Asia-Pacific, Civil Society, Development & Aid, Headlines, Human Rights

EAST TIMOR/INDONESIA: Reconciliation at the Cost of Justice?

Setyo Budi

DILI, May 29 2008 (IPS) - East Timor President Jose Ramos Horta's decision to pardon those involved in the 1999 killings, and the violent incidents of 2006, has thrown a shadow over the fledgling country's justice system and efforts at reconciliation with former occupiers Indonesia.

Activist Mugyanto leading families making floral offerings for victims of the 1999 killings. Credit: Selma Hayati/IPS

Activist Mugyanto leading families making floral offerings for victims of the 1999 killings. Credit: Selma Hayati/IPS

"The president's decision will influence people’s minds about the judicial system… how serious crimes committed can be pardoned," said Casimiro Dos Santos, acting director of JSMP, a local non-government organisation (NGO) that monitors human rights and justice in East Timor.

Horta used his presidential prerogative to "grant pardons and commute sentences after consultation with the government". A decree was delivered on May 20 coinciding with the tiny nation's sixth anniversary of independence.

The pardon applies to Rogerio Lobato, former interior minister in the Fretilin government, imprisoned because of his involvement in arms distribution to civilians in 2006.

Seven former militia members who were involved in the 1999 killings that followed the vote for independence and the retreat of Indonesia's armed forces from East Timor were also pardoned.

One of these is Joni Marques, leader of the Tim Alfa militia, who viciously attacked a car full of nuns and priests in the Los Palos sub- district of Lautem in the eastern side of East Timor. Marques was jailed for 33 years in 2001 in the country's first trial for crimes against humanity.

In all, 94 listed prisoners were given full or partial pardon by Horta.

According to the criteria written in the presidential decree, those eligible to get their sentences halved need to have completed a quarter of the sentence. But Lobato served time for less than two months and then flew to Malaysia for health treatment.

By not recognising the bloody events that took place in 1999 and the involvement of Indonesia's military in them, both countries have made the reconciliation process meaningless, say critics.

After East Timor declared its independence in late 1975 it was invaded and occupied by Indonesia only to relinquish control in 1999, following a U.N.-sponsored referendum.

Among the politicians who have expressed reservations over the pardon policy is Fernanda Borges, president of the minority pro-justice party PUN. "There are no systems in place to judge whether the person has behaved, whether the person has contributed to giving further information to help the judicial process, and what the victims' response to this is," she said.

"All this needs to be weighed very carefully so that we don't create a perception . . . that there is impunity in this country, that you can do whatever you want, you can kill people, have human rights violations and be pardoned by the president,'' Borges was quoted as saying at a briefing.

But what many find troubling is that Indonesia's military has not embraced the reforms adopted by other government institutions. The United Nations' Committee Against Torture report on Indonesia, released mid-May, found widespread use of torture and routine ill-treatment of suspects in police custody. "The state should not establish nor engage in any reconciliation mechanism that promoted amnesties for perpetrators of acts of torture, war crimes or crimes against humanity," the U.N. body recommended.

This slow reform within the Indonesian military institution appears to be overlooked by the East Timor government.

Instead of following the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on Reception of Timor-Leste (CAVR), an independent, statutory authority mandated by the U.N. Transitional Administration in East Timor, the Dili government has set up the Truth of Friendship Commission (TFC) that has weak mandates and terms of references.

The TFC has been accused of protecting the perpetrators. "Because they do not focus on victims and have no rigorous questioning process, the public hearing was used by the perpetrators to say whatever they like… they were defending themselves," said Galuh Windata, spokeswoman for the New York-based International Centre for Transitional Justice that closely monitors TFC workings, to IPS.

TFC's report will be formally handed over to the presidents of the two countries on Jun. 2 in Bali, Indonesia.

Speaking about the report, Horta has lamented that the Indonesian military generals have not confessed to their past wrongdoings. "I am disappointed that many of the senior Indonesian military officers involved did not seize the opportunity to confess and apologise for their failure to control the situation," said Horta in one of his interviews.

Under Suharto's regime, violent methods were used by Indonesian military officers to intimidate and deter any dissent against his administration. There were numerous cases of kidnappings and disappearances.

"In Indonesia there are 3,000 missing people documented from the time of the communist purge in 1965 to post Suharto's time in 2000; there are hundreds of thousands more that are unaccounted for,'' Mugiyanto, coordinator of organisations for missing people in Indonesia, told IPS in earlier interviews.

In East Timor, there are some 1,400 people who disappeared in 1999 alone. This number is based on data gathered by the U.N. Serious Crime Unit.

According to the CAVR report, from 1981 to 1983 many people of Ainaro district were "disappeared after being detained, with the military explaining to families and communities that they had been taken to Jakarta, when they had in fact been taken to, and thrown from the cliffs at Builico were known to the Indonesian military as Jakarta II."

Such gross violations of human rights during the Indonesian occupation are being ignored by East Timor's leaders. "By facing up to and bringing serious crime against humanity into the open people will have the impression that their sufferings have been understood," said James Dunn, former member of the Serious Crime Unit.

From its inception up to now, many NGOs have rejected the TFC and the U.N. has not recognised it. To others, however, it is a tool to bridge the future for both countries. "We need to put the cases in their proportion, and then we will take the perpetrators, not only the (pro-Indonesia) integrationists, but also those who supported independence," said Eurico Guterres, former vice-commander of militia in East Timor in 1999, in an IPS interview.

Looking at the future and forgetting the past is clearly the reconciliation model that leaders of the two countries want to establish. Such a model has the approval of the United States. "Indonesia and Timor-Leste (East Timor) need to come to terms and use the (TFC) report as part of reconciliation process," said Christopher Hill, the U.S. assistant state secretary for Asia and Pacific, in a recent visit to East Timor.

A similar view was offered by Bob Mcmullan, the Australian Labour Party parliamentary secretary for International Development Assistance, while in East Timor. He told IPS: "We sympathise with the victims (but) we are interested in a good relationship between Indonesia and Timor Leste (East Timor), as it is important for the development of countries in the region.''

East Timor's Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao, while addressing the Indonesian Council on World Affairs, during an early May visit, said by bringing ‘’our two peoples together in an uncommon approach in the search for truth and in the promotion of friendship – instead of starting legal cases – contributes to their further unity, based on the common acknowledgement that we all suffered because of a regime".

Timorese victims of human rights violations are not alone. Early May members of the U.S. Congress urged greater U.S. commitment to promote justice by responding to the CAVR report. In a letter they urged the U.S. government to take a leadership role in bringing the perpetrators of horrific crimes to justice and work for an ''international tribunal to try those most responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity during Indonesia's occupation".

There is a recognition that awareness campaigns need to be mounted about the human rights atrocities in East Timor, victims' rights and avenues that may be taken to ensure justice is delivered, said Edio Saldanha Borges, a member of East Timor's national alliance for International Tribunal, and a victim of the 1999 incidents.

"We don't want revenge, we want to deter the human rights violators so that they do not repeat their acts …after all such violations have also happened in West Papua, in Aceh, and in Java," said Borges. "We plan to organise and activate the victims not only the ones in 1999 but also from 1974…to follow through the CAVR recommendations this year,'' told IPS.

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