Subject: JP Editorial: Give Truth a Chance

The Jakarta Post Friday, February 23, 2007


Give Truth a Chance

The Commission of Truth and Friendship (CTF), set up by Indonesia and Timor Leste, has finally begun to show its face with its inaugural public hearings.

There is apprehension all around as we follow testimonies regarding the violence before and after the 1999 referendum which led to Timor Leste's independence.

There has already been at least one blunt verdict since the first of several planned hearings started Monday: "There will be little transparency and no accountability," wrote blogger James Dunn, a former expert on crimes against humanity for the United Nations.

But there have been other voices, like that of 19-year-old Belinha Alves, who was among the audience listening to the testimony in Sanur, Bali.

Already a witness to much violence despite her young age, she told The Jakarta Post of her high hopes for the CTF process.

"What matters most is a peaceful future. But we also need to know the truth about our past," she said, adding that she trusted the commission would provide the public with this truth. "We will accept the report (of the CTF)," she said.

It is voices from Timor Leste's young generation, like that of Alves, which make us pause and reflect. In simple black-and-white reality, Indonesia was a harsh and often evil colonizer, but with a benevolent face. So much so that many Indonesians were shocked when most Timorese opted for independence. Therefore, those guilty should be punished so we can all start anew.

In the world of Alves and many others, Timorese and Indonesians alike, close relations are shared. This reality, and the obvious need for the young nation to work with Indonesians for its future -- without being blocked by angry, powerful quarters fearing prosecution, led Timor Leste President Xanana Gusmao to make a controversial decision and agree to the joint commission.

Based on the "new and unique approach" to "seek truth and promote friendship", as the CTF's terms of reference state, it was essentially a compromise to the other option of dragging suspected violators of human rights in then East Timor to an international tribunal. Such calls increased in the wake of the acquittal of almost all 18 defendants in Indonesian trials of human rights violations in East Timor.

The formula itself poses a despairing prospect for survivors. Even with the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission as inspiration, experts from South Africa have cited the deprivation of the right to justice for victims.

Pessimists like Dunn, including many Indonesians, do not even expect that the CTF can come up with a credible report, one which Alves and other Timorese would willingly accept -- let alone come close to the credibility enjoyed by Timor Leste's earlier truth and reconciliation commission.

This then is the most crucial expectation of the CTF, as it is not tasked to prosecute rights abusers. A credible report from the commission is the last chance Indonesia has to show the world it is sincere about revealing the truth about the 1999 violence in East Timor, and not, as cynics would argue, only rushing to achieve friendship, while forgetting the past.

The world has already given us an opportunity to enforce our own laws on human rights, but since the results of the 2002 trials its trust has almost vanished.

Failing to produce a credible report would leave no other option but to bring suspected violators of human rights to an international tribunal.

Achieving justice for all victims will be arduous. But the minimum expectation is that victims will have their stories told.

A credible result of the CTF would thus be at least an account of what happened, according to the nearest possible truth, free from narrow nationalist inclinations and the instinct to protect the esprit de corps of Indonesia and its military.

This is where concerns lie, in whether Indonesians, particularly those in the CTF, have such freedom. Another concern is whether Indonesians themselves are ready for the truth, as they were rarely exposed to other versions of what their supposedly heroic, selfless soldiers were doing in the territory.

As a CTF member and retired Indonesian general has said, a compromise that is part of reconciliation requires sacrifices. On Indonesia's part, as Agus Widjojo has said, this might mean apologizing to the Timorese for mistakes in the past, including apologies from the Indonesian Military.

This is far from a commitment to bring justice to victims, but it is a start.

------------------------------------------ Joyo Indonesia News Service

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