Subject: JP: Ghosts of E. Timor [+Hunting Down the Perpetrators]

JP Editorial: The Ghosts of East Timor 
JP: Hunting Down the Perpetrators in E. Timor

The Jakarta Post Thursday, May 19, 2005


The Ghosts of East Timor

"Don't go around digging up old skeletons," so an old Indonesian saying goes.

Six-and-a-half years after the turmoil that swept the former province of East Timor (now Timor Leste), Indonesia has not respectfully laid to rest the skeletons of that fateful tragedy.

To this day, full accountability has not been rendered. Who was to blame for the crimes inflicted on the people of the territory?

Most Indonesians are unaware of the true extent of what happened in East Timor. The culture of leaving skeletons hidden in our closet is seemingly much more comfortable than facing the harsh truth of our own inhumanity.

The general public's lack of concern for the violence in East Timor is matched by the government's apparent indifference to the crimes committed in its name.

Despite the rhetoric, Indonesian governments -- both past and present -- have shown a distinct lack of political will in exposing to the fullest what happened in 1999, and in punishing those responsible.

When faced with demands for justice from East Timor, it has responded with protestations about national sovereignty and face-saving solutions.

There would appear to be an unseemly eagerness to move on without saying "we're sorry".

The ad hoc rights tribunal here that tried those suspected of orchestrating the East Timor violence was completely unsatisfactory. No sense of justice was served by the process, which lasted over two years. Two civilian suspects were convicted, one of whom had his conviction overturned by the Supreme Court. The other is waiting for the results of his appeal.

It was, in the end, an exercise in futility.

Once a mere pebble in Indonesia's shoe, the failure to uphold justice has made East Timor an embarrassing albatross hanging around the neck of Indonesia's international image.

Indonesia may have embraced democracy since 1999, but it remains stubbornly incapable of ensuring that justice is done.

But we should not be surprised. This nation has rarely been able to come to terms with its past and its mistakes, or to accept responsibility for its transgressions.

Whether it be the social upheaval that occurred in the wake of the alleged 1966 coup attempt, rights violations in Aceh and Papua, the Trisakti I and II shootings, or the May riots of 1999, justice has never been fully served, and impunity reigns triumphant.

It is, therefore, no surprise that any new initiative on the East Timor issue from the government will be seen be many as another attempt to once against sweep our blemished past under the carpet -- business as usual and no lessons learned!

The Commission of Truth and Friendship (CTF) is the latest initiative undertaken by Jakarta in cooperation with Dili.

Skeptics lament the CTF as a face-saving strategy designed to allow the two neighbors to look to the future while ignoring the specters of the past.

How the CTF will work remains unclear. Its terms of reference are still being drafted as we speak. While the public may have little say on the matter, it is imperative that pressure is exerted to ensure that the twin goals of seeking truth and ensuring accountability become the primary objectives of the CTF. Otherwise, it will evolve into just another instrument to perpetuate the impunity currently enjoyed by guilty Indonesians and Timorese.

Justice must not prostrated to political interest.

The need for justice on the East Timor issue has was again been brought to the fore by the scheduled arrival here today of a UN-sanctioned Commission of Experts, who are due to report to the UN Secretary General on this very issue.

This shows that the search for justice in East Timor remains very much on the international agenda.

We welcome the government's cooperation with the expert commission and hope that the working relationship will continue.

Given that Jakarta and Dili -- the two principal parties involved -- have agreed to resolve the issue through the CTF, it will obviously be difficult for the international community to intervene in an area where it has no political legitimacy. Nevertheless, the oversight of the UN is necessary to ensure that the CTF truly serves justice for Indonesia and East Timor. The assistance of the international community -- financial and technical -- could also help influence the scope of the CTF's work.

Maybe this time justice can be served. It all depends on the transparency and accountability of the CTF's terms of reference, and an earnest intent on the part of all those involved.

The success of the CTF could serve as a point of reference for similar "truth" commissions investigating other historical crimes, while its failure could well be a harbinger that many skeletons will never be laid to rest.


