17th October 1999

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Thoughts from London

East Timor:

Where do we stand?

by Neville de Silva

Some Asian and African countries have joined hands at a United Nations human rights meeting in Geneva to block a European-backed proposal for an inquiry into the horrible atrocities committed in East Timor.

Why ? All the world knows, or should know unless authoritarian leaders have denied their peoples the information that others have access to- of the genocidal depravity that has marked the activities of the pro-Jakarta militia and the Indonesian military.

After dithering for weeks the western nations and then the United Nations finally decided to act in the face of a growing international outcry to stop the murderous mayhem of the militia and the military. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, have been killed or wounded and thousands of others driven into refuge by a seemingly uncontrollable militia that was devastating East Timor.

East Timor as a former colony had only just exercised its right to self determination as provided for by the United Nations Charter and chosen to free itself from the harsh yoke of Indonesian rule. It was an exercise conducted by the world body following a solemn agreement between Portugal, the former colonial power, and Indonesia which illegally annexed that colony.

By the terms of that agreement Indonesia undertook to respect the results of the referendum which allowed the East Timorese the choice of an autonomous relationship with Indonesia or independence. The results were overwhelmingly in favour of independence.

Yet Indonesia, which gave that solemn undertaking and which was responsible for maintaining law and order in East Timor until November, reneged on its promises and watched- if it did not actually help- as unprecedented violence was unleashed on a hapless people.

When the respected newspaper The Guardian reported on the Afro-Asian move to block an inquiry, it said it happened at the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva. My own belief-and I may be wrong here- is that it was at the UN human rights sub-commission which normally meets around July-September that it occurred rather than at the Commission which sits at a different time in the year.

If it is the sub-commission as I suspect, then Sri Lanka is most likely a member of it. If so was it a party to the attempt to block any inquiry into Indonesian involvement in the barbarity the world has witnessed in East Timor?

If Sri Lanka has become an unfortunate party to an even more unfortunate move by certain nations in Asia and Africa which have too many skeletons in too many cupboards, we need to ask ourselves whether we are guided by the same imperatives in foreign policy that dictates the actions of those who want to stymie inquiry.

As a long standing member of the Non-Aligned Movement we know that NAM has steadfastly decried colonialism and advocated decolonisation as part of its credo. The UN never recognised Indonesia's annexation of East Timor and held that the mandate for the administration of East Timor rested with Portugal.

If we are true to ourselves and the principled position we took in the heyday of colonialism, we should be proudly supporting the UN and the East Timorese for taking a former colony towards independence.

Moreover as a country that tried to awaken the world's conscience when India violated our airspace in 1987 to drop food on the Jaffna peninsula, we should have taken serious note of Indonesia's invasion and illegal occupation of East Timor.

If, on the other hand, we now find ourselves among those countries that are trying to sidetrack an inquiry with the specious and gratuitous argument that Indonesia should not be humiliated, then is it not proper to ask whether we are not humiliating ourselves in the eyes of humanity.

Why should not Indonesia be humiliated if Jakarta has no qualms about humiliating itself? All the world knows Indonesia's history in East Timor, the massacres which began with the invasion in 1975 and the iniquitous role of the Indonesian military since then. Did any previous chastisement of Jakarta and its powerful military qualitatively change its barbarous ways?

The refusal of the United Nations and the international community to accept Indonesia's claims to East Timor is, to my mind, a greater humiliation than any inquiry could heap on a nation that has blatantly violated the human rights of not only those peoples it invaded and illegally occupied but its own citizens. Even today it is happening in Indonesia itself despite the promises of political pluralism and democratic freedoms.

The Sri Lanka government has been preaching to the world how strongly it is committed to upholding and preserving human rights. It has been telling the world of the efforts made to bring to book those-military or civilian members, who have committed crimes against humanity by indiscriminate and large scale killings. The other day the government spelt out in newspaper advertisements its many achievements including upholding the rule of law, eliminating fears that people had of their government and generally restoring human rights.

