East Timor: Remorse without reform
Interview with human rights activist Usman Hamid
First Broadcast 20/07/2008
A recent report into the violence surrounding East Timor’s independence
vote in 1999 places the blame for crimes against humanity squarely at
Indonesia’s president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, has since expressed
his ‘deepest remorse’ for the violence, making him the first Indonesian
leader to formally acknowledge the institutional responsibility of the
Indonesian state, its military and police.
However, he stopped short of an official apology and the author of the
report, the joint Indonesian East Timorese Commission of Truth and
Friendship, has no power to prosecute.
Human rights groups have dismissed the commission as meaningless
without prosecutions or the substantial reform of the Indonesian
Jim Middleton spoke to Usman Hamid, the coordinator of the Indonesian
human rights group Kontras.
Jim Middleton: Welcome to the program.
Usman Hamid, Indonesian Human Rights Activist: Thank you.
Jim Middleton: As a person involved in human rights in Indonesia,
what’s your reaction to the findings of the Truth and Friendship
Usman Hamid: Yeah, thanks. Actually, it is important to emphasise about
the major findings of the report concluded that crimes against humanity
took place in East Timor in 1999, around the time of referendum.
Killing, tortures and false disappearances, rapes and sexual violence
took place before, around and after the referendum. So it is important
for Indonesia and Timor Leste to open for more prosecution in the
future. And I think despite criticisms the conclusion should be
considered as a positive development of both governments as part of –
as the form of – official acknowledgement that crimes against humanity
were, exist in East Timor.
Jim Middleton: President Yudhoyono offered regrets on behalf of the
Indonesian people rather than a full apology. Why did he not go the
whole way, the full way?
Usman Hamid: I think first of all, he really wants to show there is a
change, that Indonesia would not deny the crimes against humanity in
East Timor, like it did in the past. But of course Indonesia is not
really wants to be too defensive on denying or accepting the findings
of the CTF reports. On the other hand, it is not really easy for the
current governments to pursue accountability to criminal prosecutions
against individuals who are responsible for the crimes since they have
influence in Indonesian politics. So I think we are not satisfied with
the ‘deeply regret’. It should be apology because apology can be very
important in acknowledging… the wounds of the victims and the
“It should be apology because apology can be very important in
acknowledging… the wounds of the victims and the families.”
Jim Middleton: What would have been the consequences for President
Yudhoyono had he suggested a move to criminal prosecutions?
Usman Hamid: I think from the legal point of view there is no negative
consequence since the report concludes crimes against humanity took
place in East Timor. Crimes against humanity are not subject to
statutes of limitation, are not subject to amnesty and crimes against
humanity are not subject to non retroactivity, therefore criminal
prosecutions in the future is still open, but politically I think it
will take some time.
Jim Middleton: If prosecutions are to proceed some time in the future,
do you believe that General Wiranto, who was head of the military at
the time, ought to be one of those indicted?
Usman Hamid: He should be one of the person to be indicted, because the
name of Wiranto is already in the serious crimes unit recommendation
and also commission of expert set up by United Nations Secretary
General, recommended to Indonesia to prosecute high level suspect like
Wiranto. So I think the current situation in Indonesian politics shows
a sickness – that military impunity has been reduced, but not
Jim Middleton: General Wiranto is of course supposed to be a candidate
in next year’s presidential elections. Wouldn’t it complicate matters
if he were to be under threat of prosecution?
Usman Hamid: This is a real challenge for the current leadership in
Indonesian politics and the prosecution against Wiranto can give
political benefit to Yudhoyono, but on the other hand Yudhoyono, as
former military seems to be reluctant, seems to not really want to take
strong actions against senior generals like Wiranto. But I think the
CTF report has very important aspect where it can say that what has
been explained by Wiranto as the military chief at the time was wrong.
What has been explained by Wiranto that the crimes against humanity
were not took place and it’s just about the horizontal conflict between
East Timorese was wrong. And I think this is a very positive
development where in the future it can be used for criminal
“The current situation in Indonesian politics shows a sickness – that
military impunity has been reduced, but not significantly.”
Jim Middleton: Former Australian Foreign Affairs Minister, Alexander
Downer thinks that while the Indonesian President at the time, BJ
Habibie did not sanction the violence, he thinks it is possible that
General Wiranto disobeyed the President’s instructions. Do you think
that’s what happened?
Usman Hamid: I think it has to be brought to the court. I mean, in,
during the times, President Habibie was the one who has been considered
as opening Democratic space for East Timor by offering democratic
solution for referendum but I think to make sure there is
responsibility for the president or just at the level of the chief it
should be brought to the court. But Wiranto I think must be its one
amongst those responsible persons for the crimes to be brought to
justice. And unfortunately the CTF report fails to name any individuals.
Jim Middleton: Thank you very much for your time.
Usman Hamid: Thank you very much.