WHO’S RESPONSIBLE FOR THE VIOLENCE AFTER THE 1999 EAST TIMOR REFERENDUM reported: The major share of responsibility for the genocide in East Timor since 1975 rests with the Indonesian military, which has long been the dominant force in national politics and, over the long years of occupation, amassed a wide range of lucrative economic interests in East Timor. The Commander of the Armed Forces and Defence Minister, General Wiranto, oversaw the atrocities of 1999 conducted under the aegis of Operasi Sapu Jagad ("Operation Global Clean-Sweep"). As well, "senior generals playing active roles included Lieutenant-General Tyasno Sudarso, head of military intelligence, his predecessor Lieutenant-General Zacky Anwar Makarim, and Major-General Adam Damiri, commander of the Udayana military command which includes East Timor. This group was strongly supported by influential retired Generals Tri Sutrisno and Benny Burdani, the latter having been intimately involved in East Timor operations ever since 1974. Despite his exile, sacked Lieutenant [sic: Major]-General Prabowo [former commander of the Kopassus special-forces unit, and son-in-law of deposed President Suharto] gave advice at every stage of the campaign. Lieutenant-General Yunus Yosfiah, Information Minister in the Habibie cabinet, also played an active role ... Crucial local military commanders were Lieutenant Colonels Asep Kuswanto in Liquica, Burhanudin Siagan in Bobonaro, Muhammed Nur in Emera, and Colonel Mudjino, Dili deputy commander." [Source:, Taylor |+|, “East Timor: The Price of Freedom”]

“The killings, property destruction, and forced translocations of September 1999 were carried out at ground level by Indonesian army and police forces in coordination with the Timorese militias described earlier. Timorese males, mostly youths, were recruited for militia service with promises of good pay and other "benefits" (including a free rein when it came to raping and sexually abusing Timorese women). A number were also former detainees who had been released from brutal treatment in Indonesian custody after pledging to collaborate with the occupying forces. |+|

“On August 18, 2000, the People's Consultative Assembly in Jakarta issued a blanket amnesty for all human-rights abuses committed by the armed forces, in Indonesia as well as in East Timor. "Top serving and retired officers ... put enormous pressure on politicians to pass the decree banning retroactive prosecution of human rights cases ... The ban effectively rules out charges against senior officers, because Indonesia's criminal code does not recognise culpability by those in command. Only those who carried out orders could be charged and prosecuted." [Source: Lindsay Murdoch, Sydney Morning Herald, August 19, 2000]

Seeking Forgiveness in East Timor

Mark Lee wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “Domingos Soares, a muscular, bearded man of 49, led a militia in Letefoho, a small town in the mountains south of Dili. After fleeing across the border to West Timor, he has now returned to his home, where we spoke. At first, convinced that I was some kind of official investigating war crimes, he held his body tightly and stared at the ground. Yes, he was a commandante in the militia. Yes, he burned down people's homes. Gradually, he relaxed and began to speak more freely. "When the [Indonesian military] came to me, they said, 'You are a friend, so make a [militia]. If you are not our friend, then you are our enemy,'" Soares said, looking embarrassed and shrugging his shoulders as if to indicate that he had no choice. Right after his return, he said, "I was very frightened." His neighbors all knew he had been part of a militia. "Then the priest talks about me in church and a man from Fretilin also talks about me. They say, 'The fighting is over. Our children need peace.'"[Source: Mark Lee, Los Angeles Times, May 19, 2002 \+/]

“Not everyone, though, finds it easy to forgive. Moises Dos Santos, 56, was on the other side in the long conflict, a village leader in Liquica, a coastal village south of the capital. He watched as local farmers were organized and given guns by the Indonesian army. The new militiamen were told that they would be paid 25,000 Indonesian rupiah (about $2.50) and a bag of rice for every person they killed. In 1999, Dos Santos was hiding in the fields near the local church when the militia executed his aunt. Now many of these people have returned, and Dos Santos sees them selling fruit by the side of the road. "When I see [former militia members] it is difficult to put my anger down," he said recently. "I want to be responsible, but...." He made a fist and thumped his chest: "My heart is still hard." \+/

