Subject: Time: Coming to Grips with History, Jakarta-Style

Time Asia

Issue cover dated August 5, 2002

Letter from Indonesia

Coming to Grips with History, Jakarta-Style

In the East Timor trials, neither the soldiers nor their buddies look worried


Photo: Former militia leader Guterres emerges from his trial in Indonesia's human rights court.WEDA/AFP

For a man facing the death penalty, Eurico Guterres doesn't look anxious. Sitting in a steamy Jakarta courthouse, a ceiling fan whirring overhead, he appears to have given more consideration to choosing his outfit-combat fatigues smartly pressed, a red and white scarf tied fastidiously around his neck-than to saving his own skin. Guterres is a central figure in the first ever human-rights trials held on Indonesian soil, a highly public attempt to account and atone for the carnage that occurred in East Timor in 1999 when the Indonesian military, in conjunction with local militias, viciously turned on supporters of East Timor's pro-independence movement. But Guterres, the leader of one of the most brutal of the militia gangs, wears the look of someone whose conscience is clean as he asks, "What do I have to be concerned about?"

International pressure forced Indonesia to hold the trials, but Jakarta, insisting the tribunals be under Indonesian jurisdiction, appointed local judges and prosecutors. Ostensibly intended to deliver justice to victims who were murdered or wounded while simply trying to vote in East Timor's independence referendum, the trials have come to symbolize Indonesia's struggle to rein in the military's influence on virtually every aspect of life in this sprawling archipelago.

From the start, however, the government has been accused of being less than vigorous in its prosecution. The indictments drawn up by the Attorney General's office focus on specific incidents, rather than attempting to prove a systematic campaign of terror by the military and its militia proxies. They charge military and police leaders (and Guterres) with failing to prevent the violence. The implication is that the murders, maimings and firebombings being dissected at the trials were a few extreme acts in an otherwise just and orderly operation. That's how the military wants its actions in 1999 to be portrayed, and that's what was heard until recently from people on the streets-but not what investigators, journalists and activists saw in East Timor, and have described in accounts available to anyone who cares to look. "The indictments are so appalling that they will serve no useful purpose," says Sidney Jones of the International Crisis Group.

Today's testimony concerns a joint military and militia raid on the home of pro-independence leader Manuel Carrascalao's in April 1999. One witness recounts seeing a friend killed, before being shot and stabbed himself; Guterres yawns. Another claims to have helped dispose of the bodies of the 11 people killed that day; Guterres smiles at a joke from one of his six lawyers. A third says he was forcibly conscripted into Guterres' militia under fear of death. The defendant taps his foot and glances around the room. Guterres was videotaped before the raid calling for the destruction of the Carrascalao family and the death of pro-independence Timorese. He has been placed at the house by eyewitnesses. But those witnesses are not here. Those who are here seem flustered, unable to understand some of the questions, which are in Indonesian. There is no interpreter present. The chief judge warns a defense lawyer to speak more slowly and less aggressively. The lawyer says that East Timorese must be spoken to sternly or they won't understand, like children.

A special rapporteur from the United Nations was in Jakarta last week on a mission to assess the state of the Indonesian judiciary. He told reporters that what he saw had been even more disappointing than his already dismal expectations. For the duration of his 32-year reign, former President Suharto prevented the growth of an independent judiciary and kneecapped the concept of aggressive prosecution. Though Bapak is several years removed from power, many believe the rich and powerful still benefit from a favorably disposed judiciary. And the military's influence, far from shrinking, is being shored up. Which is not to say the trials won't deliver some convictions. Indonesia is aware of Washington's interest in the case. Following the 1999 slaughters, Congress passed laws saying U.S. relations with Indonesia, particularly military cooperation, would be limited until the country accounted for crimes against humanity in East Timor, among other reforms. Washington wants to get closer to the Indonesian military, viewing it as an important Southeast Asian partner in the fight against terrorism. Some soldiers could get jail time and some might even serve it, but these will be sacrificial convictions offered up by a grudging military-not an atonement, not an accounting and certainly not justice.

The military is openly displaying contempt for the trials, closing ranks and acting as if they've been betrayed. Their uniformed, bemedaled presence in the courtroom can be read as an attempt to remind the judiciary where the real power lies. At the opening hearing for five men accused of allowing a massacre at a church in Suai, the five army Chiefs of Staff attended with their wives, a dramatic reminder that those supporting the defendants are more powerful than those who will decide their fate. On Thursday morning, the trial of Yudyat Sudryato, a commander of the military's Kopassus special forces, was in session. About 40 Kopassus members faced the judges from the gallery, decked out in full uniform, red berets tucked under shoulder straps and daggers hanging from their belts despite a ban on weapons in the courtroom. East Timorese witnesses find that atmosphere unnerving, and they're not alone. One of the judges in another of the trials, when asked by Time if he thought the soldiers were trying to intimidate the members of the court, nodded vigorously.

The day before, Guterres himself was strutting around the hallway, clad head-to-toe in denim, with his long mane of hair trailing behind, accompanied by the scent of bountifully applied cologne. (At the judges' discretion, none of the defendants in any of the trials have been incarcerated.) He ducked into the trial of General Adam Damiri, who oversaw the military command for East Timor in 1999 and is the highest ranking military official on trial. When Damiri's session ended, Guterres hurried to greet the general with a handshake and a hug, and the two men walked out together, smiling-and confident in the belief that their version of history will live on.

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