Subject: IPS: A push-start for justice for East Timor

Jul 2, 2005

A push-start for justice for East Timor
Marwaan Macan-Markar

BANGKOK - Indonesia's hope of emerging as a force for democracy in Southeast Asia faces a reality check in regard to its stance on justice - especially justice for victims of human-rights violations in East Timor.

A United Nations panel of judges put Jakarta on the spot this week in a report submitted to the UN Security Council. The three-member Commission of Experts says Indonesia's security forces and militia leaders involved in gross human-rights violation in East Timor in 1999 must be put on trial.

The commission has given the Indonesian government of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono six months to deliver, prosecuting the perpetrators of crimes against humanity in a special tribunal with "a team of international judicial and legal experts, preferably from the Asian region".

If that were to fail, the UN commission urged the Security Council to create an "international criminal tribunal for Timore-Leste [East Timor] to be located in a third state".

The commission's recommendations come after it found the attempts Indonesia has made to try 21 people charged with war crimes "manifestly inadequate", noting that the trials revealed "scant respect for or conformity to relevant international standards".

The commission's scathing critique of Indonesia's attitude toward justice - or lack thereof - hardly surprises human-rights groups. Most of the Indonesian governments that followed the fall of president Suharto in 1998 appeared uninterested in going after those military and militia men who terrorized the people of East Timor in 1999.

"Previous presidents have shown little enthusiasm to prosecute those responsible for organizing the violence in 1999," John Miller, spokesman for East Timor and Indonesia Action Network (ETAN), a New York-based human rights lobby, told Inter Press Service. He noted that the only exception was former president Abdurrahman Wahid, who apologized for the occupation of East Timor.

The commission, which was set up early this year by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, came after leading human-rights groups began a campaign for the world body to send an international team of jurists in response to Indonesian courts letting key suspects wanted for crimes against humanity get away. Among those who have benefited from Indonesia's cavalier attitude toward justice are Major General Adam Damiri, who was in charge of the country's military operations in East Timor at the time of the 1999 independence referendum, and General Wiranto, the former Indonesian military commander who made an unsuccessful run as a presidential candidate.

The crimes against humanity occurred before and after the people of East Timor voted in a UN-sponsored referendum for independence from Jakarta in August 1999. Thugs and members of the militia, with the blessings of Indonesian troops, went on a rampage and killed close to 1,400 people, destroyed buildings and much of the infrastructure, and forcefully drove out about 250,000 people.

Before the terror, Indonesia had occupied the former Portuguese colony with brutal force since 1975. An estimated 200,000 Timorese, nearly a third of its population, died as a result of bombings, killings and starvation during the Indonesian occupation of the area on the eastern end of this archipelago that Jakarta considered its province.

But the leaders of East Timor's separatist struggle, both on the military and political front, have appeared more keen to mend fences with their former occupier and giant neighbor since the nation gained independence in May 2002. Evidence of this is the weight both Dili and Jakarta are throwing behind a Commission of Truth and Friendship as a way of healing the political wounds.

"This attitude of the East Timorese leaders poses a snag in the call for an international tribunal," said Withaya Sucharithanarugse, an Indonesia expert at the Institute of Asian Studies at Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University. East Timorese President Xanana Gusmao has said "he is not interested in having a tribunal", Withaya told IPS. "If the president of East Timor is not seeking redress, then that raises questions about how much support there will be for the tribunal."

Gusmao, a former guerrilla leader, has the support of another equally notable personality to go down the road of friendship and stability with Indonesia rather than seek justice for the atrocities of the past. He is Jose Ramos Horta, a Nobel Peace laureate and Indonesia's foreign minister.

It is an attitude that is increasingly at odds with what the people want, said ETAN spokesman Miller. "The East Timorese victims and public would prefer trials. They know the truth already. "We have always believed that a strong relationship with Jakarta must be built on justice," he added. "I think pressure will build over time. Internal critics of the government's stance will certainly feel strengthened in their pursuit of genuine justice."

(Inter Press Service)

see also ETAN Supports UN Commissionís Call for International Involvement in Justice for East Timor


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