Subject: Remorse without reform - Interview with human rights activist Usman Hamid 

East Timor: Remorse without reform

Interview with human rights activist Usman Hamid

First Broadcast 20/07/2008


A recent report into the violence surrounding East Timor's independence vote in 1999 places the blame for crimes against humanity squarely at Indonesia's feet.

Indonesia's president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, has since expressed his 'deepest remorse' for the violence, making him the first Indonesian leader to formally acknowledge the institutional responsibility of the Indonesian state, its military and police.

However, he stopped short of an official apology and the author of the report, the joint Indonesian East Timorese Commission of Truth and Friendship, has no power to prosecute.

Human rights groups have dismissed the commission as meaningless without prosecutions or the substantial reform of the Indonesian military.

Jim Middleton spoke to Usman Hamid, the coordinator of the Indonesian human rights group Kontras.

Jim Middleton: Welcome to the program.

Usman Hamid, Indonesian Human Rights Activist: Thank you.

Jim Middleton: As a person involved in human rights in Indonesia, what's your reaction to the findings of the Truth and Friendship Commission?

Usman Hamid: Yeah, thanks. Actually, it is important to emphasise about the major findings of the report concluded that crimes against humanity took place in East Timor in 1999, around the time of referendum. Killing, tortures and false disappearances, rapes and sexual violence took place before, around and after the referendum. So it is important for Indonesia and Timor Leste to open for more prosecution in the future. And I think despite criticisms the conclusion should be considered as a positive development of both governments as part of - as the form of - official acknowledgement that crimes against humanity were, exist in East Timor.

Jim Middleton: President Yudhoyono offered regrets on behalf of the Indonesian people rather than a full apology. Why did he not go the whole way, the full way?

Usman Hamid: I think first of all, he really wants to show there is a change, that Indonesia would not deny the crimes against humanity in East Timor, like it did in the past. But of course Indonesia is not really wants to be too defensive on denying or accepting the findings of the CTF reports. On the other hand, it is not really easy for the current governments to pursue accountability to criminal prosecutions against individuals who are responsible for the crimes since they have influence in Indonesian politics. So I think we are not satisfied with the 'deeply regret'. It should be apology because apology can be very important in acknowledging... the wounds of the victims and the families.

"It should be apology because apology can be very important in acknowledging... the wounds of the victims and the families."

Jim Middleton: What would have been the consequences for President Yudhoyono had he suggested a move to criminal prosecutions?

Usman Hamid: I think from the legal point of view there is no negative consequence since the report concludes crimes against humanity took place in East Timor. Crimes against humanity are not subject to statutes of limitation, are not subject to amnesty and crimes against humanity are not subject to non retroactivity, therefore criminal prosecutions in the future is still open, but politically I think it will take some time.

Jim Middleton: If prosecutions are to proceed some time in the future, do you believe that General Wiranto, who was head of the military at the time, ought to be one of those indicted?

Usman Hamid: He should be one of the person to be indicted, because the name of Wiranto is already in the serious crimes unit recommendation and also commission of expert set up by United Nations Secretary General, recommended to Indonesia to prosecute high level suspect like Wiranto. So I think the current situation in Indonesian politics shows a sickness - that military impunity has been reduced, but not significantly.

Jim Middleton: General Wiranto is of course supposed to be a candidate in next year's presidential elections. Wouldn't it complicate matters if he were to be under threat of prosecution?

Usman Hamid: This is a real challenge for the current leadership in Indonesian politics and the prosecution against Wiranto can give political benefit to Yudhoyono, but on the other hand Yudhoyono, as former military seems to be reluctant, seems to not really want to take strong actions against senior generals like Wiranto. But I think the CTF report has very important aspect where it can say that what has been explained by Wiranto as the military chief at the time was wrong. What has been explained by Wiranto that the crimes against humanity were not took place and it's just about the horizontal conflict between East Timorese was wrong. And I think this is a very positive development where in the future it can be used for criminal prosecutions.

"The current situation in Indonesian politics shows a sickness - that military impunity has been reduced, but not significantly."

Jim Middleton: Former Australian Foreign Affairs Minister, Alexander Downer thinks that while the Indonesian President at the time, BJ Habibie did not sanction the violence, he thinks it is possible that General Wiranto disobeyed the President's instructions. Do you think that's what happened?

Usman Hamid: I think it has to be brought to the court. I mean, in, during the times, President Habibie was the one who has been considered as opening Democratic space for East Timor by offering democratic solution for referendum but I think to make sure there is responsibility for the president or just at the level of the chief it should be brought to the court. But Wiranto I think must be its one amongst those responsible persons for the crimes to be brought to justice. And unfortunately the CTF report fails to name any individuals.

Jim Middleton: Thank you very much for your time.

Usman Hamid: Thank you very much.

Back to July menu 

World Leaders Contact List
Main Postings Menu