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Edward Willis

James Stanley (Jim) Dunn (1928 – 2020)

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JAMES STANLEY (JIM) DUNN (1928 – 2020)

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Members and supporters of the Doublereds will be saddened to learn of the passing of James Dunn who became best known during the 1970s and ‘80s when he stood up against Australia’s foreign policy establishment over its endorsement of Indonesia’s invasion and annexation of East Timor.

The evidence presented in Dunn’s published reports and books was endorsed and appreciated by the men of the old 2/2 Commando Association of Australia who used it their representations and advocacy to government in support of the Timorese fight for independence from Indonesia.  A copy of Dunn’s influential report ‘The Timor story’ (1976) is held in the old Association’s archives.

An informative and respectful obituary for Jim Dunn was prepared by Dr Peter Job for Jim Dunn’s memorial service that was held in Canberra on Saturday 15 February 2020 appears below.  An abridged version of this obituary was published in Friday’s “Sydney Morning Herald”:

https://www.smh.com.au/national/campaigner-for-east-timor-during-indonesian-occupation-20200214-p540t8.html

OTHER MATERIAL

Expression of Grief for the Death of James Stanley Dunn http://timor-leste.gov.tl/?p=23534&lang=en

JAMES DUNN Death Notice https://tributes.canberratimes.com.au/obituaries/canberratimes-au/obituary.aspx?n=james-jim-stanley-dunn&pid=195320640&fhid=15599

Canberra Conversations: James Dunn AM https://www.abc.net.au/local/stories/2011/03/30/3177728.htm

 

OBITUARY

Diplomat, writer and researcher who campaigned relentlessly for the people of East Timor during the Indonesian occupation.

James Dunn, who died on 31 January at the age of 92, was a diplomat, intelligence officer, soldier, researcher for the Parliamentary Library, writer and human rights activist.  Over a long and versatile career, his most significant achievement is the crucial role he played in campaigning for the rights of the Timorese people under Indonesian occupation and bringing their plight to the attention of the world.

Born into a family of six children in Bundaberg, Queensland, Dunn’s humanitarian outlook was strongly influenced by the two years he spent as an Australian soldier in occupied Japan, particularly the six months on the outskirts of the devastated city of Hiroshima.  He later described witnessing ‘children, hundreds of them, dying from atomic radiation’, an experience which “thrust me in the direction of focusing on the lot of ordinary people rather than on governments’.  He returned to Australia to complete an Honours degree in Political Science and Russian at Melbourne University, followed by studies in Indonesian politics and history at the Australian National University.  In a lengthy career in government service he worked first as a defence analyst specialising on Indonesia, then as a diplomat, serving in Paris and Moscow and visiting and working in Yugoslavia, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Poland and other Eastern European countries.  The posting which would prove most significant, however, was his first, as consul to what was then Portuguese Timor from 1962 to 1964, an experience which led to a lifetime of empathy and engagement with the people of East Timor.

During the years 1970 to 1986 he was Director of the Foreign Affairs Group of the Legislative Research Service of the Federal Parliamentary Library, making him the most senior foreign affairs advisor to the Australian parliament.  When the Carnation Revolution in Portugal put the decolonisation of its colonial possession in Timor on the agenda, Dunn was chosen as one of a two-person Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) research team sent to the territory in June 1974.  To the annoyance of many in the department his report broke with DFA orthodoxy by arguing that independence was viable, disparaging those who thought integration with Indonesian inevitable and advocating “a more positive course’; for Australia to encourage Indonesian cooperation in the birth of a new state, if it became clear that was what the Timorese wanted.

He advocated the reopening of the Australian consulate to monitor developments and recommended a joint Australian/Indonesian mission to make recommendations regarding the territory's economic and social development.  Dunn later wrote that these recommendations fell, “on unresponsive ears as far as the government was concerned.

Dunn forged a life-long friendship and alliance with East Timorese independence campaigner and later Nobel laureate José Ramos-Horta, who he first met as a teenager during his posting as consul.  Soon after Dunn’s death Horta described him as “a mentor, fatherly figure to me’.  When a twenty-five-year-old Horta visited Australia in July 1974 as representative of the independence movement that was later to become Fretilin, he made the first of a series of many stays with James and his wife Wendy in their home in Canberra.  Dunn assisted his cause by introducing him to sympathetic Australian politicians, including Ken Fry, Gordon McIntosh, Tom Uren, Arthur Gietzelt, and others who would prove vital contacts for Horta and who would later take up the Timorese cause during the Indonesian occupation.

