EAST TIMOR — East Timor’s 800,000 citizens are finding that the truth does not set them free and that justice and reconciliation is elusive. A recent report published by East Timor’s Commission of Reception, Truth and Reconciliation (CAVR) estimates that there were a minimum of 102,800 conflict-related deaths during Indonesia’s brutal occupation of East Timor between 1975-99.
Responsibility for this carnage rests largely with the Indonesian military. Finally, in 1999, when a referendum on independence was held under U.N. auspices, the world paid attention. Despite heavy intimidation and violence, almost all East Timorese showed the courage to vote and chose independence from Indonesia.
As they threatened in the event of such an outcome, Indonesian-controlled militia razed towns, villages and churches, while brutalizing the population and forcibly relocating some 250,000 Timorese to Indonesian-controlled West Timor. The 2,500 page CAVR report, titled “Chega!” (Enough!), concludes that there is extensive evidence that planning for and knowledge of this scorched-earth campaign extended to the highest echelons of the military.
Bringing these high-ranking officers and their goons to justice has been frustrating largely because there has been insufficient political will in Indonesia to hold them accountable. An ad hoc tribunal established by Jakarta did conduct trials and there were some convictions and sentences, but all but one of these convictions have been overturned on appeal and the remaining defendant remains free while his appeal is pending.
In a May 2005 report submitted to U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, a panel of experts criticized this fundamentally flawed judicial process. Not only did the big fish get away, even the designated scapegoats have walked.
On Tuesday, the CAVR dissolved amid controversy and recriminations. East Timor President Xanana Gusmao has not yet made the report public, generating widespread dismay within his country and the international community. Last week he explained, “I accept the report from A to Z and will not change anything. I believe that the public has the right to be informed. We must disseminate it in the proper way, we are not a human-rights organization. Everything will be done in the right way in the right time. At the end of January I will present the report to the secretary general in New York and will stop in Tokyo on my return to request financial assistance for a series of workshops aimed at disseminating and socializing it in 2006.”
The following excerpts are from the 215-page executive summary.
CAVR’s mission: “was to establish accountability in order to deepen and strengthen the prospects for peace, democracy, the rule of law and human rights in our new nation. Central to this was the recognition that victims not only had a right to justice and the truth but that justice, truth and mutual understanding are essential for the healing and reconciliation of individuals and the nation. The CAVR was required to focus on the past for the sake of the future.”
Indonesia’s responsibility: “rests primarily with President Suharto, but is shared by the Indonesian armed forces, intelligence agencies and the Center for Strategic and International Studies, which were principally responsible for planning and implementation.”
On the claim by Indonesia that rogue elements in the military were acting on their own initiative: “Throughout the occupation Indonesian military commanders ordered, supported and condoned systematic and widespread unlawful killings and enforced disappearances of thousands of civilians.” The sheer number of these fatalities, the evidence that many of them occurred during coordinated operations, and the efforts of domestic and international nongovernment [organizations] to inform the military and civilian authorities in Jakarta that these atrocities were happening rule out the possibility that the highest reaches of the Indonesian military, police and civil administration were ignorant of what was going on.”
Sexual violence committed by the Indonesian military was: “widespread and systematic, in which members of the Indonesian security forces openly engaged in rape, sexual torture, sexual slavery and other forms of sexual violence throughout the entire period of the invasion and occupation.”
On the role of militias in the 1999 violence: “In 1999 Indonesian security forces and their auxiliaries conducted a coordinated and sustained campaign of violence designed to intimidate the pro-independence movement. Military bases were openly used as militia headquarters, and military equipment, including firearms were distributed to militia groups.”
Regarding the international community: “In reality key member states did little to challenge Indonesia’s annexation of Timor-Leste or the violent means used to enforce it. Most nations were prepared to appease Indonesia as a major power in the Southeast Asian region.”
On Japanese complicity: “Japan was Indonesia’s major investor and aid donor, and had more capacity than other Asian nations to influence policymaking in Jakarta, but it did not use this leverage.”
On U.S. responsibility: “As a permanent member of the Security Council and superpower, the U.S. had the power and influence to prevent Indonesia’s military intervention but declined to do so. It consented to the invasion and allowed Indonesia to use its military equipment in the knowledge that this violated U.S. law and would be used to suppress the right of self-determination.
The Vatican, despite pleas for support, was “concerned to protect the Catholic Church in Muslim Indonesia, maintained public silence on the matter and discouraged others in the Church from promoting the issue.”
Australia: “did not use its international influence to try to block the invasion and spare Timor-Leste its predictable humanitarian consequences. Australia acknowledged the right of self-determination, but undermined it in practice by accommodating Indonesia’s designs on the territory and opposing independence.”
The report suggests that judicial proceedings and reparations are in order. The president believes that there is no support within the Security Council for an International Tribunal, and thus East Timor needs to seek another way forward to sustain the process of reconciliation.
Foreign Minister Jose Ramos Horta, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, asks, “Why didn’t the U.N. establish a tribunal here back in 1999 when they had 7,000 PKO (peacekeeping troops) who could have arrested the culprits in West Timor? There is not much we can do to bring Indonesians to trial by ourselves.”
The report also calls for a reparations program for victims of the conflict, to be funded not only by Indonesia, but also by the foreign governments and weapons dealers who were complicit in the invasion and occupation. Gusmao opposes reparations, asking, “How can we go to the world community, one that was indifferent to our plight for too long, when it did finally help us achieve independence and made enormous contributions exceeding $1 billion to help us cope with our emergency situation? We still need their help and should not be ungrateful for what they have contributed. They are making amends for their mistakes.” This conflation of development aid and reparations does not sit well with critics, who say that this lets donors off the hook.
Horta bristles at overseas criticism that the government is not listening to the demands of victims for justice. He said, “It’s great for the human-rights activists to be heroic in Geneva and New York where they don’t have to live with the consequences of their heroism. They say we don’t care about the victims? We care, the president and I have lost relatives, friends and comrades over the years. We know the cost of war, the value of peace and the necessity of reconciliation.”
How can Timorese secure justice and promote healing? Gusmao wants to get at the truth of what happened, grant amnesty where appropriate and turn the page, while the church, civil-society organizations and many victims emphasize breaking the cycle of impunity and prosecuting those who committed crimes. Testimony from victims indicates that the horror is still too vivid and the wounds too raw for people to let go of their pain. Justice and reconciliation remain distant goals.