Subject: Canberra Times: Crimes in East Timor unpunished

The Canberra Times January 7, 2003

Crimes in East Timor unpunished

James Dunn decries the failure of an Indonesian tribunal to convict those responsible for murder and destruction.

IT IS hard to feel sanguine about the latest acquittal of the Indonesian Human Rights Tribunal, which has been hearing charges against TNI (Indonesian armed forces) officers and militia leaders in relation to events in East Timor in 1999.

The tribunal has just dismissed charges against a Kopassus (Special Forces) officer who is surely one of those most responsible for the crimes against humanity that cost hundreds of lives, and the near total destruction of the territory's towns and villages. This tribunal has now dismissed charges against 10 officers on the grounds of lack of evidence. Only one, Lieutenant- Colonel Sudjarwo, the former military commander of Dili, has been found guilty, and then only of having failed to stop the violence. The real charges that should have been made, responsibility for the setting up of the militia units and their brutal conduct, were not laid against any of these officers. The outcome so far (and it is hard to see how the tribunal can change course) suggests that the TNI is going to be absolved of responsibility for these acts of state terrorism. The not-guilty verdict against Lieutenant-Colonel Yayat Sudradjat during Christmas week seemed the last straw. Sudradjat was a key figure in what was a Kopassus conspiracy to prevent the loss of East Timor by sabotaging UN-sponsored moves for an act of self-determination, by means of violence and intimidation.

In the report compiled by the Indonesian Human Rights Commission investigation set up by President Wahid when he took office, Sudradjat was identified as one of the TNI officers who should be indicted. In a report I compiled for the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor in 2001, he was named as a central actor in the destructive operation, which culminated in the loss of more than 1000 lives, the almost total destruction of East Timor's physical infrastructure and the virtual deportation of 250,000 people to Indonesia. The essential case against the TNI officers is not that they failed to prevent violence, but the much more serious charge that they engineered this campaign of state terrorism. Its architects were Major-Generals Zakky Anwar Makarim and Sjafrei Sjamsuddin, who planned the setting up of the militia in mid-1998, when it had become clear to Kopassus that President Habibie's conciliatory offers could lead to the loss of a territory they had played a key role in acquiring for Indonesia. Without this TNI initiative the militia terror would, I believe, never have existed. Sudradjat played a key role from that time onwards, essentially as the link between the generals and the militia commanders. According to militia witnesses, he provided money to pay militia leaders, supplies of drugs to 'make the militia brave' and operational directions. In fact, there is evidence that on at least one occasion this officer exhorted militia commanders to intensify their violent activities, including against the church and its officials.

There is strong evidence that TNI officers played leading roles in the operations that led to serious atrocities, notably, Suai and Maliana, where dozens of Timorese were killed in what appeared to be revenge attacks for having humiliated the TNI. In these two cases senior Kopassus officers, one of whom has already been acquitted and the other not even charged, virtually directed operations resulting in brutal massacres. There is no shortage of evidence against such officers, but the Indonesian prosecutors have laboured under the limitations of the tribunal's mandate, which covers the period between April and October 1999. In effect this precluded investigation into the setting up of the militia and those responsible for it.

The sentencing of the flamboyant Aitarak militia commander, Eurico Guterres, attracted widespread attention, but he was a mere tool. The big fish, the Kopassus commanders, have virtually been protected from prosecution. The only senior officers brought before it are the territorial commanders, officers like Major-General Adam Damiri, Brigadier-Generals Mahidin Simbolon and Tono Suratnam, and they were acquitted.

These three were, in fact, key operational figures, who played key command roles in the physical destruction of East Timor, and deportations to the Indonesian half of the island. This operation, which the TNI officers themselves described as a 'scorched earth' operation, constituted a serious crime against humanity, but is yet to attract the attention of the tribunal. It is now apparent that the tribunal Indonesia agreed to establish in response to international pressures is likely to absolve the Indonesian military of responsibility for the devastation of East Timor, and for the killing of over 1000 of its people. The main criticism to emerge from it is that some officers did not do enough to stop the violence, which defence lawyers ascribed to fighting between FALINTIL (Armed Forces of National Liberation of East Timor) and supporters of integration.

This was a lie, for FALINTIL troops confined themselves to agreed cantonments during the last period of Indonesian rule.

The tribunal has also been repeatedly told by defence lawyers that international intervention was largely responsible for the agitation that led to violence. It is as much in Australia's interests that those responsible for the Kopassus-inspired terrorism be exposed and brought to justice as it is bring to bring to justice the terrorists responsible for the Bali bombing.

Although there appears to be little enthusiasm in Canberra or Washington for it, an international tribunal should now be given serious consideration. To leave things as they are will leave a festering sore in relations between Indonesia and Australia, and diminish the legitimacy of a UN mission we chose to support.

As for the TNI officers responsible for these crimes, only Sudjarwo, one of the least responsible, has been sentenced. The more senior officers have been promoted. Major-General Adam Damiri later commanded TNI operations in Aceh, while his deputy, Mahidin Simbolon, now a major-general, became military commander in West Papua, where Kopassus officers are currently under investigation for an assassination. As for Sudradjat, after Timor he was promoted colonel and was for a time deputy chief of Group IV of Kopassus, its notorious dirty-tricks department. Meanwhile, in East Timor many low-level militia are languishing in prison while those officers who recruited them continue their privileged existence in Jakarta and elsewhere.

James Dunn is a former UN expert on crimes against humanity in East Timor.

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