EAST TIMOR: Ramos-Horta due to appear before Truth Commission

Radio Australia – Asia Pacific – Latest Program – 24/09/2007

>> EAST TIMOR: Ramos-Horta due to appear before Truth Commission

East Timor’s President Jose Ramos-Horta was expected today to appear before the Indonesia-East Timor Truth and Friendship Commission. The United Nations and human rights bodies object to the commission because of its plan to offer amnesties to those who co-operate and provide testimony.

DUNN: I think it should be known that Jose Ramos-Horta in the first instance wanted some sort of international tribunal or some process that would bring out for the public, for the international community, the detail of what happened in East Timor, in particular for the Indonesian political establishment. He was one of those who in the end, particularly after Xanana decided that he was against any sort of international tribunal or process to do with the past, Horta decided well, what can we do. I mean he didn’t have the single authority to put press it and being a pragmatist, he saw the problem that it would simply not be possible to get a tribunal through the Security Council. And I think he was right at the time, because major powers like the United States and Australia were supporting the new president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and they were well aware that he is himself from the military and served in Timor and that it’s hard to see how he would escape some involvement in such a process. And that would have a very destabilising impact on Indonesia.

McCARTHY: What are the chief objections that the United Nations and international human rights bodies have to the tribunal as it stands?

DUNN: Well, I think it’s a tribunal without teeth. It’s a tribunal where there is no prosecutorial powers and where the people don’t have to appear before it and when they appear before it, even if they confess, they’re guaranteed impunity. And that’s what the UN does not accept.

McCARTHY: Dr Ramos-Horta has of course defended the Commission. He says fostering close ties with Indonesia is really what’s going to best serve the interests of East Timor’s population. Given the sensitivity of the issue in Indonesia and the close economic and strategic relationship between the two countries, is it fair to say that there is little to be gained from alienating such a close neighbour?

DUNN: Well, this is where I have to say I disagree with the president, because I think in the long run, it’s not just about what the Timorese would like and most people would like some sort of – It’s a bit like Australia, where people want at least the perpetrators to get up and say I’m sorry, we did this. But I think there’s something more serious about it. It’s not just about East Timor. It’s also about the political process in Indonesia. Now Indonesia is moving towards democracy, but it’s got quite a distance to go. And one of the big hurdles is of course to reform the military, so that it can fit into a democratic process. And how can you reform the military without having a close look at what its been up to in the past. And what East Timor, what the experience of East Timor shows us is it’s an exposure of the brutal culture of the military.

McCARTHY: But can it be said that by establishing the truth of the historical record of what happened, of who perpetrated this, even if it requires the granting of amnesties to establish that truth, that will push the Indonesian military towards reform?

DUNN: Yeah, but the problem is that this process isn’t doing that. The main perpetrators and after all, in the UN system, our focus in relation to war crimes or crimes against humanity is the commanders, who gave the orders? It’s not just the small guys who go, are involved in the killing and that’s where the traces stopped. There are about 80 Timorese serving long periods of imprisonment for being part of the militia and part of operations where killing took place. But there was no single Indonesian officer. And don’t forget the Indonesian military planned the violence in East Timor. They not only set up the militia, but they gave it its agenda of violence.
And I think that can only be brought out by a much stricter tribunal. And this tribunal so far, after all it’s been going for a long time and it’s really produced nothing. What will be interesting is to see what comes out of it in this instance, because you know, for the first time it’s actually sitting in Dili and that’s what’s interesting, because not only Jose Ramos-Horta, but the prime minister now Xanana Gusmao are going to appear before it. It may be useful, but if they make a statement about the truth as they know it, so far of course, it won’t match what’s been coming from the TNI generals and that’s the problem. The problem is that if nothing much comes out of it, it will have the opposite effect. It will actually distort and virtually provide a historical cover-up of one of the most tragic episodes in the recent history of South East Asia.



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