Arnold Kohen was a leading activist and writer-researcher in support of the cause of Timor-Leste in the United States and internationally. His work started in Ithaca NY in 1975, soon after the Indonesian invasion of Timor-Leste. In Ithaca, he worked with Benedict Anderson on Timor issues including Congressional testimonies by Anderson. Groups originally based in Ithaca included the East Timor Research Project and the East Timor Emergency Committee, the latter of which worked to build awareness and humanitarian action on the catastrophic war-related famine in East Timor in the late 1970s.
From the late 1970s, he began to publish numerous articles in a range of publications and also assisted many others in crafting articles and other material, working closely with Noam Chomsky in providing documentation and analysis for several books and other publications and speeches on East Timor. In 1980, after a year of lengthy visits, he relocated to Washington DC, to work on bipartisan Timor advocacy in the US Congress continuing activities first undertaken in response to the late 1970s famine as described. Kohen provided assistance over many years to leading United Nations officials such as Fransesc Vendrell, international human rights organizations and other NGOs. He had close behind-the-scenes ties beginning in the late 1970s to the Geneva-based International Committee of the Red Cross and Timorese refugees, Timorese and Portuguese clergy and church leaders and US church organizations such as the US Catholic Conference, with funding from a number of church and secular sources. He organized visits to Timorese refugees in Portugal by US Congressional staff and developed close links with a wide range of non-governmental figures and journalists in Portugal, other European countries and elsewhere. He was active as a campaigner, and promoter of Timor-Leste awareness in the print and, in the 1990s, electronic media.
Kohen founded The Humanitarian Project, with support from figures such as Anderson, Bishop Paul Moore Jr of New York, and others. He worked with NBC as an investigative reporter, and was influential from 1979 onward in getting Timor-Leste into the editorial and news pages of US mainstream media outlets including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Christian Science Monitor, The Boston Globe and many other publications. His advocacy work in the US Congress involved several figures, including Democratic Congressman Tony Hall, Democratic Senators Paul Tsongas and Carl Levin, Republican Senator Dave Durenberger and later, Republican Senator Malcolm Wallop. Globally, he was active in networks starting with the first international conference on East Timor held in Lisbon in May 1979 and including the Christian Consultation on East Timor network.
In addition to his own work, Kohen was at the center of a number of networks, making him one of the world’s most-connected Timor advocates. The political range included Noam Chomsky on the Left to former Reagan Administration National Security Advisor William Clark on the Right. His records thus represent a remarkably wide range of documentation on Timor advocacy in the USA and internationally.