Scoop [New Zealand] Sunday, 10 August 2008, 11:45 am
By Maire Leadbetter, Indonesia Human Rights Committee
There is strong support for bringing to justice the Bosnian Serb
leader Radovan Karadzic for crimes against humanity, but Indonesia’s
grave Timor-Leste crimes have a lower priority.
However, there has been a breakthrough of sorts, Indonesia has for
the first time accepted blame for the terrible violence that engulfed
Timor-Leste in 1999 before and after the independence referendum.
Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono expressed his ‘remorse’
when he accepted the report of the Truth and Friendship Commission
set up jointly by his Government and that of Timor-Leste. It
documents crimes including murder, rape, torture, illegal detention,
and forced mass deportations.
The report, presented to the Indonesian and Timor-Leste Presidents in
a mid-July ceremony in Bali, says that pro-independence
representatives committed some crimes, such as ‘illegal detentions’
but that the Indonesian authorities and their proxies were the
primary perpetrators of gross human rights violations and a
systematic terror campaign.
Of course these conclusions are hardly news, since they reflect what
eyewitnesses reported at the time and the findings of subsequent
United Nations investigations. But this Commission was tipped to
produce a whitewash because of its controversial ‘no prosecutions’
mandate and it was not endorsed by the UN. The hearings were light on
victim evidence and heavy on evidence from the Generals. During the
hearings military commanders seemed to get away with self-serving and
unsubstantiated accusations against UN officials, and Timorese
witnesses were subjected to hostile questioning from Indonesian
Despite this stronger-than-expected report, it is not enough for the
Indonesia to accept institutional responsibility and turn the page.
An international tribunal is needed to bring the key perpetrators to
justice and to ensure accountability from the very top of the chain of
Meanwhile, impunity gnaws at the heart of both Timor-Leste and its
Indicted war criminals continue to lead influential public lives in
Indonesia. In 2004 an international judge in Timor-Leste issued a
warrant of arrest for General Wiranto who was in command of the
Indonesian military at the time of the 1999 terror campaign. The
warrant, which Indonesia ignored, was based on some 15,000 pages of
evidence. Indonesian human rights groups insist that the General
should face these charges, instead of calmly preparing to stand for
President next year.
Col. Burhanuddin Siagian is another who has been indicted for crimes
against humanity by the UN’s Serious Crimes Unit (SCU) but has never
answered to his role in the 1999 Timor massacres. Last year, as
regional military commander in West Papua, he issued death threats
against anyone daring to demonstrate their support for Papuan
The justice process has gone into reverse in Timor-Leste as the
leadership takes a ‘forgive and forget’ course that is sharply odds
with the views of surviving victims. President Jose Ramos Horta
recently bypassed the legal system to pardon and release several
militia leaders and is even advocating amnesty for the perpetrators
of deadly violence during the unrest of 2006.
Jose Ramos Horta and Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao have also set aside
the 2006 report of the Timor-Leste Commission for Reception, Truth
and Reconciliation, which unlike this latest Commission was backed by
the United Nations and does consider all the events from 1975 to
1999. In the human rights community this Report, known by its
Portuguese name “Chega!” (“Enough!”), is regarded as a shining jewel
of meticulous documentation. Nearly 8,000 witnesses were interviewed
in order to recreate and document the events as faithfully and as
even-handedly as possible. There is also a careful analysis of the
once secret documentation from the ‘club’ of western nations that
backed Indonesia. The conclusion is that the alleged Indonesian
military perpetrators should face justice, and that the Western
Governments, including New Zealand should apologise and pay reparations.
So far the New Zealand Government has been doing its best to play
possum, but its ‘wait and see what others do’ stance may not be
tenable for much longer. There are the ghosts of the ‘Balibo Five’ to
On October 16 1975 five journalists from Britain, Australia and New
Zealand were killed as they reported on Indonesia’s secret
pre-invasion incursions into what was then Portuguese Timor. The New
Zealander was a 27 year old TV cameraman, Gary Cunningham, who had
previously risked his life while covering the Vietnam War.
Although there was little doubt that the men died because Indonesia
could not run the risk of having its cover blown, an official ‘killed
in crossfire’ version of events has prevailed over the years. Of the
three nations with journalists involved, New Zealand has always been
the most quiescent, and successive Ministers of Foreign Affairs have
been given ‘Yes, Minister’ advice to say as little as possible and
leave the running to Australia.
But, late last year a Sydney inquest conducted by Coroner Dorelle
Pinch heard new witness testimony and mined the official
documentation to conclude that the Balibo Five were deliberately
killed on the orders of Commander Yunus Yosfiah. He and his
accomplice, Special Forces soldier Christoforus da Silva were almost
certainly acting on orders from the highest levels of the Indonesian
military. The Australian Attorney General has been asked to consider
a war crimes prosecution under the terms of the Geneva Conventions.
A Balibo movie with high profile Australian actors is currently being
shot in Darwin. In Britain Foreign and Commonwealth Office Minister
Meg Munn has met with relatives of one of the journalists and hinted
that Britain could launch legal action if necessary. New Zealand has
said little apart from that it is waiting to see what Australia and
Britain decide to do. As a signatory to the Geneva Conventions we
have a moral obligation to work to bring to justice individuals
suspected of ‘grave breaches’.
As Mr Karadzic and others such as the key architects of the Cambodian
killing fields are coming to trial, it is time for a full scale
international tribunal for Timor-Leste. It is also time New Zealand
began to play its part in bringing this about.
Terjemahan (atas jasa “Kataku”):
Joyo Indonesia News Service
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