Subject: Jakarta Post editorial: The Truth About East Timor

Jakarta Post November 23, 1999


The truth about E. Timor

Any inquiry into the violence which erupted in East Timor in September, sooner or later, would lead to the Indonesian Military (TNI) simply because it was the institution most responsible for maintaining security in the territory at the time. Thus, it should come as no surprise that the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas Ham) this weekend disclosed its preliminary finding of some kind of "association" existing between TNI and the pro-Indonesia East Timor militia, which conducted the ugly campaign of terror and destruction after the Aug. 30 ballot.

Komnas Ham's finding corroborates what many people in Jakarta, and abroad, already knew. Since TNI has been the chief supporter of the gun- totting militias which terrorized the East Timor populace in the run up to and immediately after the ballot, one only needs to put two and two together to conclude that the military must have had a role in that unfortunate episode in East Timor.

The only thing left for any inquiry is to determine the extent of the military's role. The weekend disclosure of its preliminary finding was a good start. The Komnas Ham team, which has just returned from East Timor, now wants to speak to the military's top brass who were involved in East Timor policy making, including Gen. Wiranto, the TNI chief at the time and now Coordinating Minister for Political Affairs and Security.

To facilitate the investigation, President Abdurrahman Wahid must allow Komnas Ham to question Gen. Wiranto. Given the sensitivity of the investigation, it may even be desirable for the President to suspend Wiranto from his Cabinet, at least until after the inquiry is completed. The government must give its full cooperation and ensure unimpeded access to this inquiry, the results of which are much awaited, not only in Indonesia, but also in East Timor and the international community.

This is an inquiry upon which Indonesia's reputation, and especially that of the government, is at stake. This is an investigation which was launched immediately after Indonesia firmly rejected the proposition of an international inquiry of possible war crimes committed by its own people in East Timor. A separate UN inquiry in fact has already started, but, since it won't have the full cooperation of the Indonesian government, its results would be partial and incomplete at best.

The Komnas Ham investigation, on the other hand, will be more thorough since it is supposed to have the benefit of more access to all the players in the affair. Whether or not its findings are credible, however, is something that the current administration, and President Abdurrahman Wahid in particular, will determine.

Given its independence and high reputation, Komnas Ham is indeed the best institution to conduct such an investigation. The commission has in the past produced various commendable reports detailing the atrocities of the government and the military in other parts of Indonesia. Few people would doubt Komnas Ham's credibility and integrity in promoting human rights.

Unfortunately, Komnas Ham makes up only half of the act in any effort to stamp out human rights abuses in this country. The commission lacks teeth as hardly any of its findings, no matter how credible and courageous, were followed up, or acted upon. This is true for earlier reports of systematic human rights abuses in East Timor when the territory was under Indonesia's military occupation as well as for similar findings elsewhere in the country, including Aceh, Irian Jaya and in Jakarta. All the commissions' reports, and recommendations, were virtually ignored by the presidents at the time. First Soeharto and then B.J. Habibie.

Will the Komnas Ham report into the September violence in East Timor, when it comes out, meet the same fate? We hope not, certainly not under President Abdurrahman, especially given the goodwill that has been shown toward him at home and also abroad.

The September violence in East Timor has put Indonesia in the international spotlight. Indonesia may have prevented an in-depth UN inquiry into that affair, and probably spared some of its Army generals from international war crime tribunals, but it still cannot ignore its international responsibilities. The guilty parties must be punished in accordance with their crimes, whether at an international or an Indonesian court.

Ultimately, it is the reputation of President Abdurrahman that is really at stake. He is the one who calls the shots: whether Wiranto should be questioned or not, and whether those military officers most responsible are prosecuted or not. And he is the one best suited to repair the government's reputation which has been tarnished after the military's botched handling of East Timor's separation from Indonesia.

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