Global Policy Forum

Indonesia Attempts to


By Ellen Nakashima

Washington Post
July 16, 2005

Indonesian government officials said they expect to avert calls for an international war crimes tribunal on Indonesian military atrocities in East Timor, promoting instead a truth commission to probe abuses committed in the province after it voted for independence in 1999.

A U.N. panel has urged a war crimes tribunal if Indonesia does not take steps to hold credible trials of those charged with responsibility for the massacre of at least 1,400 civilians who were killed by militiamen under the direction of members of the Indonesian security forces. "There's a sense that we've obtained from various quarters in the Security Council that the notion of an international tribunal is not really practical," said Marty Natalegawa, spokesman for Indonesia's Foreign Ministry. "Certainly Indonesia is not convinced, and we get a sense that the rest of the Security Council will need to be convinced about the recommendations."

On Tuesday, a coalition of 12 international human rights groups sent a letter to U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, calling on the Security Council to endorse the panel's recommendations and set up a system to monitor compliance. The coalition, which includes Human Rights Watch, the Coalition for International Justice, and the International Center for Transitional Justice, called for "decisive action from the international community." It criticized the proposed truth commission's lack of a criminal justice component and a proposal to give amnesty to those who committed crimes against humanity.

The U.S. government, however, has made clear that it would be willing to support such a commission if "it is a credible process." "We think that it should clearly name names so that the record is clear," said Pierre-Richard Prosper, the U.S. ambassador at large for war-crimes issues, who visited East Timor and Jakarta, the Indonesian capital, last month.

Foreign Ministry officials said a truth commission would set a precedent in which two countries would establish a panel to work out their unique differences. East Timor established its independence from Indonesia in 2002. "There are those who do not agree with us, but what is important is our relationship, our shared destiny," said Indonesian Foreign Minister Hassan Wirayuda during a meeting last week with an East Timorese delegation led by Foreign Minister Jose Ramos-Horta. "Where else have two nations who have shared a turbulent past been bold enough to face the future in such a way?" said Ramos-Horta, co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1996 during the long-running East Timor conflict.

The tribunal would be in a third country and would be established if Indonesia did not meet the panel's recommendation in a six-month time frame. U.S. officials have said they do not believe that an international war crimes tribunal is feasible now, for reasons that include cost, the difficulty of extraditing suspects to a third country and the lack of economic and other benefits to either East Timor or Indonesia.

Other Security Council members have been hesitant to call for a tribunal for many of the same reasons, U.S. officials said. In its 149-page report to the secretary general, the U.N. Commission of Experts urged the Indonesian government first to retry police and military officials who were acquitted in earlier human rights trials here that the panel called "manifestly inadequate." The panel also urged that Gen. Wiranto, the retired commander-in-chief of the Indonesian armed forces, be investigated. And it recommended that Indonesia strengthen its judicial and prosecutorial capacity with the guidance of experts on international criminal and humanitarian law.

The Security Council has not officially released the confidential report, which was leaked to the news media last month. The council had said it wants to give Indonesia and East Timor a chance to first add their comments. "We reject the recommendation . . . of an international tribunal because it will not solve anything," Wirayuda said. The East Timorese government's reluctance, meanwhile, undercuts any move to establish a war crimes tribunal, analysts said.

But some East Timorese said that is the only way to achieve justice. "What the East Timorese are hoping for now, ordinary people including myself, is an international tribunal," said Fernando Lasama de Araujo, head of the Democratic Party, the second-largest political party in the East Timor parliament, and a former student leader who was jailed by the Indonesian military for almost seven years. Araujo said East Timorese officials have "the wrong vision," because "they think that reconciliation can bring justice for the East Timorese. They are focused more on political interest rather than justice for the victims in this country."

Trials conducted in Jakarta in 2003 resulted in 12 acquittals and six convictions, five of which were overturned on appeal. Only the conviction of an East Timorese militia commander was upheld, but his sentence was halved to five years and he remains free pending appeal. The United States has said the trials were "seriously flawed and lacked credibility." At the same time, the U.S. government views Indonesia as a crucial ally in its campaign against terrorism, and the Bush administration has been seeking to gradually lift restrictions on military aid. The U.S. Congress is debating aid to Indonesia for fiscal year 2006. The legislation likely will still carry some restrictions, though fewer than this year, congressional aides said.

More Information on International Justice
More Information on the Ad-Hoc Court for East Timor
More Information on East Timor
More Information on the Security Council


FAIR USE NOTICE: This page contains copyrighted material the use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. Global Policy Forum distributes this material without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. We believe this constitutes a fair use of any such copyrighted material as provided for in 17 U.S.C § 107. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.