In late 1975, after an Indonesian inspired coup and a brief but brutal civil war left Fretilin as the somewhat reluctant de facto governing body of the territory, Dunn returned as head of an Australian Council for Overseas Aid (ACFOA) delegation in October to determine the humanitarian situation and aid needs of the Timorese people.  He reported Fretilin to be “a sensitive and responsible organization” that enjoyed widespread support and was prepared to be flexible in negotiating a return to an orderly decolonisation process under Portuguese auspices.  This position, supported by a number of others who visited the territory during this period, would later provide a foil for those in the Australian government and elsewhere who claimed the Indonesian invasion had come about in response to a situation of intransigence and instability caused by Timorese irresponsibility.

It was during the early years of occupation that Dunn arguably made his strongest contribution by breaking the embargo on information coming from East Timor to make known to the wider world the catastrophe that was occurring there.  A year after the full-scale Indonesian invasion, information was trickling out, via elements of the Catholic church, smuggled letters and a clandestine radio link established by solidarity activists near Darwin, reporting an ongoing conflict, serious human rights abuses and severe food shortages.  In this context Dunn, under the auspices of Community Aid Abroad, visited and interviewed Timorese refugees in Portugal who had escaped the territory and could report on the situation.  The Dunn Report on East Timor, published in February 1977, detailed accounts, largely since verified, of severe human rights abuses, including massacres, sexual violence, deliberately induced famine and other abuses.  The report concluded that claims from Catholic sources of 100,000 deaths were credible due to widespread killings in the mountains.

In early 1977 Dunn took his message to the international community, visiting Britain, France, Sweden, Portugal, the Netherlands and the United States, where he gained media coverage and met with government officials, activists and concerned politicians.  The Fraser government, which viewed good relations with the Suharto regime as vital and sought to protect it from criticism, greeted the report with consternation.

It cabled its missions in the countries Dunn visited as to how to discredit his claims, contending the scale of the atrocities to be “highly exaggerated” the death rate greatly overstated and, despite the fact that Dunn’s information came from direct eye witnesses who he stressed were willing to speak to government officials, his allegations based upon “hearsay and second-hand evidence”.  When the Dutch government considered supporting an international investigation, Australian government officials worked successfully to dissuade it.

In the wake of his report Dunn was invited to speak at the US Congressional House Committee on International Relations on 23 March 1977.  In the leadup to the hearings DFA worked with Indonesian and US officials to background against him, contending that his allegations were ‘hearsay’ and claiming, based on little more than briefings from Indonesian officials, that a “thorough study” of all the information available to them had failed to corroborate his claims.  Nevertheless, Dunn’s testimony proved influential, galvanising a US Timor solidarity movement, drawing attention to the issue by a number of prominent US politicians and leading to a series of further congressional investigations in subsequent years.  In the broader public arena in Australia and elsewhere the Dunn Report was crucial, energising the Australian Timor solidarity movement and providing an evidence-based tool for long term international campaigns.

Dunn continued to lobby on the issue in subsequent years.  In October 1978 he produced “Notes on the present situation in Timor”, a report which belied the narrative propagated by the Fraser government to document the nature of Indonesian offensives, the targeting of food supplies, the extent of human rights abuses, the misuse of Australian aid and the extent of the death toll.  Respected for his academic integrity by all sides in the Australian parliament, his efforts were supported by a cross parliamentary Timor lobby, including tom Uren, Ken Fry, Gordon McIntosh, Arthur Gietzelt in the ALP and Alan Missen, Michael Hogmann and Neville Bonner in the Liberal Party, who used the evidence Dunn provided to raise the issue in parliament on a regular basis.  Dunn testified on the Timor issue at the UN Fourth (decolonisation) Committee in October 1980, and at the Permanent Peoples Tribunal, an international Rome based human rights organisation that held hearings into the Timor issue in Lisbon in June 1981.  In 1983 he published a book, “East Timor: a people betrayed”, a thoroughly researched academic work that produced a detailed and evidence-based exposé of the situation in East Timor and role Australia played in covering it up.

