Subject: AFR in Jakarta: Presidents Are But Bit Players in Diplomatic Charade (CTF)

The Australian Financial Review

April 13, 2008

Presidents Are But Bit Players in Diplomatic Charade

Angus Grigg in Jakarta

It will be one of the more awkward handshakes of recent memory. The Indonesian President, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, meeting his East Timorese counterpart, Jose Ramos Horta, in Bali to receive a document that flatters neither man.

The final report from the Truth and Friendship Commission, which could be made public eight or nine days from this weekend, will be an occasion for forced smiles and tense body language.

The commission, set up to investigate violence around East Timor's 1999 independence vote, has been labelled a "diplomatic charade" with "too much friendship and too little truth".

For Indonesia it's about avoiding accountability, while the Timorese put pragmatism before principles. In reality they had little choice.

"East Timor had to accept the commission or face economic isolation and destabilisation along its border," said Damian Kingsbury from Deakin University's School of International and Political Studies.

Kingsbury, who is writing a book on post-independence politics in the tiny nation, says the East Timorese economy is almost entirely reliant on Indonesia.

"Indonesia has a stranglehold over the Timorese economy," he says. "It has not tightened this grip yet but it could quickly kill what little is left of the economy."

Not only does East Timor rely on Indonesia for food, fuel and consumer goods, but its giant neighbour controls air traffic into the country and seaborne trade.

This is why East Timor's politicians traded pragmatism for principles and settled for a toothless commission. The report will focus only on the period surrounding the referendum and will not name the individual perpetrators of violence.

It is, however, expected to hold the Indonesian military (TNI) "institutionally accountable" and responsible for funding, organising and equipping the militias.

"People will be surprised at how strong some of the language is," said one Timorese observer.

The report, by five Indonesian and five Timorese commissioners, is expected to reject blanket amnesties for either side.

"It is in many ways a very bold document," the observer says. But not bold enough to recommend charges.

This is despite an earlier report by the United Nations concluding that at least 102,800 East Timorese, or 10 per cent of the population, died as a direct result of Indonesia's 24-year occupation. "It concluded Indonesian security forces committed human rights violations, crimes against humanity and war crimes against the Timorese population," the International Centre for Transitional Justice said in a report in 2006.

The UN said the human rights violations were "massive, widespread and systematic". It said Indonesian forces used starvation as a weapon of war, committed arbitrary executions and routinely inflicted horrific torture on anyone suspected of sympathising with pro-independence forces.

Despite these damning findings, militia leader Eurico Guterres was the only person ever jailed and he was acquitted by an Indonesian court during the week. Guterres, who served only two years of a 10-year sentence for crimes against humanity, now plans to run for the Indonesian parliament.

His release has angered human rights activists and prompted a rare outburst from Ramos Horta, who is recovering in Darwin after a failed attempt on his life in February.

He said East Timor did not want to revisit the past, point fingers or see anybody go to jail but the TNI should apologise.

"They should have at least had the courage and humility to tell their country and the Timorese people that they were wrong," he said during the week.

But Ramos Horta is unlikely to get this even from Yudhoyono. Indonesia has rejected UN moves to have TNI officers or other militia leaders tried for crimes against humanity. East Timor could have pursued charges against people such as former defence minister Wiranto, but it would have been economic suicide.

The International Centre for Transitional Justice said the commission's terms of reference failed to make perpetrators account for their actions and focused on institutional rather than individual, responsibility.

"Reconciliation appears to have focused on measures to assist perpetrators, rather than victims," it said. The centre said the hearings - five in Indonesia and only one in East Timor - gave the accused a platform on which to publicly defend their actions.

"Their highly questionable explanations were not subject to rigorous questioning by the commissioners and independent experts and witnesses were generally not included," it said.

Back to April Menu

World Leaders Contact List
Main Postings Menu