Subject: ST: Exclusive Preview of CAVR Report: Juggling Pragmatism with Chilling Abuses

The Straits Times (Singapore) Monday, December 19, 2005


Juggling Pragmatic Politics with Bloody Past

by John McBeth

The commission formed to investigate human rights abuses during Indonesia's bloody 25-year occupation of the former East Timor, now Timor Leste, has just issued its report. There are gory details aplenty, but it is interestingly circumspect about the role of theUS and Australia, as John McBeth discovers in an exclusive preview of the report in Jakarta

IN A report that stands to become the historic record of a nation's bloody struggle for statehood, Timor Leste's Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation (CAVR) estimates that 18,600 non-combatant East Timorese were killed or disappeared and at least 84,000 more died as a direct result of displacement policies during Indonesia's brutal 24-year rule over the former Portuguese colony.

The report, which President Xanana Gusmao presented to the Timor Leste Parliament on Nov 28, has yet to be released publicly. But a copy of the executive summary, reviewed exclusively by The Straits Times, provides a detailed and often chilling account of human rights abuses committed by both Indonesian security forces and warring Timorese factions between 1974 and 1999.

The 36-strong independent commission, formed in 2002 and whose mandate expires today, also outlines a long list of recommendations - many of them clearly unattainable - that highlight the differences between a body anxious to keep faith with history and with Timor Leste's many victims, and a government with a firm eye on pragmatic politics.

Drawn from nearly 8,000 statements collected in Timor Leste's 13 districts and 65 sub-districts, and also from Timorese refugees across the Indonesian border in West Timor camps, the report - entitled 'Chega!' in Portuguese, or 'Enough' - runs through a litany of alleged crimes during the bloody years.

These range from mass executions to forced resettlements, sexual and other horrific forms of torture as well as abuse against children.

It is not just confined to Indonesian excesses. Large sections of the three-year work are devoted to executions and torture carried out by the left-wing Revolutionary Front of Independent Timor-Leste (Fretilin) and the rightist Timorese Democratic Union (UDT) in the civil war proceeding Indonesia's 1975 invasion, which left 3,000 people dead, and also in internal purges within Fretilin in the first years of Indonesian occupation.

On the events surrounding Timor Leste's August 1999 vote for independence, the report pulls no punches. It finds that the death and destruction was not the work of so-called rogue elements of the Indonesian Armed Forces, but was in fact the execution of a systematic plan that was approved, conducted and controlled by Indonesian military commanders up to the highest level.

'Members of the civil administration of Timor Leste and national-level government officials, including ministers, knew of the strategy being pursued on the ground, and rather than taking action to halt it, directly supported its implementation,' it says.

In a separate section, however, the report insists that the 1999 rampage should not be allowed to cloud what went on when the former East Timor was locked away for more than 13 years.

'Egregious as they were,' it says, 'the crimes committed in 1999 were far outweighed by those committed during the previous 24 years of occupation and cannot be properly understood or addressed without acknowledging the truth of the long conflict.'

The commission cites a number of specific incidents, among them the alleged September 1981 massacre of 160 Fretilin fighters and their families on the slopes of Mount Aitana on the Manatuto-Viqueque border, south-east of Dili. This followed the conclusion of what was known as Operation Kikis - a two-month sweep-and-destroy mission which is said to have involved 60,000 shanghaied East Timorese civilians.

In each case, only military units are mentioned. The names of each perpetrator or perpetrators of human rights violations are identified through a coding system, which corresponds to a secret list held only by President Gusmao.

It is not known how many people are on the list, but it is understood that in many incidents, the same perpetrators were allegedly involved.

Among the report's many recommendations:

The renewal of the mandate of the United Nations Special Crimes Unit to investigate and try human rights violations, including eight 'exemplary and critical' cases of massacres and executions perpetrated by both Fretilin resistance forces and the Indonesian military.

The establishment by the UN Security Council of an international tribunal 'should other measures be deemed to have failed to deliver a sufficient measure of justice and Indonesia persists in the obstruction of justice'.

The use of the Commission of Truth and Friendship, recently created between Indonesia and Timor Leste, to explore the possibility of further criminal trials and a policy of reparations to victims.

Reparations should be paid not just by Indonesia and, as a stop-gap measure, the Timor Leste government, but also by the permanent members of the UN Security Council - China, France, Russia, Britain and the United States.

The commission also wants the Indonesian government to table the 2,500-page report in the country's House of Representatives, to revise official Indonesian accounts and education materials related to its presence in Timor Leste, as well as to provide the full documentation of all military operations which resulted in human rights violations - demands which Jakarta is almost certain to reject.

Anxious to preserve relations with Indonesia, President Gusmao has been reluctant to release the commission's findings.

He told Timor Leste legislators last month that the report's recommendations could not be considered 'absurdly utopian, but are realistically very ambitious'. He added that 'the grandiose idealism they (the commissioners) possess is well-manifested to the point it goes beyond conventional political boundaries'.

Despite an outcry among human rights groups and Timorese victims over the climate of immunity in Indonesia that has allowed military officers to escape prosecution, President Gusmao also took issue with the commission's assertion that the absence of justice is a 'fundamental obstacle in the process of building a democratic society'.

He pointed to the considerable effort which Indonesia has invested in democratisation and said the Jakarta administration knows that the core obstacle to the building of a democratic society is how badly derailed the fundamentals of justice have become in society and what must be done to correct the situation.

The report says Indonesian security forces, including East Timorese militiamen, were responsible for 70 per cent of the killings, which reached a peak in the late 1970s as they tried all means to break the back of the resistance. During the same timeframe, an estimated 42,000 Timorese were arbitrarily detained, and 232 were convicted and sentenced to lengthy jail terms on subversion charges after sham political trials.

The commission says that, at a minimum, 84,200 people died of hunger and illness - in excess of the peacetime baseline for these causes of death - between 1977 and 1979, when people were being driven out of the mountains into tightly guarded resettlement camps.

Although it does not provide further evidence, it suggests the death toll could be as high as 183,000 - conforming with the figure that Western humans rights groups have been using for years.

Interestingly, the executive summary is circumspect about the role of the United States and Australia in giving the green light to Indonesia's invasion. It only says that hopes for the smooth de-colonisation of Timor Leste were thwarted by 'Portuguese neglect, Indonesian interference supported by its key Western allies, the US and Australia, and the inexperience of the young leaders of the territory's newly formed parties'.

It says that while Australia was well-placed to influence policymaking on the issue, it 'cautioned against force, but led Indonesia to believe it would not oppose incorporation. It did not use its international influence to try and block the invasion and spare Timor Leste its predictable humanitarian consequences'.

Strangely, the Americans barely get a mention, despite new disclosures that then-US secretary of state Henry Kissinger gave then-president Suharto of Indonesia more than a wink and a nod.

The report does, however, point to the political context in 1975, when successive communist victories in Indochina were only compounding long-held fears of a domino effect throughout South-east Asia and the possibility of Timor Leste becoming an Asian Cuba.

Apart from its call for reparations, the commission does have one specific request for the international community: that UN member states deny visas to Indonesian military officers named in the report for either human rights abuses or command responsibility for troops accused of violations.

The independent commission outlines a long list of recommendations - many of them clearly unattainable - that highlight the differences between a body anxious to keep faith with history and with Timor Leste's many victims, and a government with a firm eye on pragmatic politics.

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