Truth Known, East Timorese Need Justice
Accountability for Rights Crimes Remains an International
Contact: John M. Miller,
718-596-7668; 917-690-4391 (cell)
For Immediate Release
March 9 -- Today in Jakarta, the Presidents of Indonesia and
Timor-Leste (also known as East Timor) formally agreed to form a
joint Commission of Truth and Friendship.
In response the East Timor Action Network issued the
No matter what the two governments decide to do between
themselves, justice for Timor-Leste remains an international
responsibility. The international community must continue to pursue
accountability for crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide
committed in Timor-Leste between 1975 and 1999.
Timor-Leste's own prime minister
Alkatiri, has said that the reason for the Commission of Truth
and Friendship (CTF) is not "justice but to find the truth." We
believe that the truth of what happened in 1999 is well-established:
Indonesian political and military officials, working with militias
they created, funded and directed, committed hundreds of murders and
other major crimes in a systematic campaign to terrorize and destroy
East Timor. Numerous official and unofficial investigations -- East
Timorese, Indonesian, and international -- have named names. The
organizers and perpetrators of the violence are well-known. Indeed,
some continue to have prominent roles in Indonesia’s military
campaigns in Aceh and elsewhere.
The CTF purports to provide “definitive closure.” The question is
closure for whom? The CTF can only help provide closure to the
Indonesian military’s effort to avoid justice by enshrining their
impunity. Genuine justice is a prerequisite for closure.
The CTF will not identify perpetrators or assign individual
responsibility. The effort by the two governments will instead
absolve individuals of their moral and legal accountability,
emphasizing institutional roles. The CTF is barred from recommending
or initiating any prosecutions, no matter what it finds.
Some members of the Timor-Leste government claim that credible
prosecution of senior Indonesian officials for crimes against
humanity could result in "unrest," but this ignores Timor-Leste's
own road to freedom. It took intense (albeit belated) international
pressure on Indonesia in 1999 to get Indonesia's security forces to
respect the results of the East Timorese people's overwhelming vote
for independence. And international pressure continues to be
necessary to curtail brutal repression in Aceh and West Papua.
While truth is an important element of relations between nations,
real accountability and justice are needed for the long-term
strengthening of human rights, security and democratic institutions
for the people of Timor-Leste and Indonesia.
The United Nations Secretary-General has recently appointed a
Commission of Experts to explore options for ensuring justice
for the victims of violence in Timor-Leste. We urge them to look at
all possibilities, including an international criminal tribunal, and
to advise the CTF not to obstruct efforts to achieve genuine justice
and accountability. Timor-Leste’s government may feel pressured by
and vulnerable to its much larger neighbor, but that is no excuse to
allow those who commit crimes against humanity to avoid
accountability. Rather, it is another indication of how important it
is for the international community, especially the United Nations,
to lead meaningful efforts toward justice.
Timor-Leste's President Xanana Gusmao and Indonesia's President
Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono are expected to sign today the Terms of
Reference for a joint Commission on Truth and Friendship. The
Commission includes people from both countries, and will establish a
"shared historical record" of the violations of human rights before
and after East Timor's independence ballot in 1999, recommend
amnesty for those who "cooperate fully," and propose
people-to-people reconciliation efforts.
Indonesian and East Timorese NGOs have both criticized the CTF.
At the end of last year,
Indonesian human rights groups said that the proposed CTF,
"represents both countries' denial of previous commitments made to
the international community," which adversely affects the victims.
The Timor Leste
National Alliance for International Tribunal accused both
governments as "maintaining impunity and protecting the
The crimes committed in East Timor in 1999 and before occurred in
a territory never internationally recognized as Indonesian. In 1999,
they were committed against a UN mission created by the Security
Council and involved assaults on both East Timorese and
international UN personnel. East Timorese staff of the UN mission
were murdered in the aftermath of the ballot.
Indonesia invaded and occupied Timor-Leste from 1975 to 1999, and
the territory was never recognized as Indonesian by the
international community. Approximately 200,000 East Timorese lost
their lives as a result of the Indonesian occupation. In 1999,
Indonesia agreed for the UN to hold a referendum on East Timor’s
political status. Approximately 1,400 people were murdered,
including East Timorese and UN personnel. After the referendum, in
which 78.5% of Timor-Leste people voted for independence, Indonesian
soldiers and the militias they controlled laid waste to the
territory, displacing three-quarters of the population and
destroying more than 75% of the buildings and infrastructure.
After Indonesia violently exited East Timor, two processes were
established to prosecute serious crimes, including crimes against
humanity, during the final year of the occupation. The
Ad-hoc Human Rights Court on East Timor is widely considered a sham,
acquitting all of the Indonesian officials brought to trial. The
UN-backed serious crimes process is scheduled to end next May,
despite the fact that some 50% of the murders in 1999 and numerous
other crimes have not been investigated and nearly 80% of those
indicted, including a number of high-ranking Indonesian officials,
enjoy sanctuary in Indonesia.
The UN Secretary-General appointed three-member Commission of
Experts to assess these two processes and propose next steps "so
that those responsible for serious violations... in East Timor in
1999 are held accountable, justice is secured for the victims and
people of Timor-Leste, and reconciliation is promoted." The
Commission will also consider how "its analysis could be of
assistance" to the bi-national CTF.
The Security Council established the
Serious Crimes Unit in Dili
to conduct investigations and prepare indictments to assist in
bringing to justice those responsible for crimes against humanity
and other serious crimes committed in East Timor in 1999. It also
created the hybrid Timorese-international Special Panel courts to
try these cases. The SCU filed its final indictments late last year.
No judicial process has yet been established to investigate and
prosecute those responsible for genocide, war crimes and crimes
against humanity during Indonesia's illegal invasion and occupation
of East Timor before 1999, when more than 99% of the deaths
resulting from the Indonesian military occupation took place.
At the end of February, East Timor's foreign minister, Jose
Ramos-Horta explained to the UN Security Council that "Excessive
outside pressure on elected civilian leaders to meet the
expectations of the international community to have a credible
prosecutorial and trial process -- that is, the jailing of senior
military officers -- … could result in unrest within the armed
forces, thus undermining stability and the entire democratic
experiment in the largest Muslim country in the world."
However, many Indonesian military officers who committed serious
crimes in East Timor have been promoted and are repeating the same
types of crimes in West Papua, Aceh and elsewhere in Indonesia.
ETAN advocates for democracy, justice and human rights for East
Timor and Indonesia. ETAN calls for an international tribunal to
prosecute crimes against humanity committed in East Timor from 1975
See also Human Rights
& Justice page