Vol. 7, No. 1
The Struggle for Justice in East Timor
Aderito Soares is an East Timorese human rights lawyer and Director of the Dili-based Sa'he Institute for Liberation (for more on SIL, see Ajiza Magno article, p. 3).
While based in Indonesia, Aderito defended political prisoners and represented indigenous West Papuans seeking justice from the U.S.-based mining giant Freeport MacMoRan. Aderito has written numerous articles on international law and human rights in Indonesia and East Timor. He is on the Board of Directors of La'o Hamutuk (Walking Together), a joint East Timorese- international organization monitoring the activities of global institutions in East Timor's reconstruction process. (The current issue of the La'o Hamutuk Bulletin, focuses on the World Bank in East Timor.) Aderito relayed the following comments to Estafeta while on a recent brief visit to the United States.
In terms of conflict resolution, I am very proud of East Timorese society. For at least 5 months after the referendum, there were no police, there was no law, no regulations, but people managed, doing conflict resolution at the local level, without any instruction from the UN, or from the political leaders. I traveled around East Timor talking to people about legal issues, and it was amazing for me that they managed all these conflicts that they face at the local level. The elders of the villages that have traditional ways of resolving these cases have tried to reconcile the ex-militia that came back from West Timor with the village people. We recently held a kind of paralegal training, not for students but for people who cannot read or write, but who have traditional ways of resolving conflicts.
As a lawyer I am debating with UN people how to combine these traditional means with the justice system. Of course we have to take into account that maybe some traditional ways are not in line with human rights values, so some friends are doing assessments of the traditional systems. We need to identify which cases need to be resolved in the traditional cultural ways, and which cases should be brought to justice. I don't think we should resolve serious crimes the traditional way, you give one buffalo and then you forget, but I will say that in general I am proud that this society remains optimistic. We have the ways, and the instincts to resolve disputes. I'm very proud of that.
On the other hand, one year after it arrived, the United Nations is in charge and has all the authority and power to run the transition period. In this sense the situation is not in the East Timorese people's hands. I am not yet seeing that the justice system works. For example, in Dili there is now a detention center in which the lower level militias were supposed to be kept. But up to now no one has been detained in this center. During the occupation there was very little trust for the judiciary because people saw it as part of an oppressive system. We need to prove there is now a justice system that works.
Last December the United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights called for an international tribunal for East Timor, but there has been no implementation of this recommendation. Not one general who ordered atrocities has been brought to justice.
Although some militias were directly involved in atrocities, many of the lower level militias were forced to join. Efforts should be concentrated on prosecuting those Indonesian generals involved.
For a peaceful future in East Timor, we have to talk about democratization in Indonesia, which means weakening the military. And the way to weaken the Indonesian military is to bring them to the court. And so we need a lot of pressure for an international tribunal. [The next Estafeta will feature more comments from Aderito.]
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