Subject: JP: Only justice can build Dili-Jakarta relationship

The Jakarta Post

August 7, 2003


Only justice can build Dili-Jakarta relationship

Aderito de Jesus Soares, Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), New York City

Jakarta's "theater of justice on East Timor" is nearing its end, when the ad hoc human rights tribunal on Tuesday sentenced Maj.Gen. Adam Damiri to three years in jail for his involvement in the 1999 devastation in East Timor, while letting him free pending his appeal. The court has so far acquitted 12 of the 18 brought to trial.

The Jakarta court is clearly a sham, despite its verdict on Maj.Gen. Adam, and the trials have been flawed, unfair and unprofessional. From the outset, it was inconceivable that an independent court could be run by the same people who have long been involved in such a corrupt justice system.

The situation is worsened by the powerlessness of the Special Panel Court established by the UN in East Timor, to bring the "big fish" in Jakarta to trial.

There is no other alternative to uphold justice but to establish an international tribunal to process the atrocities that took place in East Timor. This is to serve the interests of both East Timor and Indonesia.

For East Timorese victims, the enforcement of justice will help them build a new future with their new state and will also respect their dignity as a nation.

As for Indonesia, holding accountable those who committed heinous crimes will deter others and will help prevent similar atrocities in Aceh, West Papua and elsewhere in the archipelago. A tribunal could also act as a starting point to reform the whole judiciary in Indonesia, as well as being a real effort to move towards real democracy.

The Indonesian judicial system has failed. It has lost credibility in the eyes of the Indonesians and the international community. Post-Soeharto political reform in Indonesia will never be accomplished until its military is held accountable for past human rights abuses. East Timorese victims should not have to wait while Indonesia's judicial system is reformed and rebuilt.

Since the August 1999 referendum, East Timorese leaders have worked hard to strengthen ties with Indonesia at the cost of justice. Visits to Jakarta by East Timorese foreign minister Jose Ramos-Horta, Prime Minister Mari Alkatari and President Xanana Gusmao demonstrate this commitment.

Two years ago, Xanana gave a "warm hug" to the notorious Army Special Forces commander Lt. Gen. (ret) Prabowo Subianto, son-in-law of former president Soeharto. Human rights advocates were deeply disappointed by Xanana's warmness toward the general, who has been accused of serious human rights violations in both Indonesia and East Timor. They were surprised by how easily East Timorese leaders put aside the past.

The East Timorese government has acted pragmatically in establishing its relationship with the Indonesian government for several reasons. This is especially true when it comes to dealing with the brutal abuses committed by the Indonesian Military in East Timor.

First, the tiny and poor country still faces the possibility of retaliation by Jakarta.

Second, subversive activities by rogue military elements and militias remain a strong possibility, as shown by attacks allegedly carried out by military elements and former militias in January and last December.

Finally, Dili has strong economic interests, especially regarding trade with Indonesia. Costs are substantially lower when East Timor buys goods from Indonesia rather than Australia.

East Timor's president and foreign minister have consistently advocated this pragmatic position, especially when it comes to prosecuting Indonesian officials who orchestrated gross human rights violations in East Timor.

Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri's stance was different in the beginning. He has openly described the ad hoc human rights court in Jakarta as seriously flawed and called for an international ad hoc tribunal. Unfortunately, on his recent visit to Jakarta, the Prime Minister softened his position by declaring that his government would not push for an international tribunal.

All three leaders now share the same view that the international community bears the chief responsibility to advocate and establish an international tribunal. While recognizing that serious abuses have taken place, they want to avoid offending Jakarta, and so refuse to publicly call for the most likely methods of holding top officials accountable.

Examples of gross human rights violations that fall under the categories of crimes against humanity and war crimes during Indonesia's occupation are legion. Indeed, the UN Independent Commission of Inquiry specifically called for an international tribunal to try those who committed such crimes in East Timor during the post-referendum massacre. However, the UN put the recommendation on hold when it gave the Indonesian government a chance to try the alleged perpetrators through its own judicial system.

It is nearly impossible even to try and imagine that those who were responsible for the massacre will be punished for their crimes against humanity, if we only depend on Indonesia's generosity. Therefore, an international court should be established to process these crimes against humanity.

The writer is a human rights lawyer from East Timor, who obtained a Masters in Law from New York University Law School.

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