Noam Chomsky: Remember the Santa Cruz massacre

American philosopher and linguist Noam Chomsky said justice was escaping human rights abuse victims, as he spoke of Indonesia’s dark period in East Timor (now Timor Leste) with the Santa Cruz Massacre 20 years ago, and the West’s complicity in that episode of violence.
Noam Chomsky: BloombergNoam Chomsky: Bloomberg

The prolific left-wing thinker gave his lecture on “Revolutionary Pacifism” in Sydney’s Town Hall recently as he received the Sydney Peace Prize awarded annually by the Sydney Peace Foundation.

“Another anniversary that should be in our minds today is of the massacre in the Santa Cruz graveyard in Dili just 20 years ago, the most publicized of a great many shocking atrocities during the Indonesian invasion and annexation of East Timor,” he said.

Twenty years ago on Nov. 12 in Dili, the military fired on civilians attending a memorial service of a resistance fighter, killing 270 people. Sixteen years earlier, with the backing of the US and Australia’s encouragement, Indonesia annexed East Timor.

Although the Indonesian government considers the chapter of its violent past in East Timor closed since it acknowledged a bilateral truth commission’s report that concluded — without naming individuals — that Indonesia committed gross human rights violations during East Timor’s 1999 break for Independence, Chomsky, citing the UN’s Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, considers it to be a continuing offense.

“The demands of justice can remain unfulfilled long after peace has been declared. The Santa Cruz massacre 20 years ago can serve as an illustration,” he said. “The fate of the disappeared is unknown, and the offenders have not been brought to justice, including those who continue to conceal the crimes of complicity and participation.”

Human rights organization Amnesty International recently urged the Indonesian government to reveal the details of the shooting in Santa Cruz.

Chomsky’s reminder of the impunity enjoyed by the perpetrators and those who were complicit in the violence carried out in East Timor was an illustration of his general theme of his lecture on “Revolutionary Pacifism”. He quoted American pacifist thinker and social activist A.J. Muste, who “disdained the search for peace without justice”. Chomsky quoted Muste’s warning 45 years ago: “The problem after a war is with the victor. He thinks he has just proved that war and violence pay. Who will teach him a lesson?”

In his lecture, Chomsky recalled Australia’s dismissive attitude on the invasion, quoting former Australian foreign minister Gareth Evans a couple of months before the Santa Cruz massacre as saying, “The world is a pretty unfair place … littered … with examples of acquisitions of force.” At the same time, Australia and Indonesia made a deal for East Timor’s oil.

The former foreign minister stood his ground that Australia had nothing to answer for morally in the annexation of East Timor by Indonesia. Chomsky said that this stance “can be adopted and even respected by those who emerge victorious”. He added, “In the US and Britain, the question is not even asked in polite society.”

Chomsky said that bringing the offenders and those who concealed and were complicit in the crime was the one indication of “how far we must go to rise to some respectable level of civilized behavior”.

The director of the Sydney Peace Foundation, Stuart Rees, as he introduced Chomsky to a standing ovation audience at Sydney Town Hall on Nov. 2, said that Chomsky was chosen for the peace prize as he had been committed to peace with global justice, to human rights and freedom of speech.

In the US, Chomsky has been criticized for his response on the assassination on Osama bin Laden. Chomsky reiterated his criticism on the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq after 9/11 and the killing of Bin Laden in his lecture in Sydney. Chomsky said that the killing of Bin Laden abandoned the “doctrine of ‘presumption of innocence’”.

Chomsky joined Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Arundhati Roy, Sir William Deane and former secretary-general of Amnesty International Irene Khan as recipients of the Sydney Peace Prize.

Some 2,000 people attended his lecture at the historical building of Sydney Town Hall. In his soft-spoken manner, he mentioned that the public had the power to question the victors of war. In the case of East Timor, he said that in 1999, the pressure from the Australian public and media convinced former US president Bill Clinton to tell the Indonesian generals “that the game was over, at which point they immediately withdrew allowing an Australian-led peacekeeping force to enter.”

Chomsky said that there was a lesson for the public in that episode, as Clinton could have delivered the orders earlier, which would have prevented the massacre.

The social thinker read his lecture sentence by sentence in a calm and monotonous tone. His manner of speech did not boast any exemplary oratorical skill; however, the content was clear and his message was direct; and included in that message was that the strategy carried out by the US in the war on terror was destabilizing and radicalizing the Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal.

A professor of linguistics at MIT, Chomsky has long been criticizing American foreign policy.

According to The Guardian, he joins Marx, Shakespeare and the Bible as one of the 10 most-quoted sources in humanities and the only one among the writers who is still alive. With the Sydney Peace Prize, Chomsky won a A$50,000 (US$51,030) prize.

Prodita Sabarini, The Jakarta Post, Sydney | People | Fri, December 02 2011

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