Subject: JP editorial: Timor' Tribunals: Let's Do It Right

The Jakarta Post March 19, 2002


Let's do it right

Indonesia finally has begun prosecuting the military soldiers, police officers and government officials in charge of East Timor in 1999, the year the territory overwhelmingly voted to become an independent nation. Two and a half years in the making, the East Timor tribunals should be seen as a golden chance for Indonesia to prove to the outside world that it can live up to its responsibilities as a member of the international community.

The violence that broke out in East Timor before and after the UN-sponsored ballot in August 1999 has tarnished the image and reputation of Indonesia. Put in simple terms, Indonesia failed to protect the lives, the safety and the property of the East Timorese under its charge. Keep in mind that it was Jakarta who insisted that security arrangements in East Timor during the self-determination vote be entrusted to the Indonesian Military.

And Jakarta's reluctance and foot-dragging in prosecuting those responsible for the violence has only destroyed what little credibility Indonesia still commanded in the eyes of the world in the wake of the 1999 mayhem.

The tribunals, which will try 18 government officials, military soldiers and police officers, should answer many of the questions that have been lingering for the last two and a half years. We know what happened in 1999, but we are short of explanations as to why these events happened at all.

Shortly after it became apparent that pro-Indonesian forces in East Timor had lost the vote by a landslide, violence on a mass scale erupted in East Timor. Hundreds of thousands of East Timorese were herded at gunpoint by pro-Indonesian militias across the border into the western part of Timor island. Those who did not comply were slaughtered. Most towns, including the capital Dili, were destroyed as was most of the infrastructure that Indonesia had built over the 25 years it ruled the territory.

There are allegations that the violence was a deliberate policy, in fitting with the Indonesian Military's scorched-earth policy. Even if the violence was not a deliberate policy, there are questions about the failure of the Indonesian security apparatus to prevent the attacks. At any rate, someone within the Indonesian government, particularly the Indonesian Military, should be held accountable for this mayhem, which caused a major international uproar.

The tribunals, for all their shortcomings, should at the very least come up with some credible explanations about the unfortunate chain of events in East Timor in 1999. Once the tribunals have established the truth, they should have the courage to mete out punishments that fit the crimes.

Indonesia has wasted so much time trying, in vain, to prevent the tribunals from taking place. It dragged its feet in formulating a human rights law, establishing the human rights tribunal and enacting other necessary legal instruments.

It is unfortunate that pressure on the government to hold the tribunals has come mostly from outside the country. For most Indonesians, East Timor was not just a mistake, but a nightmare they would rather forget, especially now that the territory is no longer part of the Republic. This explains why domestic pressure for the tribunals is nearly nonexistent.

It is left to the international community to remind Jakarta of its obligations in East Timor. The United States is leading the campaign to put pressure on Indonesia, halting all military cooperation with Jakarta, including the sale of weapons, until it sees a credible trial take place.

The danger in this is that the tribunals may be seen largely as a response to outside pressures or an attempt to please the international community, rather than a genuine attempt to find the truth, uphold justice and punish the guilty.

For what it is worth, the East Timor tribunals have finally begun. The best we can do now is hope that justice be allowed to run its full course. While it is not our intention to interfere in the legal process, we hope that members of the tribunals realize what is at stake and get down to work and uncover the truth in a swift manner. Justice delayed is no justice at all.

Here is a rare chance for Indonesia to do the right thing. This is not simply a matter of restoring Indonesia's honor and integrity in the eyes of the world. We owe this to ourselves as much as to the East Timorese who lost their lives, their livelihoods and their homes in 1999. Let's not squander this opportunity.

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