Vol. 10, No. 2
Timor Still Awaits Justice
by John M. Miller
Although many view Indonesia’s new President, retired General Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, known as SBY, as a reformer, he has yet to take steps toward greater accountability for human rights violations by Indonesia’s security forces.
SBY was armed forces (TNI) commander General Wiranto’s top deputy in 1999, when Indonesian troops leveled East Timor after it voted overwhelmingly for independence. Indonesia’s new president has always been a stalwart defender of the TNI against allegations of human rights violations. Earlier this year, he said, “Democracy, human rights... are all good, but they cannot become absolute goals because pursuing them as such will not be good for the country.”
After taking office in October, SBY faced an initial test when Indonesia’s Supreme Court extended the farce of Jakarta’s ad hoc trial process by releasing from jail Abilio Soares, East Timor’s last governor. Despite evidence of Soares’ complicity, the Supreme Court overturned his conviction arguing that, since the territory was under military rule during the post-referendum violence, the civilian governor could not be held responsible. It did not explain why the few convictions of security officials had been overturned.
The court had earlier acquitted all of the military and police defendants among the 18 people initially charged, sentencing only civilians, including Abilio, to jail. Only former militia leader Eurico Guterres awaits the outcome of his appeal of a five-year sentence.
While SBY has yet to comment, Indonesia’s foreign minister acknowledged the Abilio decision was not helpful to Indonesia’s international stature. “I am sure the decision provides more reasons for others to question the credibility of the ad hoc human rights tribunals,” he told reporters on November 6.
The Indonesian government clearly designed the Jakarta process to deflect international calls for justice and to avoid holding senior officials accountable for crimes committed in East Timor. Together with Indonesia’s refusal to cooperate with the UN-backed serious crimes process in East Timor, where many top Indonesian officials have been indicted, ETAN, along with many NGOs in East Timor, have stepped up their calls for an international tribunal to try the officials responsible for the massive death and destruction in East Timor since Indonesia’s invasion in 1975.
The snubbing by Jakarta of the UN Secretary-General’s repeated calls that “impunity must not prevail” and the pending closure of the UN-backed serious crimes process in East Timor have caused a mild stir in the sleepy corridors of UN headquarters in New York.
At a November Security Council meeting on East Timor, the UN Special Representative for East Timor, Sukehiro Hasegawa, noted the inadequacies of the serious crimes process and that the UN must choose from several proposals “ranging from continuation of the current serious crimes process to establishment of an international tribunal” or an international truth commission to follow up on 1999 crimes.
The U.S. Ambassador to the UN, John Danforth told the council that “The international community has a responsibility… The Ad Hoc Tribunal process was seriously flawed.
“There must be some level of accountability for those atrocities to create a climate conducive to the development of democratic institutions in both Indonesia and East Timor.”
At this writing, the Secretary-General has yet to establish the Commission of Experts to evaluate existing justice processes and recommend alternatives. The proposal, which has the backing of most countries concerned (except for Indonesia) could provide an impetus to international action. However, whether justice prevails for even the most egregious abuses of 1999, much less for those that took place in the preceding 24 years, may in the end depend on the recommendations of a small handful of experts yet to be appointed and, more importantly, international public pressure.
To send a message to the Secretary-General calling on him to take action for justice go to http://www.etan.org/action/action2/22alert.htm.