Subject: JP: RI, Timor Leste urged to get behind truth commission

The Jakarta Post Saturday, May 20, 2006

RI, Timor Leste urged to get behind truth commission

Rita A. Widiadana, The Jakarta Post, Sanur

Indonesia and Timor Leste must make a strong commitment to support their Commission of Truth and Friendship in order for it to carry out its mammoth task, a noted expert said Friday.

During the commission's meeting with local and international experts in Sanur, Bali, Prof. Robert A. Evans, director of the American-based Plowshares Institute, told The Jakarta Post there is no doubt the commission consists of credible individuals.

"But this is the smallest truth and friendship commission in the world, with limited staff, resources and financial support. I urge both governments to pay more attention to this problem which I believe is one of the significant obstacles in carrying out their enormous mandate," the professor commented.

The Plowshares Institute has been active in promoting reconciliation and civil society across the world. In Indonesia, the Institute has worked closely with the Indonesian Ministry of Justice and Human Rights, training more than 3,000 leaders from government and civil society to address conflicts and promote human rights and democratic participation.

"This truth and friendship commission is the first in the world to deal with two independent countries. It can be a model for countries that experience similar problems," Evans said.

Indonesia and Timor Leste established their joint truth and friendship Commission in August 2005, made up of ten members (five from each country) charged with investigating human rights abuses committed during the aftermath of the 1999 independence referendum in what was then East Timor. According to the United Nations, at least 1,500 people were killed by militia groups backed by the Indonesian military.

The commission has an uphill job to do in terms of collecting information, hearing from thousands of witnesses, and summoning alleged perpetrators from both sides. It is also examining all cases heard by the Indonesian Ad- Hoc Human Rights Court, as well as some 11,000 documents from the Timor Leste Supreme Court.

South Africa, Chile, Argentina have also set up truth and reconciliation commissions to resolve political upheavals.

"But, these commissions worked internally within their own countries, dealing with their own citizens," he said.

The commission, Evans said, embraces what it is called restorative justice. Instead of seeking punishment, it works toward truth, reconciliation, and a commitment to a better and more just relationship between the nations.

Restorative justice applies to institutions such as governments and militaries, not individuals, he added. "Court cases involving individuals in either country will not affect the commission's work," he said.

The Indonesian Ad-Hoc Human Rights Court has tried 18 members of the military on human rights charges relating to East Timor, including the chief of the Dili military, Lt.Col. Sudjarwo. The court sentenced Eurico Guterres, former leader of East Timor pro-Indonesia militia group Aitarak, to 10 years in prison.

"During this transitional period, the commission badly needs full support from the government, the military, civil society, religious leaders and the media to make their work more transparent to the public," he said.

Evans said it's encouraging that the military has been cooperative. "It (the military) is not an untouchable institution. This institution needs to reveal the facts and recognize its responsibility," he said.

Benjamin Mangkoedilaga, Indonesian co-chairman of the commission, added that it has summoned a number of top military officials.

"They have been quite responsive and approachable," said Benjamin, a former Supreme Court justice. Indonesian Gen. Fahrul Rozi will appear at a closed-door meeting on May 23 to chronicle the military's activities during the l999 mayhem. The following day (May 24), human rights expert Muladi will speak.

Dionisio Babo Soares, co-chairman from Timor Leste, said that the people of Timor Leste have high expectations of the commission.

"It is a difficult job. They want the commission to call people who were directly involved in the tragedy in order to know what really happened, because it is part of our history," Soares said.

----------------------- Joyo Indonesia News Service

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