Genocide:dying for a definition
Posted: 02 Nov 2006 @ 00:00
THE MANDATE for the United Nations’ peacekeeping mission in East Timor
finally ended last Friday. It was a mission that might never have been needed.
After four centuries of Portuguese colonial rule, followed by an Indonesian
invasion, and an oppressive occupation lasting 25 years, the majority of East
Timorese voted for independence in a UN-sponsored ballot in August 1999.
In response, pro-Jakarta militias went on a devastating month-long rampage.
People suspected of independence sympathies were attacked and killed. Ninety
per cent of the population was displaced, and more than 200,000 were relocated
to Indonesian West Timor. Public infrastructure and private property were
A hastily convened international peacekeeping mission (INTERFET) quickly
ended the violence and restored order. The enormous task of repairing amenities
and restoring trust then began in the world’s newest nation.
After visiting East Timor in 2001, I started to reflect on the ways in which
the Good Samaritan story told by Jesus (Luke 10.25-37) might relate to the East
Timorese experience. It proved a profitable exercise.
The parable was Jesus’s response to a man preoccupied with moral
self-justification, who sought to exclude himself from responsibility for
injustice and suffering. The story’s principal message is not about resisting
evil or showing kindness. These injunctions were self-evident to Jesus’s
The moral lessons were these: first, a capacity to assist a neighbour
creates a duty to do so; second, a person in need is no longer a stranger — he
or she has become a neighbour. Now that modern communications have transformed
the world into a “global village”, people like the East Timorese have become
everyone’s neighbour. They were entitled to our assistance.
And yet a number of countries cited a variety of reasons for “passing by on
the other side” and ignoring these people as they suffered oppression and
brutality. The international community failed to intervene and ameliorate their
The principal excuse was the lack of a clear mandate for action, but this
masked an absence of will simply to do what was right. In contrast, the Good
Samaritan was committed to being a good neighbour, despite the cost or the
When the international community eventually responded in East Timor, most of
the damage had been done. Genuine concern might have prevented the violence
from proliferating and escalating into mass murder. Early action would have
averted a long and costly reconstruction. Nearly seven years on, the East
Timorese continue to recover in body, mind, and spirit. It could have been so
Thankfully, these critical insights have not gone unnoticed. In the face,
too, of, the genocides in Rwanda and Kosovo, an international commitment has
emerged to prevent wholesale slaughter in the future.
Nottwithstanding the need for diplomatic sensitivity, Christians must insist
that people such as those in Darfur, in Sudan, do not become victims of
genocide, too, because the world’s response is either as slow, or inadequate as
it was in East Timor.
Christians across the world must be active in promoting a political culture
in which it is electorally appealing and politically rewarding to develop
collaborative projects and international partnerships that profess an unashamed
spirit of altruism. In so doing, we will have been good neighbours, and so thus
Dr Tom Frame is Anglican Bishop to the Australian Defence Force.