Subject: JP editorial: Blind nationalism

The Jakarta Post December 13, 2000


Blind nationalism

Nationalism, in the narrowest sense of the term, has reared its ugly head once again in this country this past week with the latest row between Indonesia and the United Nations. The climax was Monday's attack on a car carrying UN officials after they visited the House of Representatives in Jakarta. The assailants, invoking the red-and-white national flag, were protesting against the United Nations' plan to question a number of Indonesian Military and National Police officers in connection with the mayhem in East Timor last year. The message that they conveyed to the UN visitors in such a rude manner was that the planned UN investigation amounted to interference in Indonesia's domestic affairs.

The Indonesian government, in this case, Attorney General Marzuki Darusman, had apparently signed an agreement allowing the UN Transitional Authority in East Timor (UNTAET) to question Indonesians as part of its investigations into crimes committed last year when the province was still administered by Indonesia. The agreement was reciprocal. Indonesian authorities could, in their own pursuit of justice, conduct investigations in East Timor.

Lawyers for the 22 military and police officers whom UNTAET wanted to question last week refused to allow their clients to meet with the UN investigators. Besides invoking nationalism and insisting that Indonesian officers were only answerable to the laws of the land, the lawyers questioned the validity of the agreement that Marzuki signed with UNTAET. On Tuesday, Indonesian Military (TNI) chief Admiral Widodo A.S. put more pressure on Marzuki, who has already been accused of selling out the nation, by saying that he would not permit any TNI officer, presumably active or retired, to meet with the UNTAET investigators.

As in the past, nationalism has again been used effectively to obstruct the pursuit of truth and justice, the objective of the UNTAET exercise. Again, nationalist elements, with a little help from their friends in the media, have construed the word nationalism in its narrowest sense, and have mobilized the public to shield a small group of people.

Typically, by playing the nationalist card and attacking the legality of Marzuki's agreement with UNTAET, the proponents have diverted attention away from the substance of the matter: the pursuit of justice. They have instead turned the heat on Marzuki, and away from the people who really should be held accountable for their misdeeds in East Timor.

We have seen such misuses of nationalism happen too many times in this country in the past. What is sad about this practice is that while it has shielded some people from having to answer or account for their actions before a court of justice, it has done irreparable damage to Indonesia's credibility and reputation as a member of the international community.

This episode has renewed questions about Indonesia's commitment or ability to see that justice is upheld in this country, something that any decent member of the international community should be able to guarantee. The government's failure to present the officers for questioning could even be construed as an obstruction of international justice.

The international community has already given the benefit of the doubt to Indonesia in connection with the investigation into how the Indonesian Military failed to protect lives and property shortly after the East Timorese voted for independence in August last year. It has also given the benefit of the doubt to Indonesia with regard to the investigation of the murder of three UN relief workers in Atambua, the refugee town close to the East Timor border.

Resisting pressure for an international tribunal, Indonesia has insisted on conducting its own investigations in both cases. But the investigations, like all other politically-charged cases in this country, have been painfully slow. International patience must have its limits, and one suspects that it is fast wearing thin, especially after the latest episode.

If Indonesia continues to fail to live up to its minimum obligation as a member of the international community to uphold justice, the world will be forced to establish an international tribunal to try the perpetrators of last year's human rights violations in East Timor. Since the government seems to be completely incompetent, incapable or unwilling in respect of the conducting of its investigations, we could perhaps ask the international tribunal to hear all of the many other cases of human rights abuses in this country which have been left pending for too long.

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