Cover-up and Denial of Genocide: Australia, the USA, East Timor, and the Aborigines
Of an estimated population in 1788 of over half a million, fewer than 50,000 Australian Aborigines survived by 1900. Most perished from introduced diseases, but possibly 20,000 Aborigines were killed by British troops, police, and settlers in warfare and massacres accompanying their dispossession. In a neighboring island a century later, Indonesia's invasion and occupation of East Timor from 1975 to 1999 took more than 120,000 lives, out of a population of 650,000. Australia's public and press were largely sympathetic to East Timor's right to self-determination. But a small circle of publicists and commentators, favoring the Suharto regime's anticommunism, denounced reports of the ongoing Timor tragedy and encouraged Canberra's diplomatic support for Jakarta. Some of these same Australians also opposed the gathering movement for Aboriginal land rights and reconciliation. Legal victories won by Aborigines in the 1990s, including High Court judgments and a 1997 Human Rights Commission finding that they had been subjected to genocide, exerted pressure on conservative prime minister John Howard, provoking a campaign by his supporters to deny that genocide had occurred. A common feature of these two cases of Australian genocide denial was "right-wing" refusal to concede legitimacy to causes enlisting "left-wing" support.