, it is appropriate that we, a small nation which has suffered considerable repression from a colonial power over the centuries, would now identify with a small nation which is experiencing similar conflict and repression. In our case that is all in the past.
We should also identify with their aspiration to self-determination and do all we can in this regard. As a neutral country we have a reasonable amount of influence in the world. We should impress upon the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Andrews, the need to raise at international fora our concerns regarding events there at the earliest moment. There were recent reports of large numbers of Timorese being killed, students protesting, curfews in place and the terror continuing unabated. We must present the Minister for Foreign Affairs with this all party motion so that he can present it to the Council of Ministers of the European Union. He should make a strong case to them because much of the suffering in East Timor is a result of weapons produced by our neighbours in the European Union. The Labour Party is in government in Britain and, sad to say, its foreign policy seems to favour Indonesia in terms of selling weapons to that country. Germany and France, which are regarded as the principal countries underpinning the European Union, could be exporting terror to a small, almost defenceless people such as the East Timorese.
We should bring this motion to the attention of the UN High Commissioner, Mrs. Mary Robinson, and urge her to act on this issue. We can move from this small domestic area to the large international arena and put pressure on those who have a say in events, be it in terms of the arms trade, UN sanctions or European Union observers.
I compliment the work of the East Timor Ireland Solidarity Committee under Tom Hyland. He has impressed on all of us the importance of making East Timor a central issue in our international policy and our domestic concerns. It is difficult to achieve this with so many other issues coming to the attention of politicians.
In conclusion, I support the East Timorese approach to self-determination. They want a UN peacekeeper, dialogue between East Timor, Indonesia and Portugal, a withdrawal of Indonesian troops and the release of prisoners, particularly Xanana Gusmao. Of course it would be difficult to have dialogue without the principal political prisoners who are in jail being released to participate. They want the final decision to be made by referendum. All that is very democratic and we can all support those aspirations and practical steps towards their achievement.
I am delighted to be a signatory to this all party motion. I urge the Leader of the House to take this motion to the Minister for Foreign Affairs and impress upon him the need to take the steps we have suggested towards the effective use of this resolution. I hope it will play some small part in the resolution of the conflict in East Timor.
I, too, am glad to add my voice to those of the Senators who have already spoken on this matter. I have spoken on it before on a number of occasions as have the other Senators.
I suppose we must ask ourselves if what we are doing here tonight is any good and will it achieve anything — Ireland is a small nation and it is on the far side of the world from East Timor. I think it is and it will. If we are silent and we do nothing, we will condone what is happening and by our silence it will get worse. Even though we speak we may be ignored, but we must speak out always when we see injustice like this.
The motion mentions 21,000 troops or one for every 40 members of the population. If that was the situation in this country, you would see troops everywhere. Everywhere you looked you would see a soldier, an armed person, ready not to protect you but to gun you down. Speaking of Indonesia itself, a spokesman the week before last stated that if it has such a great and brave army, why do they not go and fight somebody instead of turning on their own population. That seems to be the way of the regime there and it is something into which we should not buy.
This is an all party motion but I want to give credit to Senator Norris because he is the man who keeps pushing this agenda irrespective of what everybody else says. We all support him and it is an all party motion but, in fact, it is he who keeps pushing this. I suppose he does it because he is pushed by that great man, Mr. Tom Hyland——
——who is so interested in the cause of East Timor.
What can we do? If we pass the motion, it is only one motion and one senate in one part of the world, but perhaps it will inspire another senate somewhere else, and another senate and a lower house, and so on until there are a number of parliaments involved. If enough people speak out, change may happen. If we were doing something like this here and we heard voices from the other side of the world condemning us, we would ignore the first, the second and the third condemnation but by the time we would get to the tenth or eleventh we would begin to get a little worried, particularly if there were sanctions involved.
I would love to see one nation speak out against these people, and that is the Australians. I have said this before here, but I believe this is about oil. It is about Indonesian and Australian interests taking the oil from the East Timorese people. I know we offend the Australians by saying this but I have no hesitation in doing it because I believe firmly they are not strong enough. They are manipulating the situation to a large degree.
Many Senators have spoken about the arms trade. I see the countries of the European Union, countries with whom Ireland will become more and more intimately involved, supplying weapons. The European Union will never really be a complete union until there is some kind of common foreign or security policy which does away, for example, with nuclear weapons and bans the sale of weapons of destruction to people who really do not need them.
