Subject: Truth and justice for Timor - James Dunn

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Truth and justice for Timor

Truth and justice for Timor

This week we are facing two challenging humanitarian issues, the situation in Zimbabwe and the findings of the Indonesia-East Timor Truth and Friendship Commission.

From Australia's point of view the Zimbabwe problem is an urgent human rights issue, one that has stirred the passions of most of us.

The reality, however, is that we can't do much to influence the outcome.

That role is left to Zimbabwe's neighbours and the major world powers, which seem to have settled on a more conciliatory response than we would prefer.

What we can do is to press for a UN response that might ease the humanitarian crisis facing the people of Zimbabwe.

What to do about the findings of the commission (CTF) report is a very different matter.

It might seem of little real relevance, involving, as it does, a situation that no longer exists.

In reality though it is quite important, because Australia's reaction just might be able to influence the outcome for the people still traumatised by the horrendous human rights abuses they endured over a 24-year period, when to the shame and dismay of many of us, Australian governments gave diplomatic support to the perpetrators, helping shield them from international scrutiny.

The final decision will, of course, be up to the political leaders of East Timor and Indonesia, but we have an opportunity to encourage a just resolution of the problem in keeping with the international standards that prevailed in relations to similar situations in Cambodia, Bosnia and Rwanda, and underlie our concerns about Zimbabwe.

In this latest report on past events in East Timor, two of these key principles are at risk of being pushed aside - justice for the victims and no impunity for those responsible for crimes against humanity.

In this respect, the findings of the CTF report (which I have now seen) are encouraging but they still fall well short of an appropriate response.

One problem is the mandate of the CTF which confined its investigations to events between January and October 1999. It meant that the commission took little account of the general pattern of human rights abuses that began with the attack on Balibo in October 1975. It also meant that the commission apparently did not take into account the fact that the militia and their agenda of violence was, in the first instance, carefully organised by Kopassus generals in July-August 1998.

The report does conclude, that Indonesia's military was responsible for supporting and equipping the militia units responsible for the massacres in 1999 and the many cases of torture and intimidation. However, it seeks to soften the blow by accusing pro-independence supporters for illegal detention.

For all its shortcomings, the report is an important document that will stir the political scene in Jakarta, increasing pressure for a wider and more comprehensive inquiry, and, immediately, it should lead to demands for a comprehensive reform of the TNI, especially its still powerful Kopassus. The CTF report is an important step in the right direction, but to take up the challenge calls for the kind of political will and humanitarian commitment that has in the past given way to political opportunism.

James Dunn is an author with four decades of experience as a foreign affairs official and with UN agencies. 

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