A Comparison with Kosovo

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  • by Anup Shah
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On this page:

  1. International Involvement -- or lack of?
  2. Crimes Against Humanity?
  3. Sovereignty or no Sovereignty?

International Involvement -- or lack of?

It would have been far less hypocritical to have said, early this year, that internal security in Kosovo "is the responsibility of the Government of Yugoslavia, and we don't want to take that responsibility away from them." Indonesia's crimes in East Timor have been vastly greater, even just this year, not to speak of their actions during the years of aggression and terror; Western-backed, we should never allow ourselves to forget.

Noam Chomsky, East Timor; Comments On the Occasion of the Forthcoming APEC Summit

In Kosovo, we saw US-led NATO bomb the rest of Yugoslavia on humanitarian grounds for the undeniable atrocities in Kosovo. The question of whether the NATO actions were justified at the level they were carried out is discussed in this web site's Kosovo section. However, it is interesting to note that Kosovo was -- and still is -- regarded by all NATO members as a region within Yugoslavia. East Timor, however, is not. It was an independent state and has been illegally invaded and occupied since 1975. In stark contrast to Kosovo, the official line from so many at the head of US policy was that this was an Indonesian affair and that we should let the Indonesians handle this -- another argument fortifying the point that the NATO involvement was not for humanitarian reasons.

More people had been killed in East Timor than Kosovo, yet the reaction against Jakarta by comparison had been quite benign -- even with support and backing from the world's leading powers, as the various links on this section will show. (I am not suggesting that Indonesia should have been bombed, as killing even more innocent civilians would do nothing to help East Timorese, but it does question whether the bombing of Serbian civilians and infrastructure could be justified.)

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Crimes Against Humanity?

Invading and killing more people -- proportionately to population -- since the holocaust in WWII has been met with support in the past from the US, UK, Australia and others. UK's Tony Blair was so passionate in the call for bombing Serbia, due to Milosevic's terrible actions, yet, where were those same emotions for the people of East Timor? Was there less due to the various economic interests at stake in Indonesia?

As soon as the Kosovo cease-fire was achieved, the US/UK sought to aggressively push forward on war crimes indictments for Milosevic and his cronies. However, where is the same aggressive push for the Indonesian military generals and rulers by the US and UK? A UN commission recommended an international human rights tribunal to conduct further investigations of the human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law in East Timor. However, Indonesia flatly rejected it, saying only its national laws are applicable in this matter. Has there been any aggressive pressure by the US and others, like there was in Yugoslavia? Nope, in fact the opposite; Richard Holbrooke suggests that the Indonesian government should be given the opportunity to handle the matter itself.

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Sovereignty or no Sovereignty?

So, suddenly, the picture is exactly the opposite. From total disdain and contempt for sovereignty, in the case of Serbia -- which by accident happens to be the only corner of Europe that's resisting U.S. plans for the region -- we move to a client state, one of the major mass murderers of the modern period, and in this case concern for sovereignty is so exalted that we have to delicately observe it, even when there's no sovereignty at all.

Noam Chomsky

Noam Chomsky makes the excellent observation about how the notion of sovereignty has affected the ability for nations to react -- after Kosovo, the US intellectuals and media all claimed how great it was that sovereignty (and international law) can be by-passed for humanitarian purposes but in East Timor (which has an additional distinction of having been an independent nation which has been brutally occupied), respect of Indonesian sovereignty has had to be maintained -- all in the space of a few months.

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  • by Anup Shah
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