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Righting East Timor's 'unrightable wrong'

Melbourne Age - January 2, 2004

[Obituary - Dr Andrew Ian, McNaughtan, campaigner for East Timorese Independence, 21-2-1953 – 22-12-2003.]

John Martinkus – Dr Andrew McNaughtan, who has died in Sydney, was an outstanding human rights activist who devoted himself to changing the situation in East Timor throughout the 1990s and to improve the lives of ordinary East Timorese living under theIndonesians.

Many years before it was politically acceptable to mainstream Australia to be involved with the East Timorese issue, Andrew worked with the Timorese community in Australia and visited East Timor to try to focus attention on the issue. He was deported several times by the Indonesian authorities.

Andrew's experiences in the mid-'90s in East Timor only strengthened his resolve to reverse what he saw as a great historical wrong being perpetrated by Indonesia and ignored by Australia.

Andrew McNaughtan was born in 1953 in Sydney, the only son of June Gram, a dedicated environmentalist who helped save bushland in Mosman. Andrew went to Sydney Grammar. After training as a welder and racing cross-country motorcycles he enrolled at the University of NSW.

He recalled that in 1975 he heard Gough Whitlam talking about East Timor, sparking his interest. After graduating in medicine in 1983 he spent a year as a volunteer doctor in Nicaragua.

Hearing news of the Dili massacre in November 1991, Andrew moved to the Northern Territory, working at the Katherine hospital. He began to be involved with the East Timorese community and campaign based in Darwin. In 1995 he returned to Sydney to care for his mother who, on her death, left Andrew the family home in Mosman, which he often made available to those involved in the East Timor campaign.

When Indonesian president Soeharto fell in May 1998, Andrew returned to Dili for several months despite having been deported before. It was an exciting time with the East Timorese testing the limits of their freedom of speech, and a dangerous place, preceding the bloody militia campaign of 1999. Impervious to the threatening atmosphere, Andrew filmed the demonstrations, gave medical aid and collected evidence of the Indonesian military's attempts to re-impose their will on East Timor.

In September 1998 Andrew got hold of the pay records of the Indonesian military in East Timor that proved that they were lying about having withdrawn personnel from East Timor.

I remember opening the document on my laptop in Dili. I was nervous about being caught with such sensitive information, but Andrew carried the document out and publicised the contents. It was a significant story. The revelations added substantially to the momentum that finally forced the Indonesians to accept a referendum.

For most of 1999 Andrew was in and out of East Timor. He facilitated the flow of donated funds to the people who really needed them in Dili, often by taking them there himself, or giving from his own pocket. He campaigned continuously, writing, interviewing and collecting evidence of the violence of the militia crackdown.

Just before the referendum, Andrew was arrested by the Indonesians in Suai, on the south coast. It was an extremely violent part of East Timor, where most foreigners would not go. He sought to assist those who would later be killed by the militia after the UN pulled out.

I interviewed him for AAP when he was held in Dili by the police. As always, Andrew laughed at the situation, saying he felt safer inside the police station, before launching into a detailed assessment of the situation in the south. Typically, there was no thought for his own safety or comfort. The information was important, not minor problems such as being accused of espionage and being thrown in jail.

When the InterFET force finally arrived, Andrew was straight back in Timor delivering food and medical care to risky areas where Australian troops did not go. In the central towns of Ainaro and Aileu, he directed Timor aid shipments to the population that was often too fearful to venture into towns even where the Indonesians had withdrawn.

It was on one of these trips that Andrew visited the site of the massacre at the church in Suai. He left a record of his impressions with ABC journalist Di Martin and it may be the clearest assessment of events at the church where Andrew's friend Father Hilario Madeira was killed in front of his people before they too were killed.

Andrew kept working on Timor after independence: campaigning for a fair deal for the Timorese in the Timor Gap; lobbying for the Indonesian military officers who directed the slaughter he witnessed in 1999 to face an International Tribunal. He argued that the Indonesians would not punish their own people and the international community must be responsible.

In a nation such as Australia, where most heroes are sporting legends or servants of the state, Dr Andrew McNaughtan exemplified the qualities of self-sacrifice, integrity and courage to which we should aspire. He fought selflessly for what he believed to be right; he knew a great wrong was taking place and he couldn't just sit back and let it happen.

He is survived by two first cousins, Donald McNaughtan and Nigel Stewart, who both live in Sydney.

A memorial service is being held today at the Mary MacKillop Chapel in North Sydney at 1pm, attended by East Timor's Foreign Minister and Nobel laureate Jose Ramos Horta.

[John Martinkus is a journalist and author who covered East Timor from 1997 until 2000 for Fairfax, AAP and The Bulletin.]