Global Policy Forum

Still No Justice in East-Timor War Crimes

East Timor and Indonesia Action Network
July 14, 2008

The new report of the bi-lateral Commission of Truth and Friendship (CTF) does little to advance accountability for the many crimes against humanity committed by Indonesia in Timor-Leste, the U.S.-based East Timor and Indonesia Action Network (ETAN) said today. The report, Per Memoriam Ad Spem (From Memory to Hope), is scheduled to be handed to the presidents of Indonesia and Timor-Leste in Bali on Tuesday.

"Impunity continues for Indonesian perpetrators of the countless crimes against humanity in Timor-Leste. The CTF report makes no progress toward achieving justice for the thousands of victims and their families," said John M. Miller, National Coordinator of ETAN. "The Commission was restricted to looking at 1999, the final year of Indonesia's illegal 24-year occupation. Even within that limited period, the Commission was prohibited from naming individuals who committed crimes or recommending ways to bring them to justice," added Miller. "We are encouraged that the Commission acknowledged the institutional responsibility of the Indonesian state and its security forces, and that it refused to recommend amnesties or find credible the self-serving testimony by former Indonesian generals." said Miller. "The advance copy we have seen is better than many had feared, but must not be the final word." "Establishing and admitting institutional responsibility is important, but the repressive policies in Timor-Leste in 1999 were directed and carried out by individuals," said Miller. "An international criminal tribunal would be the most effective means to bring those individuals to justice. It would send a clear message to those who might consider or conduct such crimes in the future. We urge the UN Security Council to create one," he added.

"The CTF report is clearly a political document, resulting from compromises between Indonesian and Timor-Leste Commissioners, rather than a definitive, objective statement of events," Miller said. "For example, it insists on a false even-handedness between violations by pro-Indonesia and pro-independence forces." "The CTF report proposes some reforms in Indonesia. For years, the Indonesian government has promised to implement many of them. Unfortunately, this reform effort reform has been stalled by opposition from a still-powerful military," added Miller. Several of the generals-including Presidential candidate Wiranto who headed the Indonesian armed forces during 1999 and was indicted for crimes against humanity in Timor-Leste-have rejected the report's findings of institutional responsibility. Miller urged that the two governments "quickly release the report to the public, so all can fully evaluate its merits and recommendations. Friendship between government officials must not be allowed to pre-empt justice for perpetrators and reparations to their victims." "Indonesia, Timor-Leste, and the UN have produced several official reports on the atrocities of 1999, some of which underlie the CTF report. Names have been named, indictments issued, and some trials held, albeit of low-level perpetrators (by the UN) or without serious intention (by Indonesia). Nine years after Indonesian soldiers and the militia proxies they commanded ravaged Timor-Leste, senior Indonesian officials in charge of those events enjoy promotions, active political careers or cozy retirement," said Miller. "Failure to bring these people to justice continues to undermine human rights and the rule of law in both countries." "The CTF's report is more credible than we expected, although its findings confirm much of what past reports had long ago concluded, especially that Indonesian military, police and government controlled the anti-independence militia, as well as directly engaging in the violence and destruction against the overwhelming majority of the Timor-Leste population who supported independence," said Miller. "However, the report makes some highly problematical assertions."

"We cannot accept that the CTF's conclusion that the atrocities of 1999 were caused by low-level Indonesian soldiers failing to follow recently-instituted policies to respect human rights. The campaign of violent intimidation was so well-planned and pervasive that there must have been orders for crimes against humanity passed down the chain of command. The events of 1999 were a direct out-growth of the preceding 23 years of Jakarta's brutal military occupation," said Miller. "The CTF report attempts to artificially balance the massive crimes by Indonesian forces with accusations of a small number of human rights violations (mainly illegal detention) by pro-independence supporters, making a dishonest equivalence between people struggling for their legal right to self-determination and those enforcing an illegal foreign military occupation. It is disingenuous to assign responsibility to the current government of Timor-Leste for a few actions contrary to resistance movement policy."


Indonesia invaded neighboring Timor-Leste in December 1975 in an unprovoked act of military aggression. The ensuing 24-year occupation, which killed more than 100,000 Timorese civilians, was never recognized by the United Nations. When the East Timorese were finally allowed to express their views through a UN-conducted referendum in 1999, nearly 80% voted for independence. Both before and after the referendum, Indonesian military and police forces, aided by Timorese militia they created and directed, created an atmosphere of terror in Timor-Leste, finally laying waste to the entire country. In the occupation's final year, Indonesian forces and their militia proxies murdered more than 1,400 people, forcibly displaced hundreds of thousands, and burned or destroyed 75% of Timor-Leste's buildings and infrastructure.

In late 2004, the presidents of Indonesia and Timor-Leste proposed a bi-national Commission of Truth and Friendship to try to dissuade UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan from appointing the Commission of Experts (COE). Nevertheless, the UN established the COE, whose June 2005 report documented the inadequacy of efforts to achieve justice for crimes against humanity committed in 1999. The COE reiterated other official and unofficial reports by recommending that an international criminal tribunal be created within six months if Indonesia fails "to ensure that accountability is secured for those responsible for grave human rights violations and human suffering on a massive scale..." The CTF was mandated to establish "the shared historical record of the reported human rights violations that took place in the period leading up to and immediately following the popular consultation in Timor-Leste in August 1999" to bring "definitive closure of the issues of the past." However, its mandate prohibited the commission from recommending prosecution of individuals or any judicial processes. (The commission says it did not recommend any amnesties because no alleged perpetrators told the complete truth or cooperated fully with the commission. It also stated that its "conclusions do not represent the end of a process of closure and reconciliation, but rather a beginning.")

The UN considered that the commission's mandate to grant amnesties violated international norms against impunity and declined to cooperate with it. In addition, the Timor-Leste Catholic Church and other civil society organizations in both countries objected to the CTF, expecting it to undermine and delay efforts at justice and accountability. The CTF took testimony from many powerful people in private sessions, and Timor-Leste victims who testified in public were harassed. Indonesia refused to allow the CTF to access security forces' files. Although only about 1% of the murders and massacres during Indonesia's illegal occupation occurred in 1999, the commission could only look at that year.

This past June, an international coalition of more than 90 human rights and other organizations wrote the United Nations Secretary-General that the CTF report "must not stand as the last word." The groups urged Ban Ki-Moon "to work to establish a meaningful legal process to try those responsible for crimes against humanity, war crimes and other serious crimes committed by Indonesian forces during the occupation of Timor-Leste." In early 2000, the Indonesian government's Commission of Inquiry into Human Rights Abuses in East Timor (KPP HAM), working with fewer resources and less time than the CTF, recommended a number of individuals for investigation and prosecution. Beginning soon after Indonesia's withdrawal, experts working on behalf of the UN Human Rights Commission, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the UN Secretary-General have produced several highly credible reports on the events of 1999. Timor-Leste's independent Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation (CAVR) produced a 2,500 page comprehensive report on the context and details of human rights violations from 1974 to 1999. Although a UN-supported Serious Crimes Process indicted nearly 400 people for 1999 crimes in Timor-Leste, more than 70% of them, including General Wiranto and other high-ranking Indonesian military officials, enjoy sanctuary in Indonesia.

More Information on International Justice
More Information on General Wiranto
More Information on Rogues Gallery
More Information on Ad-Hoc Court for East Timor


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