To intervene or not to intervene? How wounded bodies affected the international decision to intervene in Timor-Leste
Marcelle Trote Martins University of Manchester, UK
On November 12, 1991 Indonesian troops fired upon a peaceful memorial procession to a Cemetery in Dili, the capital of Timor-Leste. On that occasion, more than 271 East Timorese were killed and an equal number were disappeared and are believed to be dead. Footage of the Massacre was made by international journalists and it is considered to be the turning point in the history of Timor-Leste. According to Max Sthal, who was responsible for the footage, the victims that were still alive and could still move were making their way towards him: “They were showing me their wounds…they wanted the world to see. They were dying around me, but – and the survivors later told me this – more important than the fact of their dying was that their deaths be meaningful; that all this should be ‘for’ something” (Stahl, 2017).
Situations of extreme violence and human rights violations have occurred in Timor-Leste since the Indonesian invasion in 1975, but it was only after this footage that the situation changed: social movements around the world, especially in Portugal, demanded international action against the situation in Timor-Leste. Based on this, this work aims to understand how did wounded bodies affect decisions to intervene in the context of United Nations missions in Timor-Leste? My central hypothesis is that wounded bodies affect international actions as they are fundamental to the constitution of “affective atmospheres” that mobilize collective opinion and international organizations like the UN to act regarding the pain of the Other.