There is no need for it. There are many other ways of making money, such as tourism. However, there are big interests involved. For example, I believe that the war in Kuwait used up all the weapons which were needed up until 1989 so the war gave them a chance to manufacture more weapons in America. We do not need that we really can get on without it. There may be a need for an army to defend us, but there is no need for the aggression and the supplying of arms in particular to people, who are mad men, who destroy small nations, who act in their own interests and rip these people off. That is what has been happening in East Timor for years.
What I would say to the Indonesian authorities is that maybe something can be worked out by negotiation. Maybe if they talk to these people instead of killing them and beating them to death, they could achieve what they want or reach a compromise of some sort. We never thought we would get peace in Ireland. We never thought there might be some chance of peace in Palestine or Israel, but there is if one talks. The leader of the people of whom you are most afraid is usually the man who can bring peace, as with Nelson Mandela in South Africa or Xanana Gusmao in East Timor. If this man was released and discussions took place, a peace could evolve which would, perhaps, please all concerned.
I do not want to delay the House on this matter on which I could speak for ages. I was at conferences on this subject many times. I have spoken about it before and I know as well as the rest of the Senators what goes on in East Timor.
The motion may not achieve a great deal but, as a senate, as the Upper House of the Irish Parliament, if we do nothing, say nothing and stay silent, we condone what is happening and we should never be a part of that.
This is the sort of thing which Seanad Éireann should do and do with the sort of unanimity which has been displayed here tonight. If East Timor raises any issue above all else, it raises the issue of morality. In particular, it raises the issue of the morality practised by what likes to call itself the free world, the world which claims to be based on democracy and the free consent of the governed, which, in fact, has over and over again shamed those principles for reasons which are never apparent to the rest of us and which are dressed up in the language of democracy, freedom and resistance to tyranny.
Let us not forget that East Timor was occupied by a country which in turn had a military coup which resulted in the slaughter of 500,000 of its own people, all in the name of anti-communism. No more than anybody else — apart from the occasional bit of fun we have here — am I a communist anymore than anybody else in the way in which that is said. However, as a Christian I would have profound reservations as to whether there is any evil in the world which could justify the slaughter of 500,000 people. Therefore, the idea that the slaughter which began in Indonesia and which has continued in East Timor would have been both sponsored and connived at by the powers which would claim to be the leaders of what is called western civilisation means of course that even though it is 10,000 or 12,000 miles away it is essentially our problem.
To a considerable extent, the institutions and the so-called value system to which we claim to subscribe is, in fact, corrupted and undermined in a fundamental way by its association with the oppression of the people of East Timor. The best friends of the Government which has oppressed the people of East Timor for over 20 years are governments which all claim to be democratic. The governments of Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom all have conspired to make East Timor invisible. For a considerable part of its history since occupation, East Timor was invisible. As Noam Chomsky and John Pilger stated, the biggest achievement of the Indonesian Government was to persuade the media of the western world that East Timor did not exist. The first time it was mentioned in this House — I do not know who mentioned it — the reaction of most Members of this House was where is East Timor? I do not say this as a criticism but as a fact.
All of us were adults when East Timor was invaded. We remember clearly things that happened before East Timor was invaded. We remember the overthrow of Salvador Allende in Chile and the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. Many of us remember the six day war. However, we do not remember the invasion of East Timor because it was not mentioned as it was a long way away and inconvenient to do so. I remember the immortal phrase of a senior journalist in RTÉ ten years ago when he was asked why RTÉ was not showing a documentary which had been made about East Timor. He said nobody in Ireland knew anything about East Timor, therefore nobody would be interested in it. That is wonderful media logic.
They know now.
The letter appeared in Hot Press because it was critical of the same individual. We are not talking about something done by an oppressive foreign power thousands of miles away but about something done with their connivance.
I am also glad Senator Lydon mentioned the European Union. I do not describe myself as a Europhile or Euro sceptic, but a critical Europhile. I was in Brussels recently where senior officials of the European Union explained to me that we had to establish a European armaments industry so that we could compete on the world market with the United States. That is an obscenity because more innocent people — children and non-participants in war — die each year as a result of the arms race than from the abuse of drugs. Yet we have a world war on drugs and a world war to sell arms. Unfortunately, the first new major political entity of this century, the European Union, which was democratically conceived with the will of its people, wants to become another arms exporter.
