Subject: IHT: Indonesia Needs Firm Help in the Timor Calamity

International Herald Tribune September 12, 2000


Indonesia Needs Firm Help in the Timor Calamity

By Sidney Jones and Paul van Zael International Herald Tribune

NEW YORK - It is foolhardy to rely on assurances from President Abdurrahman Wahid that those responsible for the slaying of 15 people in West Timor last week, including three UN refugee workers, will be punished. The militia situation has not been under control since he assumed the Indonesian presidency in October. It is even more foolhardy to look to the Indonesian military. It was the army which created the monster that these militias have become.

It was the army that provided the backing that enabled them to cause widespread destruction in East Timor in September 1999 and force hundreds of thousands of civilians into West Timor after East Timorese voted overwhelmingly for independence.

Major General Kiki Syahnakri, the military commander in the region, failed throughout the year to provide security for refugees and humanitarian workers. He let his troops stand by as militias made raids into East Timor. Neither he nor his superiors in Jakarta took any action to disarm them.

Strong words, such as the UN Security Council issued on Friday, are but not enough. Any lasting solution to the unchecked thuggery requires unity among countries and organizations providing aid, as well as among neighbors of Indonesia, to exert pressure, develop policy options and provide the resources to get the job done.

A sustainable solution must have four elements: disarming and immediately separating known criminals from the rest of the East Timorese in West Timor; protecting refugees and the humanitarian workers who assist them; ensuring rapid repatriation to East Timor of anyone who wishes to return; and guaranteeing that all those who have been victims of militia violence will see justice done.

The best way to separate known criminals from the rest is to arrest them. Indonesia's Human Rights Commission called on Friday for the immediate arrest and detention of suspects in the 1999 violence named by the Indonesian attorney general's office on Sept. 1.

To those 18 could be added any militia members against whom investigators in East Timor or Jakarta have prima facie evidence of major crimes, as in the 1999 scorched earth campaign, or of lesser crimes committed in West Timor, including unlawful detention, hostage-taking, extortion and illegal possession of firearms.

If Indonesia cannot provide security for refugees and aid workers, it will have to cede responsibility to those who can. One option would be to extend the mandate of the UN peacekeeping forces in East Timor to cover UN personnel in West Timor.

Indonesia agreed in August to close the camps in West Timor that the militias use for recruitment and training. East Timorese who chose to stay in Indonesia would be relocated to other sites, and all others would be repatriated. But East Timorese will be able to exercise free choice only if there isa large international monitoring presence, as well as a security presence.

A workable plan for repatriation should include provisions for militia members who may have committed lesser crimes during the 1999 violence but wish to return. East Timor's fledgling court system has limited resources. It is unrealistic to expect the prosecution of thousands of people.

On the other hand, complete impunity would violate international law and lead to widespread anger among the victims. East Timorese leaders have proposed a National Return and Reconciliation Commission as a solution. The commission would allow lesser criminals - those responsible for arson or looting, for example - to enter into a plea bargaining arrangement whereby they confess, apologize and agree to perform some type of community service. The country's judicial resources would be used to target those responsible for serious crimes, such as murder and rape.

It is now urgent that this commission be made operational. If the camps in West Timor are closed and thousands of East Timorese return home, militia members among them, there will have to be a system in place for preventing private acts of vengeance.

A combination of confession, contrition and community service could help do the job and contribute to long-term reconciliation.

The international community watched militia violence for too long last year before acting. It should notdo so again.

Ms. Jones is the Asia director of Human Rights Watch; from last December to July she directed the human rights office of the UN Transitional Administration in East Timor. Mr. van Zael, of the Human Rights Institute of Columbia University Law School, was executive secretary of the South Africa Truth and Reconciliation Commission. They contributed this comment to the International Herald Tribune.

September Menu
World Leaders Contact List
Human Rights Violations in East Timor
Main Postings Menu

Note: For those who would like to fax "the powers that be" - CallCenter V3.5.8, is a Native 32-bit Voice Telephony software application integrated with fax and data communications... and it's free of charge! Download from