Getting away with murder
New Zealand Herald
Getting away with murder
By EUGENE BINGHAM
Indonesia's military, from the top brass down to regular soldiers and members of the militia, have gone unpunished for the massacres, assassinations and executions carried out in East Timor in 1999.
Some of those involved in the violence are now running crackdowns in other parts of the Indonesian archipelago. Some indicted for crimes against humanity by the United Nations have never faced trial.
Of those who have been put on trial by the Indonesians, none are actually serving their jail sentences.
The atrocities, part of a planned strategy in response to the independence uprising which culminated in East Timor's vote for freedom four years ago today, have been the subject of a justice process now shown to be a sham.
In 1999, New Zealand was at the forefront of efforts to support Timorese independence, not least by sending our largest post-war contingent of troops to serve as peacekeepers. One of those soldiers, Private Leonard Manning, was killed by a militia group dependent on the Indonesian military.
To many, including Foreign Minister Phil Goff, New Zealand bears some responsibility to ensure that justice is done, and he says New Zealand intends to keep up the pressure for that to happen. The Indonesians have failed to deliver the credible trials they promised.
To another Government MP, Matt Robson, there are dark factors in our past that mean we owe it to the Timorese to ensure those responsible for the bloodshed are held to account.
"New Zealand has had a shameful record in regard to Indonesia and East Timor," says Robson. As Associate Minister of Foreign Affairs from 1999 to 2002, he read uncensored versions of historic official papers to Government ministers about Indonesia and East Timor.
"The whole strain of advice was, 'Indonesia is so important to us and the West economically and strategically that you just turn a blind eye'.
"As a Government, we have not taken the [soft] Australian path and that is to our credit. But there is enormous pressure to exculpate Indonesia from what they have done and what they are doing."
After the world learned of the violence committed in East Timor, the UN set up an international commission of inquiry to carry out preliminary investigations. It found a pattern of serious human rights violations and recommended the UN set up an international human rights tribunal similar to the bodies that tried war criminals from the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda.
But instead, the UN Security Council allowed Indonesia to try its own, through an ad-hoc tribunal on human rights violations. When the trials finished in Jakarta this month, only 18 people had been brought before the tribunal.
Just six were found guilty, and the sentences handed down were often less than the minimum.
Major-General Adam Damiri, regional commander of the part of Indonesia that included East Timor in 1999 and the highest-ranking officer to face trial, was jailed for just three years. The minimum sentence was 10.
Like the other five convicted, however, Damiri has not yet gone to prison, pending appeal. Several times he did not turn up for court sessions because he was too busy.
The Indonesia prosecution even called for Damiri to be found not guilty, failed to produce crucial evidence and called witnesses who gave evidence for the defence.
East Timorese witnesses brave enough to travel to Jakarta were intimidated - the courtrooms were packed with military who made it clear they were there to support the accused. One woman who went to give evidence about the Suai massacre and the rape of her daughter was denied a translator.
Running in parallel to the Jakarta trials, a separate UN process has been under way in the East Timor capital, Dili. International prosecutors and investigators working for the UN's Serious Crimes Unit have been gathering evidence about crimes against humanity in 1999.
As of this month, it has laid 65 indictments in the Dili District Court alleging crimes by 301 people. More than 25 per cent of the accused were members of the Indonesian security forces, including 32 military commanders.
In February, the Serious Crimes Unit laid its most serious charges in its so-called national indictment, which made allegations going right to the heart of the Indonesian Government. Heading the list of accused was General Wiranto, former Indonesian Minister of Defence and commander of the armed forces. Six high-ranking commanders and the former Governor of East Timor were also indicted.
About 30 convictions have been made so far as a result of the unit's work, but Indonesia refuses to extradite any of its citizens to East Timor to face trial. More than 70 per cent of the accused remain at large in Indonesia. Only one Indonesian soldier has stood trial.
The non co-operation of the Indonesians and the failure of the ad-hoc tribunal are no surprise. Even before the hearings began, legal experts in Jakarta were questioning the process.
New Zealand observers noted one senior member of the Jakarta legal fraternity saying: "Why should Indonesia bother itself with the tribunals now that East Timor is no longer part of Indonesia? And in any case, what happened was partly a result of East Timor leaving Indonesia in the first place."
Senior members of the Indonesian Government did not believe soldiers had done anything wrong. Called to give evidence to the tribunal, Wiranto said the soldiers were only doing their jobs and had not violated human rights.
Wiranto said he had not agreed with President B.J. Habibie's decision to hold a poll. He testified that Indonesia had tried to keep the peace "but people need to understand that, after 23 years of fighting and many deaths, the situation was tense".