Arms exports always go to places which should not be allowed to buy arms. If such countries want to buy arms, we should not sell to them because they would not want to buy them if they were democratically governed or did not have designs on their neighbour or a restless internal population. No democratic government would want to buy arms on the scale on which the Saudi Arabian Government, the Indonesian Government, the Sudanese Government or a dozen other governments want to buy them. They want them because they need them either to oppress other people or to oppress their own people. By definition, the arms industry is immoral.
The armaments industry and arms exports have corrupted politics not just directly in terms of backhanders, but indirectly in terms of corrupting values. In particular, they have corrupted the politicians of the Left who go into government with pretences of a higher standard of international morality but who are ultimately corrupted by what they call the pragmatic necessity to protect the arms industry. That is an obscenity. What has happened in East Timor for the past 20 to 25 years is as good an illustration of that obscenity as we have had.
I am glad we will pass this motion and that we will send it to the Indonesian Ambassador in London. I am also glad the Minister for Foreign Affairs, who told us recently that he will visit Xanana Gusmao in prison in Indonesia, will have the strength of this motion to support him and to make it clear that we, as one House of the Oireachtas, believe that freedom from oppression is indivisible and that it is always wrong, regardless of whether we like the oppressor or they are politically correct.
I thank Members for taking part in this well informed and balanced debate. Each Senator brought individual characteristics to their contribution. It is significant that we should not only blame the Indonesians but that we should accept part of the blame ourselves in Europe. I agree wholeheartedly with Senator Ryan on this.
This is a matter of shame and reproach, particularly to the British Labour Party. I am considering my stance as regards the visit by Mr. Blair. We have heard Mr. Robin Cook, the British Foreign Minister, talk about an ethical foreign policy, yet it continues to sell Hawk jets in the full knowledge that this type of machinery is being used against an innocent civilian population in East Timor. This highlights the moral evasiveness even of well intentioned people from the Left in confronting these circumstances.
There are also the Australians who, for naked financial advantage because of the illegal Timor Gap Treaty, are unwilling to enter into the complete condemnation which is required of Indonesia. However, truth has a way of coming out. Senator Ryan referred to Mr. John Pilger, a journalist and television reporter in whose debt we all stand, and others who indicated that the greatest achievement of the Indonesians was to persuade the world that East Timor did not exist. However, they failed because we know now.
I remember with great pride that in the airport at Denpasar, when we were illegally taken from an aircraft by the Indonesian authorities, I had with me a poem handwritten by Bono and given to me by Mr. Tom Hyland in which he made this point. I cannot remember it all off the top of my head, but he said things such as "there is no silence deep enough", "there is no darkness black enough", and "there are no politicians crooked enough"— I am sure he did not mean us — to ensure we will not know of what is happening in East Timor or that we will not hear the cry of the oppressed people. Tonight we have heard that cry and we have responded to it effectively and with dignity.
In a moving speech Senator Lydon asked if we, as an Upper House in a small country, could be of any use. He answered that question affirmatively. If anything shows us that this can be effective, it is the example of Mr. Tom Hyland and his neighbours in Ballyfermot. I was one of those who, the first time I heard about East Timor — it was Mary Robinson who asked me to add my name to a resolution — did not know where it was. I suspected it was somewhere in the sea near Australia and I knew vaguely that terrible things were happening there. I associated it with another territory misruled by the Indonesians, Irian Jaya. However, I would have been hard put to go any further than that.
I accept the point made by Senator Ryan and others that we did not know much about East Timor, but we do now. That means there is no excuse for the French arms industry selling Alouette helicopters to it. The excuse Alain Juppé produced that the European Union was not a human rights association is no longer true — it was undoubtedly true at that point. However, there is a human rights protocol since the Amsterdam Treaty was passed. There is also a human rights desk in Iveagh House as a result of the implementation of the White Paper and part of its duty is to monitor such issues. With our tragic history as a people from which we have so victoriously raised ourselves, we have placed ourselves in a position where we can, and I believe, will be listened to.
I am grateful to you, a Chathaoirligh, the Leader of the House and all my colleagues for passing this resolution and for providing an opportunity without much advance notice to sympathetically respond to the continuing tragedy of East Timor. I am sure you, a Chathaoirligh, and the Leader of the House will ensure that the targets in Jakarta, London and the United Nations and Mrs. Robinson, whom I know is sympathetic, get this resolution. Mrs. Robinson was the first person to raise this issue in the House when virtually none of the rest of us was aware of what was going on in East Timor.