This week the report of the bilateral Commission of Truth and Friendship (CTF) will be handed over to the presidents of Indonesia and Timor-Leste. The report concludes that crimes against humanity took place for which militia groups and the Indonesian military, police and civilian government bear institutional responsibility. The report should be made public as soon as possible, and must not be the end of efforts to assign responsibility for violence in 1999 and before.
While Indonesia bears most of the responsibility to respond to the challenges posed by the report, both countries and the international community must work together to ensure individual accountability for the past, and reform of these institutions in the future.
The Commission was formed by the two governments to “establish the conclusive truth” about the events of 1999 “with a view to further promoting reconciliation and friendship.” In 1999 militias created, trained, and directed by the Indonesian military carried out a terror campaign that left more than 1,400 dead, hundreds of thousands forcibly displaced, and much of the territory’s infrastructure destroyed. According to available information, the report has found that Indonesian security forces often directly participated in the violence.
Flaws in the Commission documented by our own groups and others include: a mandate that put a priority on rehabilitating the names of accused perpetrators over justice or compensation for victims; prohibitions on assigning individual responsibility or on recommending prosecutions or creation of judicial bodies; inadequate witness protection; and a narrow focus on events in 1999.
As a result, despite the intent of the two nations to find “definitive closure,” and a report that contributes to a better understanding of the violence, the Commission cannot be the last word on responsibility for past human rights violations in Timor-Leste. The body is by design inadequate for the task of identifying the truth or obtaining closure in any meaningful sense of the word.
However, despite its limitations, commissioners from both countries made an effort to sift through the information and produce meaningful conclusions. Notably, the Commission did not exercise its power to recommend amnesties for any individuals. The Commission has found that the Indonesian military, as an institution, was responsible for crimes against humanity. This finding leads our organizations to two inescapable conclusions:
An institution that was responsible for crimes against humanity remains a powerful and largely unreformed force within Indonesia. Despite a few important steps following the fall of President Soeharto, such as the separation of the police from the military and the loss of automatic seats in parliament, the military has made little progress in accepting civilian control, divesting of its massive empire of legal and illegal businesses, or holding its members accountable for human rights violations.
A further judicial mechanism is needed to assign individual responsibility for those crimes. Individual responsibility is a fundamental principle of international criminal law and an essential aspect of reconciliation. Some of those implicated in the violence maintain positions of influence in Indonesia, either within the military or as retired civilians active in politics.
It is also important to note that just as the Commission must not be the last word, neither was it the first. A 2000 report by an investigative team from Indonesia’s National Human Rights Commission identified serious violations and recommended investigation of numerous civilian and military officials. Timor-Leste’s Commission of Reception, Truth and Reconciliation (CAVR) produced a comprehensive 2,000 page report with recommendations on accountability and reparations that have been largely unimplemented. The U.N.-backed Serious Crimes Unit in Dili indicted numerous individuals for prosecution, most of whom remain at large in Indonesia. A U.N. Commission of Experts found that Indonesia’s efforts at accountability, the Jakarta ad hoc tribunals, were “manifestly inadequate.” The only defendant serving time for a conviction in those trials, militia leader Eurico Gutteres was recently acquitted on appeal. The CTF report notes serious shortcomings of the Jakarta trials.
Both the U.N. Commission of Experts and the CAVR urged that an international tribunal be formed if Indonesia did not promptly act to hold the perpetrators accountable. It is possible that the findings of the Commission of Truth and Friendship will spur further prosecutions in Indonesia, ideally in conjunction with the international community to ensure both credibility and resources. However, Indonesia’s record in this area is clear, and it is highly unlikely that the Indonesian government will act without clear signals from the international community that an international tribunal remains a credible option.
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. The international community and the government of Timor-Leste must play a role in ensuring both prosecutions and reparations to victims. As recommended by the Commission, Indonesia must comprehensively reform its armed forces.
If Indonesia truly wants closure and full acceptance by the international community as a rights-respecting nation, there is no alternative but an end to impunity through individual as well as institutional accountability.
Australian Coalition for Transitional Justice in East Timor
East Timor and Indonesia Action Network
Human Rights First
Human Rights Working Group
Judicial System Monitoring Program
|International Center for
The Commission for the Disappeared and the Victims of Violence (Kontras)
Maria Afonso de Jesus, victims' families representative
Timor-Leste University Students' Front