The security forces were given a "mission impossible".
Wiranto also partially blamed the UN staff in Timor for the outbreak of post-referendum violence, saying they had announced the decision too soon and without addressing concerns about ballot fraud and fairness.
Indonesia specialist and Victoria University part-time lecturer Andrew Renton-Green says Indonesia realises justice must be seen to be done, but the country still feels aggrieved at the way it lost East Timor.
"I get the sense that there is some resentment in some areas about the way that Indonesia was put into a position where it had no choice," says Renton-Green, a former New Zealand Army colonel who also served as a defence attache at the embassy in Indonesia.
"There will be reluctance in a number of quarters to exposing their nationals [over] what was a purely domestic issue in their view. People who acted as they did acted in pursuance of Indonesian Government policy.
"Whether that policy was right or wrong is another issue. The way they look at it is they should be tried under the conditions that existed at the time - Indonesian law."
The view of the Indonesians is not one that has much sympathy internationally - at least publicly. The United States noted after the Damiri trial that no one has yet been jailed for the murders of more than 1000 people. The European Union drew up a declaration setting out the failings of the process. New Zealand, Canada and Switzerland co-signed the declaration.
Non-government organisations and activists who fought for Timorese independence have called for an international tribunal to be set up.
The Prime Minister of East Timor, Dr Mari Alkatiri, wants an international commission of inquiry to review the process and the possibility of an international tribunal.
"I would prefer not to comment on the courts of another country but the point is, I never had any hope about the ad-hoc tribunals," Alkatiri told the Weekend Herald. "For me, there is no frustration, because I never had any hope. What we are looking for is some kind of international commission of inquiry to keep the problem alive and to go to the truth."
Like other senior Timorese politicians, Alkatiri is not demanding that Indonesia be held accountable. He believes that responsibility for seeing justice done belongs to the international community.
This is part of the delicate balancing act Timor has found itself having to perform. Its victims of the atrocities want justice, but it has to establish a relationship with its giant neighbour.
"We need to keep developing relations [with Indonesia], but what I have been telling people concerning what happened in 1999 is that responsibility for a solution belongs to the international community," says Alkatiri.
Renton-Green says Timor's position is made difficult by the fact that expectations about the process were raised too high.
"The process was regarded by the Timorese as a panacea: this is going to get all the bad bastards, we're going to lock them up and chop their heads off.
"In the event, a few got caught, a few got tried and a few got put in prison.
"Expectations were too high. You can't please everybody all the time but in this particular instance there was a very strong desire on the part of the international community to please everybody. Well, it doesn't work."
Timorese human rights campaigners are pressuring their Government and the international community to do more.
Human rights lawyer Aderito de Jesus Soares says Alkatiri and other Timorese leaders, including President Xanana Gusmao and Foreign Minister Jose Ramos Horta, are "trapped in a logic of pragmatism" where they do not wish to upset the Indonesians.
He thinks it is disingenuous of politicians to say the people of Timor want to move on with their lives, rather than pursuing justice.
"It is right that people want to move on, but it is based on justice as the fundamental principle. If people demand justice, it does not mean that they cannot move on."
Even if the Timorese Government hardened its approach, Matt Robson is pessimistic about the likelihood of it achieving anything.
"Those who have got the ability will stymie it at every turn. In Indonesia, some of the worst human rights violators we've ever seen are living in comfort. Indonesia is playing the card among the powerful nations: you need our resources, you need us on your side for strategic interests, leave us alone. It's as pure and simple as that."
In 1999, there may have been international moves against Indonesia - many countries, including New Zealand, withdrew from military contact - but the stance has not held firm. Australia is now back training with the Indonesian special forces unit Kopassus (involved in some of the East Timor killings) and the British are selling arms to Indonesia again.
"Behind the scenes at every stage of the tragedy that unfolded in East Timor, these people have acted with impunity, knowing that much of what has been said has been for public consumption, and that behind the scenes they've been getting a pat on the head."
Phil Goff says there is no intention of NZ renewing the severed defence links with Indonesia, and the Government will press for a resolution of how to deal with those responsible for the violence of 1999.
He believes the international community retains a responsibility, and understands why Alkatiri would rather leave it to others to find a solution.
"It was the Security Council that agreed to Indonesia carrying out a national process [the ad-hoc tribunal] rather than an international tribunal."
But the deal was that it had to meet internationally credible standards and that standard was not met.
Veteran activist Maire Leadbeater is adamant that the implications are serious.
"You have got a military that blatantly says human rights are less important than territorial integrity. They are waging outright war against innocent civilians. If the international community does not insist on an end to impunity, then Indonesia gets the message that it's business as usual."