Subject: JP Op-Ed: No one to blame for East Timor abuses

Economist: Little hope of justice for victims of the country's conflicts

The Jakarta Post

Friday, April 11, 2008


No one to blame for East Timor abuses

Bramantyo Prijosusilo, Ngawi, East Java

It is official: no one was responsible for human rights abuses that occurred around the 1999 East Timor referendum in which more than 1,000 people reportedly died. In defeat in the referendum, Indonesia was a sore loser. For several weeks mobs rampaged through Dili, even attacking the residences of priests.

The only person in jail for those crimes, Eurico Guterres, who has friends and supporters in high places in Jakarta, was released a few days ago from Cipinang prison. The Supreme Court overturned his sentence on appeal. He was met by a crowd of supporters to whom he clenched his fist and cried "Merdeka!"

His release is just in time for next year's general elections. Seeing that he is a national hero of sorts and a party member, it might just be that when the next parliament is formed after elections, we will see him sitting among the lawmakers in Senayan as one of the House's celebrities.

In the meantime, he might follow the trend of celebrity politicians turning their talents to acting. If he does it might just start a trend of flag-waving patriotic kitsch in television soaps. His rugged features might be a nice change from the pale faces of the stars of the upper-class melodramas that look like they have been pasted with whitening cosmetics since they were born. Many people would much rather watch the ham acting of a few disgraced ministers and fighters like Guterres, than sit through a silly ghost story of the kind that have been polluting television for a while now.

Eventually schoolchildren in Indonesia might be able to learn from their books that absolutely no human rights abuses happened around the East Timor referendum. This would complete the narrative repeated by the Indonesian powers that be who say we never annexed East Timor; rather Indonesia was invited to storm into the country.

East Timor did not actually want independence; it chose independence in the referendum because of false promises offered by the United Nations and Australia. The continuing troubles there are proof that East Timor was always better off being part of Indonesia. The current heavy Australian military presence there is proof that Australia has its secret agenda on the one hand, while on the other hand the tiny war-torn country cannot survive on its own.

All the allegations against the Indonesian government, military and militias were fabricated; stories made up by the West, which harbors evil designs for our country. With schools here spending at least an hour a week on military-style marching and standing at attention and singing the national anthem and other patriotic songs, we can assume that over time, the idea that those who annexed East Timor and brutally tried to keep it were heroes will become the only accepted version of events.

To be honest Guterres' conviction was never fair. He should never have had to go to jail on his own. He had his masters high up among the Indonesian military command. How could a militia thug be solely responsible for mayhem that involved the regular military? How could everyone escape justice when the violence was captured by international news cameras?

Everyone indicted for crimes against humanity in East Timor has now been acquitted. As there is no one guilty, it easily goes that there were no crimes. After all, when you talk about rape and pillage and murder you must have perpetrators, mustn't you? The press has names and places but now it appears that the media got it all wrong.

The blatant fact is that many of those indicted for crimes against humanity in East Timor have reinvented their lives as politicians and are now preparing for the next general elections. Because of the twists of misinformation in Indonesia's old New Order, the annexation of East Timor has always been defended here. The independence of East Timor has always been seen as a grave mistake and as a loss. Because of that people like Guterres are popular not only among the masses of knee-jerk nationalists, but also among members of the political elite here.

They regard their past in East Timor as an asset rather than a liability. Maybe they are heroes and their actions were always in the best interests of their country. It apparently seems the general public in Indonesia thinks so. However, it would not be wise to actually elect these men into office.

It isn't that their conduct in East Timor betrays either a blatant disregard for human life or plain incompetence. Cruelty and incompetence have never stopped anyone taking high office here. The problem is that they are recognized by activists as people who have escaped justice.

The writer is artist and former journalist. He can be reached at



Impunity reigns

Apr 10th 2008 | BANGKOK

From The Economist print edition

Little hope of justice for victims of the country's conflicts

THE birth and infancy of Timor-Leste have been attended by spasms of violence. As the former East Timor separated from Indonesia in 1999, murderous unionist mobs killed hundreds. In 2006 the harsh suppression of a protest by sacked soldiers triggered factional fighting that brought the country back to the brink of civil war, requiring the hasty dispatch of Australian-led peacekeepers. And in February this year President José Ramos-Horta was shot and almost died in an attack led by the rebel soldiers' leader, Alfredo Reinado, who was himself shot dead. An attempt was also made on the life of the prime minister, Xanana Gusmão.

Indonesia set up a special human-rights court, supposedly to bring those responsible for the 1999 killings to justice. But it was a whitewash. It absolved all the Indonesian army leaders suspected of orchestrating the violence­including General Wiranto, a former and perhaps future presidential candidate. The only person jailed was Eurico Guterres, the leader of an anti-independence militia. On April 7th Mr Guterres was freed after the Supreme Court, which had in 2006 upheld his ten-year sentence, decided he was not after all responsible for his militia's slaughter.

Another whitewash is expected soon. A “commission for truth and friendship”, created in 2005 by the governments of Indonesia and Timor-Leste, announced in late March that it was finishing its investigations into the 1999 violence and would shortly submit its final report to the two countries' presidents. As noted in a report in January by the International Centre for Transitional Justice (ICTJ), a human-rights group, the commission's main aim seems to have been to smother attempts at bringing culprits to book, because the two countries' leaders find it more convenient to pursue “friendship” than seek justice.

The United Nations regarded the truth commission as deeply flawed and boycotted it. The ICTJ's report says the commission's hearings gave those accused of violence a platform to make “self-serving” justifications without facing rigorous questioning. Indeed, it seemed to be more concerned with helping to rehabilitate the accused than helping the victims. Its chances of bringing justice were doomed before it started. It was given the power to recommend amnesties for perpetrators but barred from calling for prosecutions.

A tribunal set up in 2001 in East Timor under UN auspices did seek to prosecute Indonesian generals but foundered for lack of jurisdiction. At the same time an earlier truth and reconciliation commission, set up with the UN's backing, looked at allegations over the period from Indonesia's invasion in 1975 to the killings as it withdrew in 1999. Its report, in 2005, did call for prosecutions. But it has been ignored. The UN still talks of seeking some way to bring prosecutions. But there is little enthusiasm for this among world powers­as illustrated by comments on April 4th from Christopher Hill, a senior American official. Visiting the region, Mr Hill dismissed the need for an international tribunal, saying that if the current, toothless commission was good enough for Timor-Leste's and Indonesia's governments, “it should be good enough for us.”

The chances of bringing people to justice over the more recent violence also seem slim. A new report by the International Crisis Group, a think-tank, says around 100,000 Timorese­a tenth of the population­remain in the refugee camps to which they fled in the 2006 conflict. Four soldiers, convicted of shooting eight policemen in the clashes, were freed on appeal and allowed to vanish. As for February's attack on the president and prime minister, Mr Ramos-Horta accuses the UN police and Australian peacekeepers of not trying to catch the rebels immediately after the shootings. Timor-Leste's police and army are being accused of abuses as they hunt the remaining rebels and their new leader, Gastão Salsinha. Even so, some Timorese suspect they could have caught them already had they really tried.

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