Subject: GLW: UN lets Indonesian military off the hook

Green Left Weekly, Australia's socialist newspaper Issue #447 May 9, 2001

EAST TIMOR: UN lets Indonesian military off the hook


DILI — News that Indonesia has formally agreed to set up an ad hoc tribunal to try those responsible for mass murder in East Timor around the period of the 1999 independence referendum was welcomed by Sergio de Mello, head of UNTAET (United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor) on April 27.

Indonesia's delay in setting up this tribunal has affected the credibility of UN statements such as those made by de Mello which have repeatedly expressed “full confidence in [Indonesian attorney general] Marzuki Darusman” in bringing the perpetrators of violence to trial.

UNTAET's public stance on this issue was that East Timor did not require an international crimes tribunal such as those on Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia. UNTAET argued that Indonesia should be “given the chance” to try the perpetrators of the killings and destruction in East Timor in 1999.

UNTAET has persisted with these claims of Indonesian “cooperation” despite being snubbed by Indonesian authorities when it has attempted to interview suspects in Indonesia, such as Aitarak militia leader Eurico Guterres and Indonesian military figures.

A presidential decree signed by Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid restricted the scope of the tribunal to crimes committed after the ballot on August 30, 1999, thus ensuring that some of the worst killings identified, such as the Liquica Church massacre and the murder of refugees at Manuel Carrascalao's house in April 1999, would go unpunished.

De Mello's April 27 statement did not take up this criticism of the decree, levelled even by UN representatives in New York.

Recent comments by National Council of Timorese Resistance (CNRT) leader Xanana Gusmao have also been greeted with concern by NGOs and Timorese judges. Gusmao stated both in the US and at an Indonesian government-run conference in Jakarta, that an international crimes tribunal to try those responsible for the carnage in East Timor in 1999 was not a priority. Later he stated that these were his personal views. In the absence of any elected leaders, his comments were interpreted as reflecting the feelings of the East Timorese people.

Gusmao's statements tie in with an absence of will and action on the part of the UN administration to seriously pursue the perpetrators of these crimes. A walk through the streets of Dili today, 18 months after the destruction, will still reveal burned out shells of houses, lack of clean water pipes and electricity supply infrastructure. Schools do not have furniture, books or equipment. It would seem that neither the UN, nor the CNRT leaders are interested in seeing justice done.

The NGO Forum released a press statement on April 26 criticising Gusmao's stand, echoing earlier views of two judges from the Dili district court. One of these, Cancio Xavier, was quoted in the Suara Timor Lorosae newspaper as saying that justice was an important part of reconciliation and that the Timorese people still hankered for that justice. Significantly, Bishop Belo was the only East Timorese leader to continue calling for an international crimes tribunal.

Another prong of UNTAET's strategy and approach to the issue of the crimes against humanity committed here during the Indonesian military occupation is to argue that a national judiciary in East Timor needs to try these cases, before setting up an international tribunal. However, there are only two functioning district courts in East Timor, one in Dili and another in Baucau. The entire judiciary is staffed with young, recently graduated, Indonesian-trained East Timorese lawyers who have no experience at trying these kinds of crimes.

While a Serious Crimes Panel has been set up to examine crimes against humanity (rape, murder and other acts of violence), this panel so far has only sentenced two militia members, both for murder, one of whom sawed a hole through the ceiling of his cell after being sentenced, and escaped.

UNTAET’s judicial affairs section, which presides over the judicial system in East Timor, does not even have an interpreting and translation budget, one factor leading to delays in hearings.

There were also criticisms that the court hearings had to fit in with the holiday plans of the foreign members of the panel.

The militia members currently held in Dili are largely from the lower ranks, with the exception of Joni Marques, a commander of Tim Alfa of Los Palos. Meanwhile, militia leaders and other prominent opponents of East Timor’s independence ensconced in Indonesian West Timor are feted and treated like state visitors on UN-sponsored “look see” visits to East Timor, supposedly designed to encourage the return of Timorese refugees held captive by the militias in West Timor

For four days from April 23 reconciliation talks were held in Baucau between East Timorese leaders such as Jose Ramos Horta and their West Timor-based anti-independence counterparts. The visitors were flown in by a chartered Merpati Airlines plane, funded by the Reconciliation Commission.

UNTAET praised an initiative by Udayana Military Commander General Willem da Costa of a joint UNTAET-Indonesian government and military representatives' “walk” through the East Timorese refugee camps in West Timor to encourage the refugees to return. De Mello stated publicly that this was evidence of the Indonesian administration's commitment to resolving the refugee issue.

In the name of reconciliation, the UNTAET chief of staff spends much of his time courting militia leaders such as the de Carvalho brothers whose militias razed Ainaro town to the ground. Meanwhile, the daily conditions of the East Timorese in East Timor itself lie neglected by the UN.

UNTAET is attempting to push through the National Council a draft regulation for the creation of a “Truth, Reception and Reconciliation Commission”. The commission would write a report charting human rights abuses between 1974 and 1999, based on testimonies. Its other role would be to provide an opportunity to those who did not commit serious crimes to confess and be given some form of community work. It is unlikely that the role of the Indonesian military will be examined and its members made accountable through this process.

The UN’s response to a report written by James Dunn, a former Australian consul to East Timor and a prominent writer and analyst on East Timor, and leaked to the media two weeks ago, was also very telling. Dunn's report sheeted blame for the killings, destruction and mass deportation of East Timorese to the Indonesian Armed Forces (TNI), particularly Kopassus officers who organised and led covert operations in East Timor some months before the independence ballot.

Dunn’s 68-page report was kept secret, though it is now freely available on the internet. He was given minimal resources and time to complete his task. Prosecutor-General Mohammad Othman, who commissioned Dunn to write the report in the first place, attempted to disown the report, criticising it as lacking “hard facts” and for not being in a form suitable for court prosecution.

Dunn’s report recommends speedy investigation of the role of the TNI, trials of presently held militia members, an international crimes tribunal should “no progress” be made by Indonesia, compensation to be paid by the Indonesian government for the loss of homes and material belongings of the East Timorese and resolution of the refugee issue.

The East Timorese people have been extremely patient over these last 18 months both in coping with the trauma and subsequent disruption of their lives caused by the TNI-directed destruction, as well as having to cope with the large, well-paid and arrogant foreign presence of the UN here. However, this patience is wearing thin.

Without organised, consistent pressure from the East Timorese people and their international supporters, those who laid waste to East Timor will get away withe their crimes unpunished.

May Menu
World Leaders Contact List
Human Rights Violations in East Timor
Main Postings Menu

Note: For those who would like to fax "the powers that be" - CallCenter is a Native 32-bit Voice Telephony software application integrated with fax and data communications... and it's free of charge! Download from