The Jakarta Post Thursday, May 19, 2005


Hunting Down the Perpetrators in E. Timor

Taufik Basari, Jakarta

The atrocities that occurred in East Timor in 1999 have been recognized as gross violations of human rights that constitute international crimes. Elements of these crimes, such as torture, have been recognized as hostis humanis generis, or enemies of all mankind. Consequently, such international crimes are not merely the concerns of particular states, but they constitute international concerns.

Although the report of the Indonesian National Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights Violations in East Timor (KPP-HAM) on Jan. 31, 2000 concluded that 33 individuals should be asked to bear responsibility, including Gen. (ret) Wiranto, only 18 prosecutions where carried out in the ad hoc Human Rights Court in Jakarta. One case is still pending on appeal to the Supreme Court. The 17 other persons charged have already been acquitted.

The Special Panel for Serious Crimes in Dili, East Timor had difficulties bringing Indonesian military suspects to court because the Indonesian Government refused to cooperate. The Special Crimes Unit in East Timor had indicted almost 400 defendants, but 303 of them remain free in Indonesia, including General (ret) Wiranto, Lt. Gen. (ret) Kiki Syahnakri, and Maj. Gen. Zacky A. Makarim, all of whom have never been charged in Indonesia. Maj. Gen. Adam Damiri, Maj. Gen. Tono Suratman, and Lt. Col. Yayat Sudradjat, were charged but acquitted by the ad hoc Human Rights Court in Jakarta.

On Feb. 17, 2005, the UN Secretary-General appointed a United Nations Commission of Experts to review prosecutions of serious crimes committed in East Timor in 1999. He appointed three experts: Prafullachandra Bhagwati (India), Yozo Yokota (Japan), Shaista Shameem (Fiji). The decision of the UN Secretary General to establish the commission of experts was based on three grounds.

First, "the Security Council's conviction that those responsible for grave violations of international humanitarian law and human rights in East Timor in 1999 should be brought to justice."

Second, the Security Council underlines that "the United Nations had a role to play in this process."

Third, Security Council resolution 1573 (2004) reaffirms "the need to fight against impunity" and asks for the UN Secretary General's "intention to continue to explore possible ways to address this issue and make proposals as appropriate."

After initially refusing them, finally the government allowed the Commission of Experts to come to Indonesia on May 18-20, 2005. There is no reason for the government to have non-cooperative policy to the work of the Commission of Experts.

The decision of the UN Secretary General to establish Commission of Experts cannot be separated from the Report of the International Commission of Inquiry on East Timor to the Secretary General on Jan. 31, 2000 and subsequent follow up of the reports.

In its response, the Security Council has stated that according to the report, "grave violations of international humanitarian and human rights law have been committed; those responsible for these violations should be brought to justice as soon as possible."

Any recommendation of the Commission of Experts can be considered by the Security Council to make a decision. The Security Council has power to force any UN member state to comply with their decisions. Consequently, Indonesia and East Timor should cooperate with the decisions of the Security Council that may be made later.

Having international crimes as their subject, the two kinds of courts -- the ad hoc Human Rights Court in Jakarta and Special Panels for Serious Crimes in Dili -- should have met international standards of justice and due process.

The fact that trials have already been held in Jakarta, through the national ad hoc Human Rights Court, does not give the government legitimacy to say that the international community has no reason to "intervene" in the national judicial system. Although there is a "principle favoring national prosecution where possible", courts have to meet international standards because both states, Indonesia and East Timor, and the international community have an obligation to ensure that justice has been done for international crimes.

If the national courts in Jakarta showed an unwillingness and/or an inability to conduct prosecutions for international crimes, or if the courts were intended for the purpose of shielding the persons from criminal responsibility, or if the prosecution had not been conducted independently or impartially, then international mechanisms can play role in resolving the 1999 East Timor case.

Although the government will in all likelihood reject the international mechanism, under Chapter VII of the UN Charter the Security Council has power to compel Indonesia to comply. If this happens, then we can truly say that there is nowhere to hide for the perpetrators of gross violations of human rights.

The writer is a graduate student at Northwestern University, Chicago, and a public attorney at the Legal Aid Institute of Jakarta (LBH Jakarta). He can be reached at

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