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Canada: Axworthy's folly

Lyle Stewart,
HOUR, September 23rd

Poor Lloyd Axworthy. As Minister of Foreign Affairs, he's no Joe Clark.

Joe Clark, you'll remember, served as Canada's top diplomat for much of the 1984-93 Mulroney government. He had far less trouble than does the current Minister in distinguishing between the value of a human life and a dollar.

Faced with that choice in South Africa, Clark helped organize economic sanctions by Commonwealth countries against the apartheid regime in 1986 that were comprehensive and effective. South Africa today is democratic and pluralist, a shining example that sanctions can work when appropriately targeted.

And poor, ethically challenged Lloyd Axworthy? After minor taps on Indonesia's wrist after that country's military had savaged and depopulated East Timor over the past weeks, Axworthy now says that broader economic sanctions would be punitive and would send the wrong signal now that the Indonesian government has agreed to allow an international peacekeeping force to go into East Timor (Globe and Mail, Sept 14).

Axworthy conveniently forgets the 200,000 East Timorese now at the Indonesian army's mercy, living in squalid conditions in West Timor concentration camps. He forgets the continuing and extreme human-rights abuses in the Indonesian province of Aceh and elsewhere, and turns a blind eye to the country's routine repression of student activists and labour leaders.

Anyway, as Noam Chomsky wrote in Z Magazine recently, Indonesia has no authority to ‘invite' foreign intervention... any more than Saddam Hussein had authority to invite foreign intervention in Kuwait, or Nazi Germany in France in 1944 for that matter. Lloyd Axworthy would do well to remember that Indonesia's invasion and illegal annexation of East Timor in 1975-76 has never been recognized by the United Nations, nor by Canada, for whom Axworthy is ostensibly the Minister of Foreign Affairs.

But that's to forget the other part of Axworthy's ministerial title and International Trade. And the website for the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) conveniently details Axworthy's timorous response to the Indonesian jackboot that has devastated East Timor.

In a section detailing Canada's history of economic sanctions and boycotts, DFAIT explains that Indonesia's repression of human rights in East Timor is “a special case in that, despite extensive criticism, primarily from Western countries, no sanctions package has been officially adopted, although a number of countries have suspended aid programs, not renewed projects or restricted exports of military or security-related equipment.

DFAIT goes on to claim, bizarrely, that Canada has been one of the most vigorous critics, condemning Indonesia's policies more severely than most other nations and provoking protests from the Indonesian authorities. But then we get to the crux of the matter, and the priority for Axworthy's hybrid ministry: Some Canadian firms have already indicated to the Canadian government that they believe they have suffered injury partly on account of the Canadian policy. They have been unable to provide evidence, but they claim this has been confirmed to them in private by Indonesian officials. Some also feel they have been adversely affected in third countries, where their reputation as a ‘reliable supplier' has been harmed by Canada's protests.

Well, if the Canadian Labour Congress has its way, Canada's reputation as a reliable supplier (and a reliable consumer ) is about to take a major hit. Showing the courage lacking in our political leadership, the CLC last week placed a hot cargo edict on goods shipped to and from Indonesia.

CLC President Ken Georgetti said that the boycott will remain in place until Indonesia withdraws all troops (including their troops disguised as militias); guarantees the safety of refugees who have fled or been deported to the camps in West Timor; and allows the UN to supervise the return of forcibly deported East Timorese.

In announcing the edict, Georgetti slammed the glacial response from the Canadian government. In the past few weeks they seem to be far more concerned about good relations with Indonesia, than they are about stopping the slaughter of the East Timorese. I hope that investment opportunities for Canadian companies in Indonesia haven't blinded the Canadian government to the dreadful human-rights violations and murders in East Timor. The boycott is expected to affect shoes made by companies such as Nike, and the Canadian company Bata; crayons and pencils, paper and some food products. CLC-affiliated union members are also being asked not to take vacations at Indonesian destinations like Bali, but needless to say, you don't have to be in a union to join this boycott. By now, there can be no doubt that Indonesia's Final Solution for East Timor was planned and directed from Jakarta. At the very least, the reports of American journalist Alan Nairn recently freed from Indonesian detention, during which time he witnessed the close co-operation of the military, police and militia forces in razing Dili should put those lies to rest. By fidgeting and hand-wringing over the wounded pride of mass murderers, Lloyd Axworthy is abetting future abuses of human rights in Indonesia. Sanctions can work, particularly now that world attention has finally turned after a long quarter-century blindness to East Timor.

*** NOTICE: In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. ***

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