Subject: JP Editorial: Reconciling East Timor

also: JP: Amnesty offer 'would not reveal truth;' The Jakarta Post Wednesday, February 23, 2005


Reconciling East Timor

All too frequently this nation has refused to come to terms with its past. The circumstances surrounding historical events remain blurred, the rhetoric that exalts heroes and condemns villains left untested.

Our past, scripted for political interest rather than historical purity, is a collection of slanted half-truths colored by emotive perceptions. Still unaltered, our children's history books contain little more than the vain conceits of the powerholders who commissioned them.

Possessed by fear and suspicion, with agitated minds and alarmed eyes, instead of coming to terms with the truth, and our conduct, we desperately invent plans to avoid the inevitable.

Five years after mass violence swept the former province of East Timor, Indonesia has not laid the ghosts it conjured up there to rest.

As regards the disturbances in East Timor that claimed thousands of lives in 1999, Indonesia was the protagonist, a victim of circumstance or just plain negligent, depending on your perspective. Whatever the case, the truth -- good or bad -- has never been revealed.

The Ad Hoc Human Rights Tribunal that tried 18 defendants has failed to satisfy many here, and infuriated most people abroad. The tribunal only convicted six of the defendants, of which five were eventually acquitted on appeal. Only civilian militia leader Eurico Guterres is currently serving time behind bars -- albeit after a higher court reduced his sentence from 10 to five years.

Against this background, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan's decision to appoint a commission of experts to review the prosecution of human rights violations in East Timor is understandable. Annan has selected India's Prafullachandra Bhagwati, Fiji's Shaista Shameem and Japan's Yozo Yokota to assess the judicial proceedings and present recommendations for future action.

Despite Jakarta's protestations to the contrary, Indonesia's home-grown legal process has abjectly failed to inspire confidence that it is willing to assume responsibility for the death and destruction that befell the East Timorese.

With the prospect of such a commission on the horizon, Indonesia late last year hastily prodded East Timor to jointly establish a Commission on Truth and Friendship.

We agree with senior Indonesian officials who argue that the UN should respect the countries' own efforts. Nevertheless, given Indonesia's record so far it may well be a case of defending the indefensible.

The onus is thus on the Indonesian-East Timor commission to work expeditiously towards a truly judicious outcome. Even if the establishment of the commission has been contrived to thwart the setting-up of a UN team, it must not be employed as a broom designed solely for sweeping everything under the carpet.

Experience in other countries has shown that sometimes, albeit very rarely, justice can be served without prosecution. But the required prerequisite is that the truth -- an admission of guilt, a detailing of the modus operandi and the exposure of intent -- must come out in full. Concessions made by victims through the waiving of their rights to see justice being done in the criminal courts is also a key element.

Furthermore, it is imperative that Indonesia does not be seen as a bully on the joint commission. Despite being two sovereign nations, real politik defines the relationship between Indonesia and East Timor as an unequal one. We are a country of 220 million, a country so vast that it extends the width of the American continent. Compare that to East Timor, which is about the same size as a Jakarta municipality.

The styling of the body as a "truth and friendship commission" will only be apt if it proves itself able to elaborate on what really happened, and not simply serve as a body to make friends and hide the truth.

According to officials, the term "friendship" was chosen because, unlike in the circumstances under which other similarly named commissions were established, Indonesia and East Timor have gone beyond reconciliation and are now focusing on strengthening friendship.

But the real question is whether Indonesia can come to terms with its own history, or whether it will once again turn history into fiction.


The Jakarta Post Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Amnesty offer 'would not reveal truth'

Tony Hotland, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

A number of international human rights observers have expressed their pessimism that offering amnesty for human rights violators would be effective in revealing the truth of their wrongdoings.

Based on experience in countries such as South Africa and Sierra Leone, the experts concluded that the amnesty offer was insufficient incentive for culprits to come clean about the past.

"In a country where the judicial system is weak and human rights record is poor, there's an enormous doubt that the amnesty mechanism will work," said Howard Varney, a former director at the Sierra Leonean and South African Truth and Reconciliation Commissions.

Two things could happen, he explained. First, people would not come forward to apply for amnesty and speak the truth because there was no prospect of prosecution, or, they would come forward but not speak the truth, and yet be amnestied.

"In the end, what you have is no truth and no justice. In Indonesia, where the incapability of prosecuting properly has been evident, it's a mistake. Without serious prosecutions, the mechanism will prove to be a massive failure," Varney warned.

He was commenting on the recently passed law on the establishment of Indonesian Truth and Reconciliation Commission (KKR), which offers amnesty to alleged human rights violators if they confess to their offenses and if the victims, who would be entitled to compensation, forgive them.

Those denying accusations against them would then be brought before the human rights court to face justice, according to the law.

Victims and families affected by various gross human rights abuses in Indonesia have been disappointed with the country's poor record in prosecutions, with most suspects implicated in the cases being let off, while several others seem to enjoy immunity.

It has been acknowledged that problems hampering prosecution of human rights cases include different perceptions between the Attorney General's Office and the National Commission on Human Rights about the elements of human rights violations, and also a lack of financial resources to investigate and prosecute.

A corresponding concern was expressed by Javier Ciurlizza from the Peruvian Truth and Reconciliation Commission. He said amnesty was the last resort and applied only to low level crimes after specific conditions were met.

Other experts, including Jorge Rolon Luna from the Paraguay Truth Commission, also agreed that certain serious international crimes, such as genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, could never be amnestied.

Indonesia's Law No. 26/2000 on Human Rights Court, however, includes genocide and crimes against humanity in its definition of gross human rights violations, which can consequently be amnestied by the KKR.

The experts however said that if the amnesty mechanism is applied, it should be granted only to lower-ranking perpetrators who are proven to have carried out the orders and instructions of their superiors.

An effective system for witness protection then becomes necessary. Indonesia has no laws to protect witnesses in criminal or human rights cases.

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