Subject: Progressio: CAVR report sees light of day

3 Aug 2006

East Timor: CAVR report sees light of day

'When I attended the truth and reconciliation hearings, I saw the victims cry about those that have harmed them, but they were able to talk and to forgive. I thought about what I would do in that situation. I am a pastor, and I am still amazed by their attitude and forgiveness.'

So says Rev Agustinho de Vasconselos, a member of the East Timorese Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation (CAVR) and pastor of the Igreja Protestante Timor Lorosae (IPTL). The Commission's report - the result of interviews with 7000 Timorese civilians - is at last being disseminated to the East Timorese people this week, six months after it was published to the UN.

The report, which runs to 2500 pages, lists in meticulous detail a catalogue of atrocities committed by the Indonesian military against the people of East Timor during its invasion and subsequent 24-year occupation of the country.

Distribution of the report in East Timor was delayed by what Rev Agustinho calls 'heat', an East Timorese term meaning volatility: the escalating violence in the country earlier this year which culminated in the resignation of prime minister Mari Alkatiri on 26 June. During this time Rev Agustinho was targeted, and on 26 May he was forced to flee to the sanctuary of the church. 'My house was burnt in the recent violence,' he says. 'Again I had cause to reflect on the victims in the hearings and their strength, and I learnt from them.'

Despite the belief in some quarters that the report was withheld because some of its recommendations did not make good reading for the country's leaders, Rev Agustinho suggests the conflict was the main reason for the delay. Now that the security situation has improved, there has been a significant mood shift in East Timor - and the recent violence has brought in its wake a new readiness to engage in internal reflection.

One political shift, has been the appointment by President Xanana Gusmao of the popular foreign minister Dr Jose Ramos Horta as the country's new prime minister. In his inaugural speech on 10 July, Dr Horta talked of the need to 'utilise [CAVR's] great teachings'. Horta joins the voices of faith leaders who, at a conference organised by Progressio and the Life and Peace Institute in Baucau in June, were urged 'to ensure the message of CAVR sinks deep into the community'. Rev Agustinho's post-CAVR secretariat have taken on this task, beginning to distribute the report to East Timorese districts last week. His four teams have so far visited Liquica and Manufahi, Los Palos, and Oecussi, where they met NGOs, local leaders and the church, and this dissemination will continue across the country until November.

'The East Timorese people thought that the report was closed to them and only for the elites,' says Rev Agustinho. 'But now the programme of dissemination has started they are pleased. People have the view that looking at the past and the truth is important for preventing crimes in the future.'

As the people of East Timor open the report's pages, they will confirm that the government of Indonesia and the Indonesian security forces were primarily responsible for the deaths from hunger and illness of between 100,000 and 180,000 East Timorese civilians during the invasion and occupation. In addition, members of the Indonesian security forces are accused of summarily executing, imprisoning and torturing thousands of East Timorese civilians, and of carrying out sexual assaults as part of a systematic campaign against the civilian population.

Many commentators believe there is a link between the failure to prosecute the past crimes against humanity and the violence that recently rocked the country. The wounds of the Indonesian occupation are still raw and justice has not yet been done. It is now up to the UN and the international community to ensure that those responsible for the past atrocities, who are residing in Indonesia, are held accountable.

More specifically, some say the recent clashes - which often developed between East and West Timorese factions - were fuelled by perceived differences in experiences during the Indonesian occupation. However, Rev Agustinho comments: 'CAVR's report shows that violations were indiscriminate and not related to the ethnic identity of victims or where they were born.' He adds: 'I think ethnicity has become politicised. Ethnic conflict can be used to destroy a community, one against another.'

The recent violence flared when 600 former soldiers were dismissed while protesting against unfair treatment. Tension quickly rose to the surface - fuelled in part, says Rev Agustinho, by inequalities in living conditions among the people - and exploded into looting and the burning of houses. Thousands of people in the capital, Dili, fled the city to the safety of the provinces, Catholic churches and colleges, and camps run by NGOs, where conditions were very basic. Increasingly there were demands for the resignation of the beleaguered prime minister, Mari Alkatiri, and finally he and two other members of his cabinet quit.

Now that some normality is returning, Rev Agustinho believes that dissemination of the CAVR report can help restore some unity to the nation. 'I felt I wanted to make a small contribution to the development of our nation after such a long struggle [for independence],' he says. Rev Agustinho was one of seven commissioners on the report. 'I wanted to assist in the process of reconciliation, justice and truth. I believe that truth is not always black and white but that there is a truth that can be acceptable to all sides which is important.'