An administration that adheres to such high political principles and moral values cannot surely condone the excesses of a state that denies its people the rights and freedoms which our government advocates. Surely it is hypocrisy for the Sri Lanka government to prevail upon the British administration to outlaw those who collect funds for a terrorist organisation if we are not ready to condemn state terrorism at the same time, which is precisely what has happened in East Timor. Does terrorism cease to be terrorism when agencies of the state are responsible but again becomes terrorism when it comes from elsewhere?

In fact, the Indonesian action is even more reprehensible because it can well be argued that East Timor is a de jure independent state though it may not be so de facto.

So Indonesian action in East Timor is then more than simple state terrorism. If our position is-and one hopes the government will spell it out- that Indonesia should not be humiliated, the obvious question is why? Because it is a big country? Because it is an Asian country and Asians have their own values, really an excuse for violating human rights of Asians?

Have we no concern then for the humiliations suffered by thousands who only exercised their legitimate right? Those nations that support attempts to block an inquiry are in fact saying that the perpetrators of mass murder and crimes against humanity should be spared humiliation.

Who cares about the others who are dead anyway or will die soon when the Indonesians continue their pogrom from west Timor?

Mental Health

Social Phobia

I am afraid

Many of us feel uneasy when we have to face unfamiliar situations. We worry about talking to our supervisors, making a speech in front of a large group of people, walking into a room full of people, etc. Some will have difficulty in eating in front of a crowd or in a restaurant or would be concerned that people are watching them. Usually these worries do not bother most of us too much or interfere with our day-to day activities. However, for some of us such worries cause overwhelming distress and lead to avoidance of either certain situations or persons.

If you are such a person then you may be suffering from social phobia. This is a disorder characterized by overwhelming anxiety and excessive self-consciousness in social situations.

People with social phobia have a persistent, intense and chronic fear of being scrutinized by others and of being embarrassed or humiliated by their own actions.

Although it is common for many people to experience some anxiety before or during a public appearance, anxiety levels in people with social phobia can be so high that they begin to avoid social situations. While many people with social phobia recognize that the fear may be excessive and or unreasonable, they are unable to overcome it. In addition, they often worry for days or weeks in advance of a dreaded situation.

Social phobia can be limited to only one type of situation (such as a fear of speaking in formal or informal situations, or eating, drinking, or writing in front of others or, in its most severe form, maybe so broad that a person experiences phobic symptoms in any social setting).

Social phobia can be debilitating - people with this illness often avoid forming or maintaining close relationships or they turn down chances to advance their careers.

Most people suffer from social phobia would have been suffering with it for quite a long time. Most of them would have tried some way or other to cope with this problem. There are people who turn to alcohol and drugs in the false belief that these substances may help them face society.

Many people claim that their problem started when they were teenagers. They often relate the onset of the problem to an important event in their life during that period such as bodily changes of puberty or sitting for examinations.

A definite cause is difficult to identify. People who are generally shy, timid and self- conscious may be more prone to develop social phobia.

Some signs to look for.....

Fear of meeting and talking to people.

Feeling that others are watching you or talking about you.

Feeling that others notice a fault in your appearance and manner of talking.

Fear of doing something embarrassing such as stammering in front of others.

Physical symptoms of blushing, profuse sweating, trembling, numbness, rapid breathing, difficulty talking, nausea, and stomach discomfort.

If a person has four or more of the above symptoms he or she may be suffering from social phobia.

Symptoms and the fear of symptoms can create a vicious cycle. As people with social phobia worry about their symptoms, their chances of developing the symptoms increase.

What can you do?

Social phobia can be treated using the following methods:


Medicine can be given to reduce anxiety, the feelings of sadness and the associated physical symptoms like palpitations.

Psychological treatment

Psychological treatments are aimed at changing the negative thoughts you may have about the condition. These thoughts make you feel that you cannot cope with situations however hard you try. In therapy you are helped to face situations rather than avoid them. You will learn how to prepare yourself beforehand for an anticipated situation, how to manage it better and reward yourself for succeeding and for trying.

Group therapy

In group therapy you will meet other people with similar problems. You get the opportunity to overcome your problem among other people who understand and support you. You will learn how to improve your skills in talking to others and behaving in a social setting.

-Courtesy of National Council for Mental Health "SAHANAYA"

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