Subject: 'Restorative Justice' is Justice Denied?
Stephen de Tarczynski
MELBOURNE, Aug 18 (IPS) - East Timor's most
prominent independence leaders -- currently
holders of the young nation's two highest
political offices -- may now be the main
obstacles to obtaining justice for victims of the
1999 referendum-related violence.
The final report by the Indonesia and East Timor
Commission of Truth and Friendship (CTF) --
established by the two countries in 2005 with the
objective of obtaining "the conclusive truth in
regards to the events prior to and directly after
the popular consultation in 1999" when, according
to the United Nations, some 1,000 people were
killed -- was handed to East Timor President
Jose Ramos Horta and his Indonesian counterpart
Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on Jul.15 in Bali.
East Timor, a former Portuguese colony, was
invaded and occupied by Indonesia in 1975 but won
independence through a referendum organised by
the United Nations in 1999. It became fully
independent in 2002 after a period under U.N. administration.
While the CTF found that gross human rights
abuses were committed by both pro-autonomy and
pro-independence Timorese around the time of the
independence referendum -- in which close to 80
percent of voters rejected the proposed "special
autonomy" status as part of Indonesia -- the
report alluded to the Indonesian military (TNI)
as an institution which was particularly complicit in the violence.
"The commission concluded that Indonesia also
bears state responsibility for those gross human
rights violations [such as murder, rape, torture,
illegal detention and forced mass deportations]
that were committed by militias with the support
and/or participation of Indonesian institutions
and their members," states the CTF.
While Yudhoyono expressed his "deepest regret"
for the victims, Indonesia was quick to quash any
idea that those responsible would be brought to
justice. The President ruled out prosecutions of
the perpetrators, stressing that the CTF was
about institutional rather than individual responsibility.
Prior to the report being presented to the two
leaders, Indonesian defence minister Juwono
Sudarsono said that the aim of the CTF was "restorative justice."
It was a point also made by Ramos Horta, who
added that the victims' legacy would be the
avoidance of repeating atrocities like those of
1999 as well as creating stronger bonds between
the two countries. He said that East Timor (also
known as Timor Leste in the Portuguese) would not
be seeking an international tribunal to try those responsible.
Ramos Horta and Yudhoyono were joined by East
Timor's Prime Minister Xanana GusmÃ£o -- Ramos
Horta's fellow independence hero -- in signing a
joint statement declaring "we are determined to
bring a closure to a chapter of our recent past''.
While the reactions of Indonesia's leaders are
politically expedient given the possible
ramifications if investigations for individual
responsibility of human rights violations were
carried to their full extent, the desire to bring
about "closure" on the part of East Timor's
leaders means they are complicit in denying the rights of the victims.
Effectively, the leaders' desire to brush-over
past injustices undermines earlier reports on the
occupation, such as the Commission for Reception,
Truth and Reconciliation of East Timor -- whose
recommendations for accountability remain largely
unimplemented -- and inquiries backed by the United Nations.
The support of the CTF by Ramos Horta and Gusmao
lends a false sense of legitimacy to the process.
It provides Indonesia with a justification for
not implementing the recommendations of previous
reports and mitigates the chance of reforming the powerful TNI.
Their support also enables other governments to
back the CTF, rather than heeding calls for the
perpetrators to face judicial justice.
And such calls are being made. Several
non-governmental organisations (NGOs) --
including the two nations' leading human rights
groups, Association HAK of Timor-Leste and
Indonesia's KONTRAS -- issued a joint statement
on the same day the CTF released its report to the two presidents.
"Those who committed crimes against humanity
throughout Indonesia's invasion and occupation of
Timor-Leste must be identified and prosecuted,
for the sake of justice for past victims in
Timor-Leste and for a future in which human
rights are respected in Indonesia," said the
NGOs, calling for a further judicial mechanism in
order to assign individual responsibility for those crimes.
Among the concerns raised by the NGOs was that
the CTF "put a priority on rehabilitating the
names of accused perpetrators over justice or
compensation for victims". The organisations were
critical of the commission's lack of power to
recommend prosecutions and the "inadequate"
protection of witnesses, as well as its "narrow" focus on the events of
The East Timor National Alliance for an
International Tribunal (ANTI) -- a grouping of
several rights groups which includes victims'
families -- also opposed the CTF. "The process of
creating the CTF did not follow the Constitution
of Timor-Leste because the agreement signed by
the presidents of Timor-Leste and Indonesia was
not ratified by the national parliament of
Timor-Leste, in accordance with article 95 (3f)
of the Timor-Leste Constitution," said ANTI.
Additionally, ANTI argues that the assigning of
institutional, instead of individual,
responsibility for human rights violations "is
contrary to the principles of international laws
which were ratified by the state of Timor-Leste
and to Article 160 of its constitution which says
that there must be a justice process for crimes against humanity."
But opposition to the CTF has not only been
voiced by civil society. The U.N. did not support
the process as it opposed the CTF's ability to
recommend amnesty for those who committed gross human rights abuses.
Given their past support of the process, the
responses from Ramos Horta and Gusmao were not
surprising. However, it means that East Timor's
relations with its massive neighbour are taking
precedence over justice for victims of the Indonesian-sponsored
Essentially, by viewing the CTF as the "final
word" on the 1999 bloodshed, the two most highly
respected leaders of Timor-Leste's struggle for
independence are allowing the perpetrators of the
violence to literally get away with murder.
"CTF is only one mechanism of addressing or
looking at what atrocities may have happened in
the country… there is also something called
prosecutioon," Allison Cooper, spokeswoman for
the U.N.'s mission in East Timor was quoted as
saying at a press conference in Dili on Aug. 6.
In 2003 Indonesia's former armed forces chief,
Gen. Wiranto, was indicted by U.N. prosecutors
for his role in the violence surrounding East Timor's independence.
An attempt to "move on" from the past might make
economic and political sense to leaders of the
fledgling nation, but as men who have known their
own share of injustice at the hands of Indonesia
-- four of Ramos Horta's eleven siblings were
killed during the brutal occupation while Gusmao
spent seven years in an Indonesian prison
following his 1992 capture -- they, like many of
their compatriots, can understand that
"restorative justice" is, in fact, justice denied.
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