Subject: Kusnanto Anggoro: Between Words, Deeds on E. Timor

The Jakarta Post September 5, 2001


Between words, deeds on E. Timor

By Kusnanto Anggoro

JAKARTA (JP): Soon after taking office, President Megawati Soekarnoputri issued a new presidential decree to expand the scope of an ad hoc tribunal for atrocities committed in East Timor. It may be too early to expect this decree to set a breakthrough in trying those responsible for some of the worst atrocities committed during 1999 in East Timor. The decree appears to be intended more to appease international criticism rather than genuinely uncover truth and justice.

Indeed, the decree would remove a constraint preventing the prosecution of abuses that occurred before the referendum on Aug. 30, 1999, a position earlier rejected by the government of Abdurrahman Wahid. It would include the killings in the churches of Liquica and Suai (Apr. 6), the house of then leading businessman Manuel Carrascalao (Apr. 17), and the murder of Dutch journalist Sander Thoenes in Dili (Sept. 21). However, it still excludes a number of cases including the 1999 killings in Maliana (Sept. 8-9).

A thorough look at some cases may shed light on the limited jurisdiction of the decree. All excluded cases appear to be those containing either highly disputed areas of human right infringement, for example sexual violence and intimidation, and/or those with potentially close links to the Indonesian security apparatus. Preparedness to bring the Suai and Liquica cases to trial, however, may indicate Megawati's intention to deal with the militias now based in West Timor.

This pattern suggests that Jakarta would not be prepared to bring justice to the Maliana case in which people died in a police station, which could thus implicate the deliberate role of the Indonesian security forces.

Still, Jakarta would not easily give in to pressure to include the cases of mass deportation in September 1999, when hundreds of thousands of East Timorese were forced to move to the western half of the Island.

A tribunal would be even more unlikely to cover events during the decisive months of early 1999, when reports suggest the Indonesian Military was involved in the formation of East Timorese militias.

Therefore, past human rights violations in East Timor will remain a pebble in Indonesia's diplomacy shoe for many years to come. It remains to be seen whether Jakarta is prepared to move further. Somehow, human rights have become legitimate concerns in post-Cold War international relations. An international tribunal for war crimes in East Timor is still a possibility.

However, many circles in Indonesia's legislature and in the military view the issue of human rights, and other issues in global governance, as Western instruments to undermine Indonesia's emergence as a great power. Strong pressure on Megawati's government will come consistently from purist human rights activists, international and/or domestic. In bilateral, interstate relations, the use of human rights issues as foreign policy instruments may still fall short of other issues, including military and economic might.

As history tells us, imposing an international war crimes tribunal against state officials could be politically thorny. Cases against Iraq's Saddam Hussein or even former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger may be morally legitimate, but politically impossible. The trial against Slobodan Milosevic was only possible after the Serbian leader's defeat in a democratic election and after a completely new regime emerged in Yugoslavia.

The regime that emerged in Indonesia from the ashes of Soeharto's New Order differs very much from post-World War II Germany and Japan, when a replacement made it possible for the war crime trials of Nuremberg (1945) and Tokyo (1946).

Complicating all of these questions, many would be more concerned about the stability of Megawati's government than on the formation of an international tribunal. This trend has already appeared from a recent objection by the Australian Senate to demands for an international war crimes tribunal covering the Indonesian occupation of East Timor (Australian Associated Press, Aug. 22 2001).

Still, Jose Alexandre "Xanana" Gusmao, independence leader and likely president of independent East Timor, offers a conciliatory voice, saying that "we must, together, forget the past and build on the future" (Suara Timor Lorosae, Aug. 20 2001).

It sounds reconciling. However, Jakarta must not consider all of these concessions as an opportunity to apply a freer hand. If it is to honorably settle the problems of human rights within its own justice system then the trial of the East Timor cases must proceed as soon as possible.

Dr. Kusnanto Anggoro is senior researcher with the Centre for Strategic and International Studies and lecturer for the postgraduate studies program of the University of Indonesia.

Back to September menu
World Leaders Contact List
Human Rights Violations in East Timor
Main Postings Menu

Note: For those who would like to fax "the powers that be" - CallCenter is a Native 32-bit Voice Telephony software application integrated with fax and data communications... and it's free of charge! Download from