Subject: SMH editorial: Justice after the Timor bloodshed

Sydney Morning Herald August 11, 2003


Justice after the Timor bloodshed

It was overshadowed by the Jakarta bombing. But the conviction last week of a senior Indonesian general for crimes against humanity should not be overlooked. Indonesia did all it could to avoid having its officers brought before international war crimes tribunals over their behaviour during East Timor's independence vote four years ago.

It promised instead to try suspects in a specially created human rights court in Jakarta. Fears that suspects would get off with a slap on the wrist unfortunately were quickly proved right. But now the human rights court has sentenced Major-General Adam Damiri to three years' jail for "criminal acts" committed while serving as the regional military commander during the army-backed militia violence of 1999.

Damiri, who was the head of the Bali-based Udayana command which took in East Timor, is the most senior Indonesian officer to be charged and convicted over the Timor bloodshed. He did not receive the longest sentence. His Dili-based deputy, former Colonel Noer Muis (who was not long back from an Australian staff college when he took up his 34-day posting) got five years - a year for each week he spent in Timor - and Eurico Guterres, the notorious Timorese militia leader, 10 years.

Damiri's career took off under two prominent Kopassus (Special Forces) officers. He was the chief of staff of the Jakarta military garrison under Major-General Syafrie Syamsuddin, a former adjutant to president Soeharto and a man associated with a number of unsavoury operations, in Jakarta, Aceh and East Timor. And he was hand-picked by Soeharto's son-in-law, Lieutenant-General Prabowo, to command a division in the army strategic reserve.

In East Timor, Damiri helped arm and organise brutal pro-Indonesia militias. Later, he worked closely with Major-General Zacky Anwar Makarim, a Special Forces intelligence officer. Anwar, while ostensibly liaising with the UN Mission, had the job of scuppering a vote for independence, by fair means or foul. Like Syafrie, Anwar had been deeply involved in Indonesia's dirty war in Aceh.

Even though Damiri received a relatively light sentence and is unlikely ever to see the inside of a jail, he has reason to believe he is the senior fall guy. Disturbingly, no charges have ever been brought against General Wiranto, the armed forces chief at the time, or against Anwar or Syamsuddin.

Equally disturbingly, some who were deeply involved in the Timor horror have prospered since. Syamsuddin is now the army spokesman. Major-General Mahidin Simbolon, a former Special Forces intelligence officer and Damiri's deputy in East Timor when the militias were being organised, was later appointed military commander in the troubled province of Papua (formerly Irian Jaya) where, not long afterwards, Kopassus soldiers were accused of murdering Theys Eluay, the chairman of a Papuan umbrella group, many members of which favour independence.

Damiri's conviction is a sign of some justice being done, but not much. It remains to be seen whether the constitutional grounds for appeal against retrospective punishment which clouds the Amrozi Bali bombing case might also apply to his and other East Timor human rights cases. 

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