East Timor

Medical Responsibility and East Timor

MAPW policy adopted 12th September 1999

The National Council of the Medical Association for Prevention of War (Australia), meeting today in Melbourne, expresses its deepest concern and alarm over the ongoing tragedy of events in East Timor. We consider that Australia bears special responsibility for a humane and effective response to this emergency.

The Association, dedicated to the protection and promotion of health and prevention of war, has never before called for an armed intervention.

We now call for immediate, international armed intervention to stop the current atrocities and protect the population of East Timor. Such an intervention should include the provision of urgently needed medical care.

For a quarter of a century, Indonesian armed forces have systematically perpetrated gross abuses of human rights. Proportionately more people have died in East Timor than anywhere else since the holocaust of World War II.

To suggest that the oppressors in East Timor could transform themselves into trustworthy guardians of law and order, protecting the same population that they have violently abused, defies logic. To expect martial law to do anything other than worsen the situation is unforgivable. It has delivered the fate of countless thousands to those who are now carrying out the 'scorched earth' policy revealed in leaked Indonesian government documents.

The time to assess whether determined international action was needed ran out the day after the poll, if not during the systematic campaign of violence and intimidation before it.

Whatever one thinks about them, permission was not sought from the governments of Iraq or Yugoslavia for the multinational military interventions there. We understand that there are ample legal grounds for international intervention to deail with a humanitarian emergency, with or without the consent of the relevant government. And whether Indonesia has any legitimate jurisdiction over an area never recognised by the UN as being part of Indonesia and now in transition to independence is a very moot point.

The situation is analogous to Rwanda, where in 1994 an international peace-keeping intervention earlier in the crisis could have prevented the genocide and saved thousands of lives.

Other measures can be put in place swiftly - including cessation of military cooperation, training and exports of military equipment; generous provision for refugees from East Timor; and commitment to substantial assistance with reconstruction. But what is needed above all else - immediately, with or without Indonesian government consent - is substantial international intervention to protect the remaining people in East Timor."