Rev Agustinho believes the domestic lessons to be learnt from the CAVR report are manifold. 'Non-violence should be a national hallmark of our new society,' he says. 'Because Timorese know better than most the horror of violence, we should become a world leader in the practice of non-violence. As the CAVR report recommends, this will require a long-term, focused effort by every institution from the top down to the home level and individual relationships. I would add that this must be accompanied by development, not least for urban young men, because extreme poverty is often the basis of violence.'

In the minds of many East Timorese, however, the primary issue raised by the report will be the question of outstanding justice. 'Lasting reconciliation and the rebuilding of relationships cannot be achieved without establishing the truth, striving for justice, and providing reparations to victims,' says Rev Agustinho. 'When you have reconciliation without justice the situation is fragile. There can be no lasting reconciliation when perpetrators are not held accountable and impunity is tolerated.'

He suggests that the East Timorese Parliament should consider establishing a follow-up institution to the Commission. But, says Rev Agustinho, the future of East Timor does not lie wholly in the hands of its people: 'For me it is very important that this report is seen by the international community. The lessons of the report are universal. We ask for support from the international community to show how Timor can be a lesson to the world and not return to conflict.'

Rev Agustinho acknowledges the 'solidarity and commitment from people in the UK' and the 'moral and material support' of the UK government for the CAVR process. It is to be hoped, however, that the new openness and readiness to reflect shown by East Timor's leaders prompts some reflection by our own leaders. The UK government has refused to respond to the report, presented to them in February this year, or discuss the implementation of the recommendations relevant to the UK. It is time, as the CAVR report suggests, that they had the courage to look at how their military assistance to Indonesia during the occupation supported the human rights abuses that occurred.

Progressio believes that the UK government's continued support for Indonesia should become conditional on justice for East Timor through an international tribunal. It should also be conditional on the Indonesian military being subjected to the rule of law in the future. Only that way can the East Timorese rebuild a stable country with a past put to rest, and only then can we be sure that the people in the disputed Indonesian territory of West Papua are not suffering the same fate as their East Timorese friends.

Catherine Scott is Progressio's regional manager for Asia, Africa and the Middle East. She is the co-author with Irena Cristalis of Independent women: The story of women's activism in East Timor published by Progressio in 2005. 



25 Jul 2006

Indonesian war crimes report finally released to East Timorese people

One of the authors of a long-awaited report on atrocities against the East Timorese people welcomes its final dissemination to the people of East Timor. Progressio's friend Rev Agustinho de Vasconselos, a commissioner of the Commission for Reception, Truth and Reception (CAVR) report, urges East Timor's people to learn from the report, particularly as some of the country's recent violence arose from perceived differences in Indonesian treatment of East and West Timorese.

In a statement he said: 'All Timorese, whether from the East or the West, suffered violence in different ways at different times. CAVR's report shows that violations were indiscriminate and not related to the ethnic identity of victims or where they were born. Districts with the highest number of killings during the years from 1974 to 1999 were Ermera, Baucau, Lautem and Manufahi. Ermera had the most reported killings. Districts with the highest number of non-fatal violations - detention, torture, sexual violence, forced displacement and social-economic violations - were Dili, Ermera, Manufahi, Viqueque and Lautem.'

The CAVR report, which calls for justice and reparations for East Timorese victims of rape, torture and summary execution under Indonesian rule, has been distributed to key institutions in the country's capital Dili since Dr Horta was inaugurated as prime minister on 10 July and plans are being implemented to disseminate the report throughout the country between now and November.

Rev Agustinho said: 'Lasting reconciliation and the rebuilding of relationships cannot be achieved without establishing the truth, striving for justice, and providing reparations to victims. Reconciliation and impunity are mutually exclusive. There can be no lasting reconciliation when perpetrators are not held accountable and impunity is tolerated.'

Progressio and the Life and Peace Institute held a conference in Baucau, East Timor, in June, which called on faith leaders to actively disseminate the CAVR report to their communities. Cathy Scott, Progressio's Regional Manager for Africa, Middle East and Asia, said: 'The recent dissemination and discussion of the CAVR report in East Timor indicates a significant shift in thinking at the top: a new willingness to engage in internal reflection and a greater respect for the Timorese people. We would hope to see this have a knock-on effect in the UK, which has so far remained resolutely silent on the reports findings. We want to see the UK government similarly take courage and make its support for the Indonesian military conditional on its submission to the rule of law. Such justice is not only crucial to rebuild East Timor, but to prevent history repeating itself in the disputed Indonesian territory of West Papua.'

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