A Not-So-Distant Horror
Mass Violence in East Timor
On August 30, 1999, in a United Nations-sponsored ballot, East Timor voted for independence from Indonesia and for an end to a brutal military occupation. Upon the announcement of the result, Indonesian troops and their paramilitary proxies launched a wave of terror that, over three weeks, resulted in the murder of more than 1,000 people, the rape of untold numbers of women and girls, the razing of 70 percent of the country's buildings and infrastructure, and the forcible deportation of 250,000 people. In recounting these horrible acts and the preceding events, Joseph Nevins shows that what took place was only the final scene in more than two decades of atrocities. More than 200,000 people, about a third of the population, lost their lives due to Indonesia's 1975 invasion and subsequent occupation, making the East Timorese case proportionately one of the worst episodes of genocide since World War II.
In A Not-So-Distant Horror, Nevins reveals the international complicity at the center of the East Timor tragedy. In his view, much if not all of the horror that plagued East Timor in 1999 and in the 24 preceding years could have been avoided had countries like Australia, Japan, the United Kingdom, and especially the United States, not provided Indonesia with valuable political, economic, and military assistance, as well as diplomatic cover. The author explores issues of accountability for East Timor's plight and probes the meaning of what took place in terms of international institutions and law. Examining issues such as violence, the geography of memory, and social power, Nevins makes clear that the case of East Timor has much to tell us about the contemporary world order.