“What’s the difference of apology and remorse? How do you measure this?”
asked Timorese Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao after the ceremony.”
CF: An apology has certain definite characteristics.
1. A Corroborated Factual Record. The offenders and the victims must
reach agreement on the facts material to the offence. The CTF failed in
this regard. By starting in 1999, the CTF was unable to look at why the
Indonesian troops were in East Timor in the first place. And it went
downhill from there. By its own admission, the accused persons gave
answers that were “often evasive, irrelevant, too general or
incomplete”, and none met the criteria of ”telling the complete
truth” and giving ”full cooperation”.
2. Acceptance of Causal Responsibility Rather Than Mere Expression of
Sympathy. I can say, “I’m sorry your grandmother twisted her ankle while
walking on the beach” but that’s just an expression of sympathy if I
didn’t contribute to her injury and agree to accept blame for it. Saying
the word “sorry” doesn’t make it an apology. SBY hasn’t accepted causal
responsibility. See also the section on “Standing” below.
3. Identification of each moral wrong. It isn’t enough to apologise for
only some of the offences while leaving out the most grievous ones.
That’s what the CTF did, however.
4. Shared Commitment to Violated Moral Principles. The offender now goes
beyond the factual record, affirms the moral principles that were
violated and commits to respecting them. By contrast, the CTF is more
interested in “forward-looking perspectives” and the “future”. It refers
to the “future” more than 30 times and to “forward-looking” and “moving
forward” about 20 times.
5. Categorical Regret. The offender must affirm that the action was
morally wrong, express a genuine desire that things could have been
otherwise, and promise to never commit the action again. But Colonel
Burhanuddin Siagian, indicted for crimes against humanity by the
UN-backed Serious Crimes Unit, has been promoted and is a senior officer
in West Papua.
6. Performance of the Apology. The offender must publicly perform the
apology in accordance with the criteria mentioned above.
7. Reform and Reparations. Full-scale military reform remains a demand
of human rights and pro-democracy groups in Indonesia, but this has not
occurred. In 2004, the Indonesian parliament passed Law No 34/2004
banning military business activities and requiring the Indonesian
government to take over all military businesses within five years. The
five year period expires next year, but nothing has been done. We shall
see what comes of the reparations. Issue.
8. Standing. Only someone with “standing” – the offender, most obviously
– can issue a categorical apology. In the case of the Indonesian
military, the actual perpetrators have indicated they feel no guilt at
9. Intentions. It matters why you apologise. If you’re doing it because
a judge orders you to, that’s not the same as doing it because of your
For more on this, see the work of the philosopher Nicholas Smith, which
I’ve summarised above. But no amount of (even genuine) apology can
prevent an international tribunal because these are crimes against
humanity and crimes of universal jurisdiction. Just ask Radovan
Karadzic. As Martin Luther King Jr said, “the arc of the moral universe
is long but it bends toward justice”. Let’s hope Wiranto, Prabowo et al
have a good supply of fake beards.