By Helen Jarvis
This week our friend Kamal Bamadhaj became the seventh foreigner to die in the war in East Timor. Five journalists were killed in October 1975 by advancing Indonesian troops, and a sixth, Roger East, was murdered, together with many Timorese, on December 7, 1975 on the wharves of Dili harbour, as Indonesian troops took the capital of the newly proclaimed independent country of East Timor.
Sixteen years later, the awful picture has repeated itself, as Kamal was gunned down together with more than over a hundred Timorese as they peacefully mourned the killing of another young man. Since August 1975, it is estimated, one-third of the population of East Timor have died. Death is an all too familiar shadow in East Timor, and the Timorese people have suffered the pain and horror of losing their loved ones, families, friends and comrades.
The last time I saw Kamal was at a picket at the University of New South Wales when Gareth Evans came to speak. Kamal, and others from Aksi and the Overseas Students Collective, were protesting in particular against the Australian government's position on Timor.
Kamal took that opportunity to ask Evans some questions, pressing for a change in policy. It is an appropriate last memory: most of the times that I ever saw Kamal it was in such a situation, for he was a dedicated and consistent supporter of struggles for human rights and justice in our region.
He was studying Indonesian at UNSW, and in this role he faced a situation that many of us have come up against. The more we learn about Indonesia today, the more we understand that the noble principles that thousands of Indonesians died for in their struggle for independence are violated by the Indonesian government and military day by day, year by year from one end of the archipelago to the other.
And perhaps the sharpest and harshest example of this is in East Timor. Do we speak out, and put at risk our own chosen future, our opportunities to visit, to live and to work in Indonesia? This may seem a small price to pay for morality and honesty, but it is not such an easy decision to make here in Australia, with all the pressures from family, teachers, government and society at large to play safe and look to your personal future.
Kamal chose to make clear his stand in solidarity with those fighting for democracy, human rights and independence. He was an activist in the Overseas Student Collective, in the peace movement, in recent months especially against Aidex and arms sales in the region.
He was a founding member of Aksi, formed last year "to help build solidarity and provide support to the recently emerging range of people's organisations in Indonesia", with specific support for the struggles for self-determination in East Timor and West Papua, and focus on trying to change Australian government policy of unconditional support for the Indonesian government. He wanted to see for himself what was going on inside Indonesia and in East Timor, and he took the opportunity to act as a translator for Community Aid Abroad on the trip to East Timor. He went to the memorial mass and march to the Santa Cruz cemetery last Tuesday to show his support for the people of East Timor, and his respect for those killed in the struggle.
He hoped that his presence, together with other foreigners, might deter the army from shooting. It was not to be.
Kamal used to describe himself as "a Malaysian with green eyes" but he was also a New Zealander, a Bugis, an Australian, an Indian, and in his death, his blood mingled with the people and soil of East Timor. Kamal died as he had lived — a child of all nations.