Subject: LAT: Pursuing Justice While Not Killing Indonesia's Democracy

The Los Angeles Times Sunday, March 12, 2000


Pursuing Justice While Not Killing Indonesia's Democracy


WASHINGTON--Indonesia and the U.N. Transitional Administration in East Timor recently signed a historic joint communique pledging to open representative offices in Jakarta and Dili and to begin talks on everything from trade and investment to postal links. Significantly, the final clause of the 11-point pact clears the way for document exchange and greater access for human-rights investigators.

As the emergency phase of the relief effort begins to wind down, calls for accountability and real justice grow louder. But the quest for justice in East Timor, which was systematically destroyed by Indonesian-directed militia after a majority of its population voted for independence last August, has raised profound questions of how to deal with transitional justice in this battered region, pitting principles of democracy and sovereignty against universal values of human rights.

Which path to justice is chosen will be crucial. It must do two things simultaneously: squarely address the human-rights atrocities committed against the people of East Timor and encourage Indonesia to engage in self-criticism in search of accountability, which will enable Jakarta to nourish its fledgling democracy.

When the government-appointed Indonesian human-rights commission released its report in January, its findings stunned the international community. After four months of investigative work, the commission, known by its Indonesian acronym KPP-HAM, held 200 people, including then-top military chief Gen. Wiranto and five other generals, "morally responsible" for aiding a campaign of rape, murder and torture in East Timor.

The release of KPP-HAM's report came just days after a U.N.-commissioned group submitted its findings to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan. Since then, the two commissions' recommendations have sparked a debate between those who believe East Timor should have an internationally appointed panel of judges to try its cases of human-rights violations and those who believe Indonesia should prosecute military officers in its own courts.

Neither approach, unfortunately, holds out much promise that justice will be done. To be sure, any trial and conviction under the Indonesian legal system would be groundbreaking, since the rule of law is limited and Indonesia's democracy is still young (the first fully democratic elections were held in June 1999). Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid suspended Wiranto in mid-February and called for the general to stand trial. But Wahid also promised to pardon him if convicted. A draft law that attempts to redefine the basis under which Indonesians can be tried for human-rights violations, including a provision for retroactive prosecution, will soon be considered in the Indonesian parliament.

But if this legislation does not pass, the cycle of impunity will likely continue. A cushy retirement for a top general in his early 50s would hardly constitute adequate retribution for the hundreds of thousands of Timorese who lived in terror during last year's rampage.

A U.N.-sponsored war-crimes tribunal would, as proponents argue, raise the profile of the East Timor case and set an example and possible deterrent for future atrocities. But Russia and China, both U.N. Security Council members, are sure to veto it or, short of that, limit its effectiveness. After all, why should the two countries support a mechanism that some day could point the finger at them for human-rights violations?

A third solution was recently proposed by U.N. legal specialists working for the U.N. Transitional Administration in East Timor. They propose that a team of foreign and Timorese jurists conduct trials in Dili. Unfortunately, this option would exclude Indonesia at a time when the world must encourage it to reconcile with the East Timorese, possibly under international guidance. Indonesia must be given the space to create its own process of transitional justice at a pace that allows for a balance between accountability and political stability. To not do so would derail the development of its nascent democracy and stifle reforms.

There is another option: creation of a single tribunal incorporating both Indonesia and the U.N. Transitional Administration in coordination with the East Timorese National Consultative Committee. The recently signed communique allows for this option, but does not state it explicitly. To be truly effective, its central aim should be to cautiously, yet pointedly address the past, present and future role of the Indonesian military in the country's affairs.

Since independence from the Dutch in 1945, the army has played a crucial role in maintaining political stability across the more than 13,000-island archipelago. The government has many times turned a blind eye to the tactics used to ensure that stability. As a result, top generals have traditionally been appointed to government posts in Indonesia's key provinces, and the military has held a portion of the appointed seats in parliament.

Wiranto represents the army-hard-liner link to the previous Suharto regime. His role has been so great that some even think Wahid wanted to use the human-rights inquiry as a means to resolve his power struggle with the military. Indeed, the issue of accountability has put the power struggle into play in Indonesia, and the winner will be the one who has effective control over the military.

But the vehicle through which accountability will be sought will bring about a new dynamic that has the potential to redefine Indonesian civil-military relations. It will also have direct ramifications for continuing separatist movements in Aceh, West Papua and the Malukus, which will, in turn, affect stability in the Southeast Asian region as a whole.

Seeking justice for East Timor is imperative, but it should not come at the cost of security in the greater region. With a long list of war-crimes suspects and an estimated 100,000 East Timorese still held hostage in squalid, militia-run camps in West Timor, the world watches to see if Indonesia under Wahid's leadership can quickly and comprehensively address these issues. The recent agreement is just one step down a long road of reconciliation that could, if carefully navigated, bring about meaningful justice without compromising Indonesia's democratic development.

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Susan Lynne Tillou, Former Research Associate and Coordinator of Asia Studies Programming at the Council on Foreign Relations, Works With the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor

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