Subject: JP: Editorial - Truth at Last?

also Tibet and Indonesia

The Jakarta Post

Wednesday, April 2, 2008


Truth at Last?

In a few days the taxing, unenviable job of the men and women tasked to dig up the truth about violence around the time of East Timor's 1999 referendum should be over.

Well past its earlier, already extended deadline of January, the Indonesia-Timor Leste Commission on Truth and Friendship (CTF) should submit its report shortly to the presidents of both countries.

The hurdles to their task, widely expected by the public and no less by the commissioners themselves, have persisted to the end.

Last week the deputy chairman for Indonesia, Agus Widjojo, said the joint commission had to come through "a tough process to seek consensus" before they could submit the report.

Since both countries agreed to set up the commission in 2005, the label "mission impossible" has stuck, for it is unique and probably a world first of its kind. Two countries, the Goliath with over 200 million people and the tiny David of 1 million, which the Goliath formerly occupied, were supposed to work together and come up with the truth of very recent violence, and make up and put everything behind them.

The logic was clear.

A newly independent Timor Leste desperately needed its "big brother" for its survival and growth, despite animosity accumulated mainly from brutal treatment of its neighbor's military and New Order regime under Soeharto, Timorese citizens and activists had said. Many Timorese were resentful of their leaders' pragmatic decision to seek a solution through the set-up of the commission.

Also loud and clear were, and are, the problems against investigating the "truth".

One problem is that Indonesians have never seen themselves as the former "occupier" of East Timor -- even as Timorese commissioners quietly ask whether the Dutch can ever erase their historic trademark as our former colonialists.

Another may relate to the fact that when you've denied problems for so long you tend to believe your own justifications and reasoning.

This was clear in a few public hearings of the commission featuring retired Indonesian generals. Former Indonesian Military chief Gen. (ret) Wiranto was among those who said the chronic violence in Timor Leste could be traced to the local culture of violence. It was the only way those poor people understood.

Part of the general's audience found it hard to keep a straight face at such a simplistic conclusion, but the repeated applause from his supporters would not be limited to only a few among the Indonesian public.

Just look, such people would say: Since their independence we have not seen the Timorese able to enjoy peace for long. Dili alone still has tens of thousands of refugees, not to mention some 10,000 displaced people along the border with one of Indonesia's poorest provinces, East Nusa Tenggara.

Indonesians smirk at Timor Leste's continuous inability to preserve stability, the latest incident ending in the shooting of President Jose Ramos-Horta. The country remains poor and violence-ridden, surely in a worse state than the days of the benevolent Indonesian Republic.

What many Indonesians cannot fathom is what drove Timorese to overcome all their fears and come out and vote in the 1999 referendum that led to their independence -- and why they won.

But worse, the issue is rarely even questioned.

So what could the commission possibly achieve?

Can it educate Indonesians and Timorese, can it nudge painful realities under the noses of those who refuse to see?

If indeed there are ugly facts, will President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono tuck the report under his arm and hope we will all forget, as he did with an earlier report of another commission he appointed himself, the fact-finding team on the murder of the activist Munir?

Commissioners have repeatedly said they "can't satisfy everyone", for their mandate is neither for the prosecution of individuals considered guilty, nor the rehabilitation of victims.

They said the report will name "an institution" responsible for the 1999 violence, seek "lessons learned" and establish whether there were "gross crimes against humanity".

Indonesia's credibility in the international community won't increase much if the report fails to pinpoint anything with clarity. Timorese may shrug and get on with their long struggle for peace and prosperity. They already had their outpouring of admittance and tears through their own commission on truth and reconciliation.

But it is Indonesians who stand to lose the most if the CTF, or our leaders, choose to gloss over the facts and treat all the destruction and violence in Dili and other towns as mere tragic "excesses" of a virtual power vacuum in the days before and after the 1999 vote.

Time may heal the Timorese' pains. But we will continue to be blind over our history.

The CTF is not tasked with handling the entire chapter of Indonesia-East Timor relations. But failure to tackle merely the end part of that past will make it increasingly hard to answer our grandchildren's query: "If you were so kind to East Timor, Grandpa, why did they want to break free?"


The Jakarta Post

Wednesday, April 2, 2008


Tibet and Indonesia

To a certain extent, the Tibet problems facing China now have some similarities with the headache and then humiliation Indonesia had to suffer when the majority of the East Timor population voted for independence in the 1999 referendum. But also to certain degree, Indonesia can share its success story with China on bringing peace to the rebellious Aceh.

China is incomparable to Indonesia, by all means; at least for the time being. However, the two countries have similar sensitivities on territorial integrity issues because both of them have to confront separatist regions from time to time.

During Indonesia's two-decade occupation, Indonesian leaders often felt irritated with the attitude of Bishop Carlos Felipe Ximenes Belo, the spiritual leader of the predominantly Catholic territory. Now China is outraged, but also seems confused, with the Dalai Lama, who is highly respected as the spiritual leader of Tibet but continues humiliating China internationally. Indonesia lost East Timor, which it invaded in 1976, because of its repressive and military approaches and disrespect for human dignity.

In Aceh, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono succeeded in signing a treaty with the Aceh rebels to end the three-decade war there. Many say the 2004 tsunami was the crucial factor to creating peace. But the fact that now peace has returned to Aceh is undeniable.

China may benefit from the Indonesian experience, although both East Timor -- now Timor Leste -- and Aceh led to excruciating pain for Indonesia.

China lacks credibility in countering international press reports on rampant violence in Tibet, both against the Tibetans and against other Chinese ethnic groups. Its decision to close Tibet to outsiders and to restrict access to international media only sparked more outside curiosity.

With the 2008 Olympics only a few months ahead, Chinese leaders used traditional tactics to silence the Tibetans and damage the reputation of the Dalai Lama. The Dalai Lama always calls for peaceful means although China complains he does not urge his people to stop violence. That's what Indonesian leaders did to Bishop Belo.

The Dalai Lama has repeatedly said he was ready to talk with Chinese leaders to find peaceful solutions and that Tibetans only demanded wide-ranging autonomy and not independence. The Tibet leader, however, needs to prove again and again that China is wrong in picturing him as a violent leader.

For the Chinese government, the upcoming Olympics should be successful by all means. Its economic, political and military power continues to rise and the sports event will be a crown from the international community as their recognition of China's might. There are growing calls to boycott the Olympics but it is very unlikely because perhaps there are only a few countries in the world which do not have interests in the economic superpower China.

China needs to identify the roots of Tibet problems and not just issue traditional propaganda like it's did so far. The world has changed. Closing Tibet to the outside will only worsen the situation. People tend to show strong empathy to the weak; in this context, Tibetans.

Very few East Timorese could imagine Timor Leste eventually becoming an independent state. Tibet will not be able to follow Timor Leste's luck, but China can face the worsening condition there only when its leaders are ready to open their hearts and minds.

Tibetans, as all citizens of China, have the right to human rights protection as well as to welfare from the state. Tibet is a very complicated issue and there is no simple magic power to erase the predicament.

The leaders of Tibet and the Chinese government need to realize that for the sake of their people they must find a comprehensive solution to overcome Tibet's problems.

Back to April Menu

World Leaders Contact List
Main Postings Menu