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Truth Known, East Timorese Need Justice

Accountability for Rights Crimes Remains an International Responsibility

Contact: John M. Miller, 718-596-7668; 917-690-4391 (cell)

For Immediate Release

March 9 -- Today in Jakarta, the Presidents of Indonesia and Timor-Leste (also known as East Timor) formally agreed to form a joint Commission of Truth and Friendship.

In response the East Timor Action Network issued the following statement:

No matter what the two governments decide to do between themselves, justice for Timor-Leste remains an international responsibility. The international community must continue to pursue accountability for crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide committed in Timor-Leste between 1975 and 1999.

Timor-Leste's own prime minister Mari Alkatiri, has said that the reason for the Commission of Truth and Friendship (CTF) is not "justice but to find the truth." We believe that the truth of what happened in 1999 is well-established: Indonesian political and military officials, working with militias they created, funded and directed, committed hundreds of murders and other major crimes in a systematic campaign to terrorize and destroy East Timor. Numerous official and unofficial investigations -- East Timorese, Indonesian, and international -- have named names. The organizers and perpetrators of the violence are well-known. Indeed, some continue to have prominent roles in Indonesia’s military campaigns in Aceh and elsewhere.

The CTF purports to provide “definitive closure.” The question is closure for whom? The CTF can only help provide closure to the Indonesian military’s effort to avoid justice by enshrining their impunity. Genuine justice is a prerequisite for closure.

The CTF will not identify perpetrators or assign individual responsibility. The effort by the two governments will instead absolve individuals of their moral and legal accountability, emphasizing institutional roles. The CTF is barred from recommending or initiating any prosecutions, no matter what it finds.

Some members of the Timor-Leste government claim that credible prosecution of senior Indonesian officials for crimes against humanity could result in "unrest," but this ignores Timor-Leste's own road to freedom. It took intense (albeit belated) international pressure on Indonesia in 1999 to get Indonesia's security forces to respect the results of the East Timorese people's overwhelming vote for independence. And international pressure continues to be necessary to curtail brutal repression in Aceh and West Papua.

While truth is an important element of relations between nations, real accountability and justice are needed for the long-term strengthening of human rights, security and democratic institutions for the people of Timor-Leste and Indonesia.

The United Nations Secretary-General has recently appointed a Commission of Experts to explore options for ensuring justice for the victims of violence in Timor-Leste. We urge them to look at all possibilities, including an international criminal tribunal, and to advise the CTF not to obstruct efforts to achieve genuine justice and accountability. Timor-Leste’s government may feel pressured by and vulnerable to its much larger neighbor, but that is no excuse to allow those who commit crimes against humanity to avoid accountability. Rather, it is another indication of how important it is for the international community, especially the United Nations, to lead meaningful efforts toward justice.


Timor-Leste's President Xanana Gusmao and Indonesia's President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono are expected to sign today the Terms of Reference for a joint Commission on Truth and Friendship. The Commission includes people from both countries, and will establish a "shared historical record" of the violations of human rights before and after East Timor's independence ballot in 1999, recommend amnesty for those who "cooperate fully," and propose people-to-people reconciliation efforts.

Indonesian and East Timorese NGOs have both criticized the CTF. At the end of last year, Indonesian human rights groups said that the proposed CTF, "represents both countries' denial of previous commitments made to the international community," which adversely affects the victims. The Timor Leste National Alliance for International Tribunal accused both governments as "maintaining impunity and protecting the perpetrators."

The crimes committed in East Timor in 1999 and before occurred in a territory never internationally recognized as Indonesian. In 1999, they were committed against a UN mission created by the Security Council and involved assaults on both East Timorese and international UN personnel. East Timorese staff of the UN mission were murdered in the aftermath of the ballot.

Indonesia invaded and occupied Timor-Leste from 1975 to 1999, and the territory was never recognized as Indonesian by the international community. Approximately 200,000 East Timorese lost their lives as a result of the Indonesian occupation. In 1999, Indonesia agreed for the UN to hold a referendum on East Timor’s political status. Approximately 1,400 people were murdered, including East Timorese and UN personnel. After the referendum, in which 78.5% of Timor-Leste people voted for independence, Indonesian soldiers and the militias they controlled laid waste to the territory, displacing three-quarters of the population and destroying more than 75% of the buildings and infrastructure.

After Indonesia violently exited East Timor, two processes were established to prosecute serious crimes, including crimes against humanity, during the final year of the occupation. The Indonesian Ad-hoc Human Rights Court on East Timor is widely considered a sham, acquitting all of the Indonesian officials brought to trial. The UN-backed serious crimes process is scheduled to end next May, despite the fact that some 50% of the murders in 1999 and numerous other crimes have not been investigated and nearly 80% of those indicted, including a number of high-ranking Indonesian officials, enjoy sanctuary in Indonesia.

The UN Secretary-General appointed three-member Commission of Experts to assess these two processes and propose next steps "so that those responsible for serious violations... in East Timor in 1999 are held accountable, justice is secured for the victims and people of Timor-Leste, and reconciliation is promoted." The Commission will also consider how "its analysis could be of assistance" to the bi-national CTF.

The Security Council established the Serious Crimes Unit in Dili to conduct investigations and prepare indictments to assist in bringing to justice those responsible for crimes against humanity and other serious crimes committed in East Timor in 1999. It also created the hybrid Timorese-international Special Panel courts to try these cases. The SCU filed its final indictments late last year.

No judicial process has yet been established to investigate and prosecute those responsible for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity during Indonesia's illegal invasion and occupation of East Timor before 1999, when more than 99% of the deaths resulting from the Indonesian military occupation took place.

At the end of February, East Timor's foreign minister, Jose Ramos-Horta explained to the UN Security Council that "Excessive outside pressure on elected civilian leaders to meet the expectations of the international community to have a credible prosecutorial and trial process -- that is, the jailing of senior military officers -- … could result in unrest within the armed forces, thus undermining stability and the entire democratic experiment in the largest Muslim country in the world."

However, many Indonesian military officers who committed serious crimes in East Timor have been promoted and are repeating the same types of crimes in West Papua, Aceh and elsewhere in Indonesia.

ETAN advocates for democracy, justice and human rights for East Timor and Indonesia. ETAN calls for an international tribunal to prosecute crimes against humanity committed in East Timor from 1975 to 1999.


See also Human Rights & Justice page





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