Subject: ET Alliance for an International Tribunal
Suara Timor Lorosa'e printed the November 7 SMH article "East Timor determined to leave its past behind" in English on 10 November.
The East Timor Alliance for an International Tribunal sent the following letter to both newspapers. Although it has not yet been published, we wanted to share it with you:
10 November 2003
Although East Timor’s Foreign Minister José Ramos-Horta believes that no one should be held responsible for crimes against humanity committed in our country by former Indonesian leaders, (“East Timor determined to leave its past behind”, SMH 7 Nov. 2003), most of the hundreds of thousands of victims here do not agree. We continue to demand that the international community provide justice by prosecuting those who committed these atrocities against our families.
Mr. Ramos-Horta says that ending impunity would embarrass the government in Jakarta, but he also states that this “new government” cannot be blamed for Indonesia’s 1975 invasion and subsequent 24 years of human rights violations here. If the latter view is correct, why not prosecute those who are responsible but no longer hold office, from former dictator Suharto on down? And if Jakarta’s “new” leadership includes people involved with major crimes in East Timor, wouldn't their accountability help the emerging democracy distance itself from past criminal policies?
The article incorrectly states that courts in East Timor do not have jurisdiction over Indonesian citizens. The UN-established Special Panels in Dili, which are trying serious crimes, have universal legal jurisdiction. What they do not have is the physical capability of arresting accused perpetrators given sanctuary by Indonesia, including former Indonesian Defense Minister General Wiranto, who was indicted in Dili last February for crimes against humanity committed in East Timor during 1999.
Minister Ramos-Horta and President Megawati Sukarnoputri cannot have it both ways. If the new government in Jakarta is not responsible for the thousands of brutal human rights violations Indonesian soldiers committed here between 1975 and 1999, it should be cooperating with East Timorese and international efforts to bring those who are to justice. But if these criminals continue to hold power in Jakarta, embarrassing them would be only the beginning of a process of accountability, and of curtailing similar atrocities currently being committed in Aceh and West Papua.
East Timor alone is too small and too vulnerable to confront its huge neighbor to the north. The international community must continue what it started, and establish an international tribunal to provide justice, as was recommended by both the United Nations International Commission of Inquiry and Indonesia’s official investigation (KPP-HAM) in early 2000. Nearly four years later, none of the major perpetrators has been brought to meaningful justice.
Although the East Timorese people were the most immediate victims, all humanity is wounded by Crimes Against Humanity, and we ask everyone around the world who opposes such crimes to support our call for an international tribunal.
Rosentino Amado Hei
East Timor determined to leave its past behind
By Louise Williams
November 7, 2003
The quest for justice for East Timor's victims of human rights abuses under Indonesian military occupation is in effect over.
The Government in Dili is making reconciliation with its former ruler an absolute priority.
East Timor's Foreign Minister, Jose Ramos Horta, said his government was solid in its opposition to an international human rights tribunal, despite the deaths of about 200,000 East Timorese during Indonesia's 25-year occupation and continuing public demands for accountability. An international tribunal would humiliate Jakarta.
Dr Ramos Horta said during a visit to Sydney this week that it was essential that the impoverished young nation bury the past and rebuild its strained relationship with Indonesia.
He conceded that Jakarta's year-long human rights trials into the carnage of 1999 were disappointing, not just to the East Timorese people, but also internationally.
The trials of 16 Indonesian military officers and two East Timorese officials accused of orchestrating the violence that preceded the Australian-led military intervention in September, 1999, ended recently with 10 acquittals and six convictions.
The most senior military officer convicted, the former regional commander Major-General Adam Damiri, is free awaiting appeal.
The trials were widely criticised for legal and procedural flaws and light sentences, reviving calls for an international tribunal under the United Nations, such as those convened for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia.
An international tribunal can be only convened if a nation's courts are unwilling or unable to deal properly with human rights violations. East Timor's new courts have no jurisdiction over Indonesian citizens, and Jakarta has ignored all extradition requests.
"As Foreign Minister, I will not use my energy to lobby for an international tribunal," Dr Ramos Horta said.
"The Government is very solid on this view. We are in a peculiar situation. Indonesia has changed since 1999, the president and government is new; they cannot be blamed for what happened. It would not be fair."
The East Timorese Government is so anxious not to provoke Jakarta that local journalists were told not to bring up the past during a recent visit by the former Indonesian foreign minister Ali Alatas.
Dr Horta admitted many in East Timor were still traumatised. But, he said, the Government could not be diverted from the overwhelming challenge of building a new nation by sentiments of injustice of desire for revenge.
"Let's not forget the East Timorese were not just victimised by the Indonesians," he said of East Timorese who sided with the Indonesian military and were involved in much of the violence.
East Timor is a tiny nation of mainly rural villages. At village level, getting on with life means facing up to the return of militia gang members to the very communities they terrorised.
These deeply felt grievances are being channelled into a truth and reconciliation commission, based on the South African model, and the most serious cases are being referred to a UN-assisted serious crimes unit for trial.