Subject: Indonesia's Uresolved War Crimes

The Jakarta Post May 30, 2001


Indonesia's unresolved war crimes

By Aboeprijadi Santoso

AMSTERDAM (JP): As the political bickering has dragged on for months in Jakarta, one of the "victims", no doubt, is the issue of war crimes, which has been relegated to the background, in danger of forever remaining unresolved.

Meanwhile James Dunn's new report to the United Nations on crimes against humanity in East Timor from January to October 1999, has named then Indonesian Military (TNI) commander Gen. (ret) Wiranto, along with 22 officers, as key suspects.

With the East Timor rights trial long overdue, the report serves as a reminder that justice may have been sacrificed in this and other cases involving atrocities by the Indonesian Military.

Twenty months after the mayhem in East Timor, the trial has not begun, former military commander Wiranto remains a nonsuspect and protests against the light sentences handed down in the Atambua killings of UNHCR staff members suggest that the international community is growing impatient.

A UN tribunal looms should Jakarta fail to deliver justice according to international standards.

Dunn, an expert on war crimes at the UN, acknowledges that his report may not be suitable for the prosecution's case, but it is the kind of report which, in addition to that of the Commission of Inquiry into Human Rights Violations (in East Timor) set up by the Indonesian rights body, the attorney general may need but did not pursue. It provides a coherent analysis that demonstrates the gravity of the issue.

The wave of violence that led to crimes against humanity in East Timor in September 1999 included executions, mass murder, torture, abduction, sexual assault and assault against children, as well as mass deportation, forced dislocation and massive destruction of shelters and health care and educational services; there was also massive theft of private property. Left in ruins, East Timor was set back at least a generation -- worse than any former colony at her independence.

Only Pol Pot's Cambodia and Rwanda in 1994, perhaps, have gone through such massive and profound human suffering in the post-World War II era. Such crimes presuppose some planning. But the TNI officers did not imitate Pol Pot's style of meticulously registering victims, nor did they have the ability to plan modern mass extermination as the German Nazi officers did before the Holocaust.

Instead, they hid behind the New York May 1999 Agreement on East Timor's "popular consultation" which assured that the police (then part of TNI) would safeguard security. But, in reality, they were planning, training and equipping the militias for use as a proxy to ensure the victory of the proautonomy camp and, if this failed, to eliminate the proindependence forces and to enact mass deportation and destruction.

The days leading to the ballot and the mayhem -- as this writer witnessed -- were supposed to be the moments of liberation as the independence option was expected to win, yet East Timor instead became a "republic of fear". The moment the people won their freedom, they had to flee, hide or seek protection.

The Army's hegemony was felt, yet the militia run amok, resulting in an artificially generated and directed "anarchy". In the end, fear and madness kept people at home, at police stations or in churches, where many of them, unarmed, were slain or abducted by the militias the next day. Thus began the countrywide carnage, followed by the destruction and the deportations.

Dunn's investigation now confirms that the militias were given direct orders, targets, arms, money and drugs. His report reads: "There (was) a visible TNI participation (and) a total failure of the (police) to intervene to protect the citizens. It was the well-founded fear of TNI-militia force, that caused tens of thousands of Timorese to flee -- to mountain areas, where they were to endure food shortages, lack of medical treatment and other difficulties."

A thousand or so Timorese were killed or vanished, Dunn ventures. And "more than 500,000 Timorese (60 percent of the population) were displaced by the (threats of) violence".

The whole operation clearly required a degree of organization and mobilization of militia and resources -- not the work of "rogue elements" as officially claimed.

But Dunn does not condemn all officers in the area. "We know, some were troubled by the TNI's involvement. On the other hand, most of those in command positions must have known that serious abuses were being perpetrated."

These commanders might not have always been present, but as their troops were involved they must have been aware of what was going on. So, in Dunn's view, there were those directly involved in a command sense ("nearly all of them Kopassus officers", referring to the Army's Special Force), those indirectly involved and "those keeping a discreet distance, but (who) would almost certainly have been involved in the mass deportations".

Gen. Wiranto, too, Dunn concludes, could not have been unaware of the operations, "not least because of the magnitude of transporting some 250,000 East Timorese to Indonesian Timor over a period of less than a fortnight, and destroying more than 70 percent of homes and buildings".

No officer "can shirk responsibility for the behavior of men under his command, whatever the circumstances, particularly when bearing arms that were issued to them", Dunn proposes.

This would imply that any abuse may be viewed as a structural wrongdoing involving the lines of command, if not the corps, rather than as individual cases committed by individual officers, as the Indonesian Military practices.

In any case, none of these officers have subsequently been sanctioned, apart from Wiranto having to resign from the Cabinet. All of them were promoted to higher ranks despite talk of the need to professionalize the military. This includes one key suspect, Maj.Gen. Adam Damiri, who joined the team leading the security operation in Aceh.

Human rights issues apparently haunt many officers to the point that they in effect are demanding impunity. In what was intended as a warning, Minister of Defense Mahfud MD revealed that "the retired generals do not oppose military reform, but would resist attempts to force them to pay their 'debts', i.e. human rights violations in the past". (Kompas Jan. 2)

Hence President Abdurrahman Wahid's proposal to open up the case of the 1965-1966 massacres has gone nowhere, and there have been attempts to subvert the trial of Aceh's Tengku Bantaqiah killings (1999), to seek an out-of-court deal for the Tanjung Priok massacre (1984) and to reduce the number of cases for the Timor trial.

Most recently, TNI chief Adm. Widodo rejected the idea of a human rights court for the killings of students in 1998 even before the House of Representatives could discuss the need for the court.

So neither the corps nor the officers seem to take the issue of human rights abuses seriously, let alone stand ready to accept responsibility. Like in postdictatorial Argentina, they tend to adopt a "not-willing-to-know" and "see-no-evil" stand.

As the Army attempts to regain its political strength and its reputation as indispensable to maintaining the unitary state, criticism from the politicians, along with the middle classes, may eventually subside. National unity is bigger than any possible crimes of the officers -- this is the message.

Meanwhile East Timorese leaders, who have their own problems, no longer view Indonesia's war crimes tribunal as a priority.

At the end of the day, the Timor mayhem may become a time bomb. If justice cannot be delivered at home and a UN tribunal fails to materialize, it will damage the credibility of all sides concerned, including the Army and the international community.

The writer is a journalist based in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. 

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