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Home » , , , » Tragedy in Haiti

Tragedy in Haiti

Written By Voice Of Baptist Papua on September 12, 2011 | 5:32 AM

As a wide-eyed undergraduate at Brown University, I took the bus down to MIT, Boston where we saw Noam Chomsky (yes, the one and only Noam Chomsky!) hold a people’s trial. The year was 1996, about four years after the Dili Massacre of 1991. The Dili Massacre, in which 250 people attending a peaceful protest for the independence of East Timor had been massacred in a cemetery by the Indonesian army, had gained wide media attention. Brown University had an especially active student group, associated with the East Timor Action Network, that supported Timorese independence, bringing Timorese student activists and Portuguese diplomats to campus. I was part of this group.
What I remember about this event is that it was held in a small room with about a dozen or more students, giving full credence to the belief that “all it takes is a small number of committed citizens to change the world”. Chomsky was passionate and engaged and powerful in conducting the event. In this mock trail, he condemned the US for its support to the Indonesian military. Our aim, as a student group, was to pressurize the US government to cut its funding to the Indonesian military.

In 1997, the Leahy Amendment was passed under the leadership of Senator Leahy of Vermont. This prohibited US government from supporting training of foreign military units involved in human rights abuses. The US cut off support to Kopassus, Indonesia’s military unit focusing on counter-insurgency and intelligence and notorious for its human rights violations, in 1997. The US government, however, continued to sell arms to the Indonesian National Armed Forces, giving it tacit support. In 1999, President Clinton finally cut off all US military ties with the Indonesian military. East Timor gained independence and became the first new sovereign state of the 21st century on May 20, 2002.
Incredibly, Nobel Peace Prize winner and President of the US Barack Obama resumed support to Kopassus this year after a 12-year ban. Obama says the military has been “reformed”. Although I am not American and I never voted for Obama, I have to say I am disillusioned and disappointed at this turn of events. It appears to me that all that hard work done by Senator Leahy and other activists in the 1990s were for naught—all it needed was a flamboyant poseur who wrote a good book to destroy hard-won standards for human rights behaviour for militaries worldwide.
To add to the Obama establishment’s embarrassment, a video of Indonesian soldiers  torturing West Papuan villagers this July was circulated widely by the international media. The video, interestingly, had been shot by the soldiers themselves with their cell phones. During Obama’s visit, a mock trial took place, apparently prosecuting other soldiers for a lesser human rights violation, while the torturers in this case, which Human Rights Watch calls a “test case”, went scot-free. West Papua, annexed by Indonesia during its independence, is now coming out with stories of brutal occupation by the Indonesian military similar to what occurred in East Timor 12 years prior.
Obama is undoing the work of better people than him, and he’s doing it giving the world the false impression that he is somebody other than who he claims to be. Clearly someone who cares for peace would never support a military unit whose violations have been clearly documented by human rights organizations and the international media. I am disappointed in our global hero who is, it turns out, more sympathetic to the global military complex than we had realized. Our Nobel Prize winner turns out to have feet of clay.
An estimated two to three million Indonesians died in an anti-communist pogrom held by General Suharto in the 1960s. The army received generous support and training from the US government during these events.
The connection between US support for a country’s military and the subsequent spike in human rights violations is no surprise. Look at our own Nepali history of the past decade to understand this equation (and please, somebody with better Excel skills than me, map this on a chart so people can see this clearly). The largest spikes in Nepali deaths occurred when the US, India or the UK decided it was time to send a fresh shipment of guns, helicopters or money to the Nepal Army. Take any year from 1996 to 2006 and co-relate it to key events—funding to the military, key visits by foreign officials promising funding to the military, and key transfer of guns and hardware. Its really a no-brainer. It shows quite clearly that each visit by a US state department official promising a military solution to Nepal’s political problems, or an Indian offer of aid, came spiked with death.
Nepalis take pride in their army. The Gurkha history, the incredible bravery and heroism and loyalty, all of this is well documented and often repeated. Yet we often forget that we can also be easily manipulated, and all those wonderful and irresistible funding and trainings by the Americans or Israelis or whoever often seem to lead to horrible skills we may not really need or want—torture techniques that Nepalis could never dream up on their own, systematic killings that appear to be more at home in an American video game than in a Nepali village.
We Third Worlders gladly love our free gifts. But as one anthropologist so wisely said, “There is no free lunch.”
In Nepal, the impunity our military was allowed by their superiors backfired on them at a later date. The internal conflict was over, but Nepali soldiers continued to act with impunity, believing they would never be held accountable for their actions. In 2010, they went as peacekeepers to Haiti, where they built a septic tank that didn’t follow regulations. Thousands of Haitians are now dead because of the very same impunity and careless disregard for human life instilled in their training in Nepal earlier.
Are we the best military in the world? Fervently patriotic coverage of the Nepal Army fools the world into thinking Nepalis run a tight military ship. We have been “reformed”. The Nepali military has great discipline, or so propaganda would have you believe. Tragically, not cleaning up one’s act at home led to thousands of deaths of innocent civilians in a foreign country. The true tragedy is that the Nepali soldiers were there in Haiti to do good, not to do harm. But when soldiers are not at all accountable for their actions, they may cause a great deal of harm without realizing the consequences. Read More>>
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