Global Policy Forum

East Timor: Justice for Whom?


By Adirito de Jesus Soares *

Jakarta Post
February 2, 2005

Many people have commented about the first 100 days of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's presidency. One of his campaign promises, as we know, was to deal specifically with corruption -- one of most acute problems facing Indonesia. On the one hand, this promise shows the seriousness of SBY's government, at least in public, in establishing good governance and democracy. However, he has ignored the issue of human rights violations committed by state apparatus over the last several decades.

This includes crimes against humanity that took place in East Timor during the illegal occupation by the Indonesian regime. People might recall some of the other big atrocities, such as the killing of alleged Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) members in 1965 and more recent cases like the May 1998 riots were thousands of people were killed. We can add to this list cases like human rights violations in Aceh, Papua and Maluku.

In relation to human rights violations in East Timor, East Timorese Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation Ramos Horta and his Indonesian counterpart Hassan Wirayuda met with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and then U.S. secretary of state Colin Powell in Washington in December last year. In these meetings, the two foreign ministers proposed what they called the International Truth and Friendship Commission to deal with crimes against humanity that took place in East Timor during and after the 1999 referendum there.

It is not yet clear what the mandate of this commission would be. However, as explained by Horta, it seems that the commission would have the task of naming those who committed human rights violations in East Timor. Horta, the main proponent of this commission, has been campaigning for this proposal while ignoring the voices of the victims in East Timor. Of course this proposal has attained significant support from the Indonesian government, since it would avoid the demands of victims both in Indonesia and East Timor who are still pursuing justice by demanding the establishment of an international tribunal to try the alleged perpetrators.

In other words, this commission would pave the way for the perpetrators to keep enjoying their impunity. In contrast, in the eyes of the victims, an international tribunal would put an end to the impunity enjoyed by those who committed human rights violations both in East Timor and Indonesia.

Horta and Wirayuda's proposal seems especially odd as Kofi Annan is preparing to establish a Commission of Experts in order to carry out an assessment of the ad hoc Human Rights Court in Jakarta and the Special Panel Court in Dili. These two tribunals have a mandate to try those who committed crimes against humanity in East Timor prior to and after the referendum in 1999. It has been more than obvious that these two tribunals have not offered any real justice to the victims of 1999. The ad hoc Human Rights Court in Jakarta is merely a show, with the main alleged perpetrators being acquitted, while the Special Panel Court in Dili has no teeth to bring to court those big fish who are still residing in Indonesia.

So what exactly is the hidden agenda behind this odd proposal? It appears that the underlying aim of the commission is to put bilateral relations between East Timor and Indonesia ahead of justice for the victims or rights abuses. It is obvious that pragmatic politics always puts aside justice for victims in the name of leaders who claim to represent them.

The international community, through the UN, has a noble mission of dealing with perpetrators of gross human rights violations as hostis humani generis -- enemies of mankind. Consistently, the UN has to push for the idea of establishing a Commission of Experts in order to carry out an assessment. If this assessment takes place, then the UN has to work out how to find an alternative, which could be an international tribunal if the assessment shows that there is no hope for justice via the present mechanisms. This is consistent with all of the UN's earlier findings and recommendations after the 1999 East Timor referendum.

It is likely, however, that Horta and Wirayuda's proposal will bypass and undermine Kofi Annan's idea of establishing a Commission of Experts. Worse still, this proposal shows where the leaders' real interests lie, and for sure it is not justice for the victims.

About the Author: Adirito de Jesus Soares, a lawyer and human rights advocate, is a former member of East Timor's Constituent Assembly and currently teaches at Dili University.

More Information on International Justice
More Information on the Ad-Hoc Court for East Timor
More Information on International Criminal Tribunals and Special Courts
More Information on East Timor


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