Dunn’s advocacy was not without personal consequences.  Officials of the Suharto regime demanded action against him, asking why an employee of a Federal government agency was able to act in contradiction to the expressions of “understanding” it was receiving regarding the Timor issue from the Fraser government.  In 1977 the Australian Ambassador to Indonesia Richard Woolcott warned that Dunn’ activities had the potential to “undo much of the good work’ achieved by a recent visit by Fraser to Jakarta and create hostility towards Australia within the Suharto regime.  Government lobbying efforts had a certain impact, with the “Melbourne Herald” in October 1979 accusing Dunn of “reckless use of dubious information” and working to damage the Australian/Indonesian relationship.  Other journalists and academics supporting the government position attacked Dunn in a similar way on a regular basis, as did parliamentary supporters of the Fraser governments Timor policy.  In 1982 former Prime Minister Gough Whitlam, by then a confirmed lobbyist for the Suharto regime, accused Dunn of “waving a flag” for Fretilin and spreading disinformation.

Under pressure from the Suharto regime and with complaints from senior echelons of the Fraser government concerning Dunn's “lack of objectivity”, there was an attempt in April 1980 to transfer him from his research position in the Parliamentary Library.  In parliament Dunn was defended by MPs from both major parties.  A letter from him was tabled in which he revealed that in the new position he would not be able to write on East Timor, would not have access to DFA material and would not have contact with MPs.  Opposition leader Bill Hayden, amongst others, defended Dunn, speaking of the “high regard” accorded to him by members from both sides of the house.  In recent years Dunn recounted to the author how the matter came to a head when he was met on his arrival at work by a group of cross-party parliamentarians and their staffers who in a show of support escorted him to his office.  The attempted transfer was abandoned.

After leaving his Parliamentary Library position in 1986 Dunn worked and lobbied on international human rights, amongst other things participating in missions in West Africa and Latin America.  He was co-president of the Second World Congress on Human Rights in Dakar, Senegal in 1986.  He was president for a time of the Human Rights Council of Australia, an organisation he helped found in 1978.

Dunn continued advocating on the Timor issue throughout the occupation.  He testified regularly at UN bodies and addressed a variety of international forums, including seminars at Yale, Oxford and McGill University in Canada.  In 1995 he was Coventry Peace Lecturer and a key- note speaker at a conference on East Timor in Dublin.  He contributed to a number of academic publications during this period, including a paper on East Timor in the 1995 collection “Genocide in the Twentieth Century” (Garland Press NY).

Dunn returned to East Timor during the independence vote in 1999, remaining during the militia violence until evacuation in September.

He returned shortly after the INTERFET intervention to work as an advisor to the UNTAET mission.  He was commissioned as an expert on crimes against humanity in East Timor by the UN in 2001.  In the years leading to independence in 2003 he conducted a course on diplomacy for the new nations diplomatic corps.  He wrote extensively on foreign policy as a columnist for a number of publications, including “The Bulletin”, “The Age”, “The Sydney Morning Herald” and the “Illawarra Mercury”.

In 1999 Dunn was awarded the ACFOA human rights award.  In 2001 he was invested as member of the Order of Australia.  In 2002 he was awarded the Grande Official of the Order of Prince Henry by Portugal.  In 2009 President José Ramos-Horta conferred on Dunn the Medal of the Order of Timor-Leste.

Coming from a background of Australian public service and diplomacy, Dunn’s involvement on the Timor issue set him on a course of dissidence and political non-conformity, of truth telling and activism in support of  human rights in the face of his own governments policies to the contrary.  It was a course which consumed much of his life, and a course for which he paid a price.  In a conversation with the author in recent years Dunn discussed how if circumstances had been different he would likely have earned an ambassadorship or higher.  My response was what it only could have been.  Whatever else he may have been able to achieve, none of it would have been more significant than his role in bringing to the world’s attention the truth about the situation in East Timor and contributing to the birth of a new nation.  Whatever its cost, that pathway of integrity and truth telling made a far greater contribution than any other course he could have taken. 

DUNN IS SURVIVED BY HIS WIFE WENDY AND HIS SONS, IAN, MURRAY AND CHRIS. THE COUPLE’S SON BRIAN PASSED AWAY IN 2011.

Written by Dr Peter Job

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JD service program.pdf A disturbing journey - James Dunn.pdf J.S._Dunn_-_The_Timor_story_-_1976.pdf

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