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Letter to U.S. Ambassador to Indonesia Concerning Justice for East Timor

22 August 2002

The Honorable Ralph L. “Skip” Boyce 
U.S. Ambassador to Indonesia 
Jakarta, Indonesia

Dear Ambassador Boyce:

At a State Department NGO briefing last January, you asked for suggestions on how to ensure that those responsible for the 1999 carnage in East Timor were held accountable. At the time, I proposed that an international tribunal represented the only option for justice. The preposterous results of the first trials six acquittals, the majority related to unspeakable crimes in Suai, and one three-year sentence demonstrate that full U.S.-backing must be given to an international tribunal on East Timor. After almost three years of a U.S. “wait and see” policy, the Jakarta court has delivered nothing but injustice. The results are not surprising; numerous Indonesian, East Timorese, and international observers noted that the process was fundamentally flawed from its inception.

For the sake of democracy and rule-of-law in East Timor and Indonesia, the Administration must not pretend that the trials of the remaining eleven defendants will somehow present a sea-change in the Indonesian military and government grasp of impunity. NGOs from my own to Amnesty International and the International Crisis Group have observed that the trials are so deeply flawed, that, regardless of the outcome, justice via Indonesia’s ad hoc tribunal is simply impossible. The first set of verdicts is a testament to this. The State Department’s August 19 statement in response to the verdicts, notably that the trials will serve as a “warning [to] those who might consider new violations of human rights in Aceh and elsewhere,” is misleading and disappointing. The example set by the trials will not give human rights violators pause. As Asmara Nababan of the Indonesian National Commission on Human Rights observed, if anything, the verdicts will make “upholding and protecting human rights [in Indonesia]…much more difficult.”

Despite the manifest flaws of the ad hoc tribunal, the Administration is poised to reward Indonesia with a level of military assistance not seen in more than a decade. By doing so, the Administration risks actively contributing to the following:

  • Trivialization of crimes against humanity and war crimes in East Timor. The people of East Timor have the same right to see their persecutors brought to justice as others. The pursuit of justice should not depend on the power of particular governments or their allies.
  • Destabilization of East Timor. The day after the acquittals were announced, nearly all detainees in East Timor’s main prison forced their way out of the building; many cited the acquittals as justification. Impunity for the Indonesian architects of East Timor’s destruction while low-level militia are sentenced to long prison terms in East Timor threatens the rule-of-law in East Timor, a critical foundation upon which the new nation must be built.
  • Continued bankruptcy of the rule-of-law in Indonesia and maintenance of the TNI’s political power.
  • Portrayal of the United Nations as a biased, anti-Indonesia institution, and widespread acceptance within Indonesia of military propaganda that spontaneous civil conflict caused East Timor’s devastation. The latter is especially dangerous, as it will enable the Indonesian government and people to keep from learning from past policies.
  • Continued TNI terrorization of the populations of Aceh, Papua, and elsewhere in the archipelago.
  • Increased popular resentment as the U.S. is seen to endorse the TNI’s repressive techniques, including militia formation, used so devastatingly in East Timor and now duplicated elsewhere. Already staggering death tolls in areas of conflict will increase as will displacement.

With this in mind, I urge you to work with your colleagues in the Administration to promulgate a formal policy in support of an international tribunal for East Timor, with follow-up at the UN Security Council. I further urge that you publicly speak out against reinstating full IMET for Indonesia. With $50 million of military and police assistance already in the pipeline for the next two years, much of which will be directed toward counter-terrorism, why surrender remaining leverage? As you know, Congress cut off IMET in the early 1990’s in response to the 1991 Santa Cruz massacre in East Timor. Restrictions on IMET are legislated through 2002 because of continued TNI human rights abuses, impunity, and strong resistance to reform. The restoration of full IMET in 2003 would extinguish any belief by Indonesians and East Timorese that the U.S. government pays more than lip service to democracy, human rights, and respect for the rule-of-law. The Indonesian security forces would register the same message with disastrous results.

We are outraged by the poor process and indefensible results of the Jakarta trials so far. We believe you are as well. We hope the Administration will learn from the failure of these trials and launch a meaningful effort to bring justice to East Timor, and human rights protections and judicial and military reform to Indonesia.

Thank you for your attention. I look forward to your reply.


Karen Orenstein 
Washington Coordinator 
East Timor Action Network

cc: Dr. Condoleezza Rice, National Security Advisor 
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell


see also Human Rights and Justice pages