Vol. 12, No. 1
Justice Remains Distant for East Timorese
Justice Remains Distant for East Timorese
By John M. Miller and Ben Terrall
On November 12, 1991, Indonesian soldiers massacred at least 271 East Timorese civilians nonviolently marching to demand a United Nations-supervised referendum after years of illegal Indonesian military occupation.
U.S. reporter Allan Nairn was with the marchers at the Santa Cruz cemetery in Dili, East Timor’s capital. He had his skull fractured by a soldier wielding a U.S.-supplied M-16, and later wrote: “The troops fired no warning shots and did not tell the crowd to disperse. They . . . raised their rifles to their shoulders all at once and opened fire.”
By the time of that 1991 massacre, as many as 200,000 East Timorese had died as a result of the U.S.-backed occupation. But the testimony and documentation of Nairn, Amy Goodman and other foreign journalists who survived Santa Cruz exposed the brutality of Indonesian military occupation to the outside world, and helped spark ETAN’s campaign to block U.S. military assistance to Jakarta.
East Timor finally achieved independence after a hard-won referendum in 1999, a process steeped in yet more Indonesian military mass killings. Under intense U.S. grassroots pressure, the Clinton administration suspended all military assistance to Jakarta when the Indonesian military responded to the pro-independence vote by laying waste to East Timor in September 1999, and Congress subsequently legislated continuing limits on aid. (See article page 3) But after seven years and countless processes, Indonesia, East Timor and the United Nations have failed to achieve accountability for crimes against humanity committed between 1975 and 1999. This impunity has led some in East Timor to believe that they will not be held accountable when they commit violent crimes contributing to the country’s current crisis. (See article page 1)
The majority of East Timorese, and solidarity activists internationally, continue to view an international tribunal as the best way to pursue Indonesian generals and political leaders who organized and ordered the worst occupation-era atrocities and to ease post-traumatic stress. A credible international tribunal can demonstrate that impunity will not prevail, as indicated by a May 2005 UN Commission of Experts report on 1999 human rights violations in East Timor. That report concluded, “The Commission wishes to emphasize the extreme cruelty with which these acts were committed, and that the aftermath of these events still burdens the Timorese society. The situation calls not only for sympathy and reparations, but also for justice. While recognizing the virtue of forgiveness and that it may be justified in individual cases, forgiveness without justice for the untold privation and suffering inflicted would be an act of weakness rather than of strength.”
East Timor’s truth commission, the Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation in East Timor (known by its Portuguese initials, CAVR) strongly called for concrete justice. The product of three years of extensive research by dozens of East Timorese and international experts, the CAVR report (called “Chega!”, Portuguese for “Enough!”) recommended reparations for East Timorese victims from countries that backed the occupation, including the U.S., and from corporations that sold weapons to Indonesia during that period. (See article page 7)
An East Timorese involved in disseminating the report throughout the country remarked, “It is clear that many in the community who took part in seminars on Chega! over the last two months saw a strong connection between the findings and recommendations of Chega! and the re-emergence of violence and instability. Many asked why East Timorese leaders have failed to learn the lessons of the past.”
The UN’s Secretariat and its Security Council’s responses to the Commission of Experts and the CAVR report have been modest at best. They agreed to complete investigations into serious crimes committed in 1999 that remained unfinished when the Serious Crimes Unit was closed in 2005. A solidarity fund to support the UN’s efforts to strengthen Timor’s justice system has yet to be established some six months after it was called for.
The Security Council also called for those involved “to make every effort to strengthen the efficiency and credibility of the [joint Indonesia-East Timor] Commission of Truth and Friendship (CTF) in order to ensure further conformity with human rights principles, with a view to ensuring credible accountability.” This is unlikely. The CTF, whose mandate is also confined to 1999, is holding high profile hearings with General Wiranto, former Indonesia President Habibie, Xanana Gusmao and others. Since its formation in December 2004, the CTF has been heavily criticized by rights groups in both Indonesia and East Timor. Activists fear it will offer a watered-down view of events of 1999 that have already been well-aired in numerous reports, as well as in indictments issued via the serious crimes process in East Timor. The CTF’s mandate forbids it from recommending prosecutions.
The CTF came under renewed attack after some of its Indonesian commissioners announced that it could recommend amnesties for perpetrators who cooperate. Rafendi Djamin of the Human Rights Working Group told the Jakarta Post that “It has been agreed by the international community that gross human rights violations did take place in East Timor and the perpetrators must stand trial for that. There is no such thing as amnesty for the perpetrators.” East Timor’s Judicial System Monitoring Programme said any amnesties would likely be the result of “a high level political conspiracy between the Government of Indonesia and Timor-Leste,” undermining the rights of victims and paving the way for further rights violations.
The CTF’s legal basis is also dubious. It is supposed to operate under the principles of both the CAVR and Indonesia’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. However, Indonesia’s Constitutional Court recently declared the Indonesian commission unconstitutional, citing provisions allowing for amnesty for serious crimes and conditioning reparations on victims forgiving their tormentors.
Most official efforts at justice and accountability (and even those that seem primarily designed to avoid both) have focused on 1999. One exception is an ongoing Australian coroner’s inquest involving public hearings featuring witnesses to the killing of five journalists who reported on October 1975 cross-border incursions by Indonesian troops. At press time, most testimony has pointed to then-Special Forces Captain Yunus Yosfiah, who later became Indonesia’s information minister, as directing and participating in executions of the journalists (the Suharto regime launched its full-scale invasion six weeks after those killings).