“For East Timor to move forward, the legal and personal issues of reconciliation must be addressed, which is why they have now been incorporated into official government policy. At the independent Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation serious crimes--such as murder or torture--will be referred to the country's new justice system. Other offenses, such as theft, arson or the killing of livestock, will require the perpetrator to perform "an act of reconciliation," such as a period of community service or a public apology. \+/

“Aniceto Guterres, a 35-year-old lawyer and human rights activist, heads the reconciliation commission. He knows he has a difficult job. "We can have reconciliation if the East Timorese people have faith in the rule of law," he said. "They must believe that past crimes will be handled fairly by the legal system." East Timor is 95 percent Roman Catholic, and Guterres believes that the church must have an active role in the process of reconciliation. "Religion is very important here and not in an abstract way," he explained. "The church leaders are often the leaders of the community." \+/

“During the months before independence, Carlos Ximenes Belo, the Timorese bishop who shared the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize, has traveled across the country telling people to avoid vigilante justice and trust the new government. But even as the new government and the church press for national reconciliation, people here realize that East Timor's future will be determined in the villages. When the once-feared militia members return without their weapons, thousands of people will make private decisions to forgive or seek revenge. \+/

“On the day I visited the town of Zumalai, near the border, Father Augusto Sampio and his parishioners were making preparations for 51 ex-militia members to return for a brief visit. This would be the third time the group had traveled across the border for a one-day event. Father Augusto planned to preach a sermon, several of the militia members would make public apologies, and then members of the community would ask the exiles to return with their families. "After the Mass, I will explain that the Indonesians wanted to divide us into two groups," the priest said. "Then I tell everyone that the people who died were a sacrifice so that our nation could appear." Will this process lead to reconciliation? Father Augusto gazed across the packed-dirt yard in front of his church at the children walking home from school for the midday meal. "I pray," the priest whispered. "I pray." \+/

Improved Relations Between Indonesia and East Timor and Efforts to Bring Justice and Closure in East Timor

In February 2002, East Timor and Indonesia signed two agreements aimed at easing relations. On April 2005, East Timor and Indonesia signed a landmark border agreement during Indonesian President Yudhoyono's first visit to Dili since coming to power in 2004.

The church led an effort to reintegrate members of the militias into their communities. It invited them to participate in events and make public apologies. Some of those charged with more serious crimes were caught in East Timor. The majority had fled to West Timor.

Not much came of an effort by a team of United Nations war crimes prosecutors. U.N. Prosecutors in East Timor indicted seven military officers with crimes against humanity in regard to murders by soldiers and militia men under their control in the rampage in 1999. There was little the prosecutors could do. The officers were free in Indonesia. East Timor and Indonesia have no extradition policy.

As of August 2004, the United Nations tribunal had indicted more than 380 people. Of these about 50 had been convicted, most of them East Timorese militiamen. In May 2004, the tribunal issued a an arrest warrant for Gen. Wiranto for human rights abuses. At the time he was running for president in Indonesia. The warrant was supposed to be turned over to Interpol which would have left open the possibility that he could arrested if he left Indonesia.

In 2005, Ellen Nakashima wrote in the Washington Post, ““Over 4½ years, the U.N.-funded unit convicted only 84 people, all low- to mid-level Timorese militia members. The higher-ranking personnel, including Indonesian military and police officers, are beyond reach in Indonesia, which has no extradition treaty with East Timor. Topping the impunity list is Gen. Wiranto, the retired Indonesian military commander, indicted by a Dili prosecutor. For political reasons, the warrant was never forwarded to Interpol, the international police agency. Two months ago, Ramos-Horta said, he warned Wiranto that the truth commission was "their last chance to clean Indonesia's image." Wiranto, he said, promised cooperation. [Source: Ellen Nakashima, Washington Post, September 16, 2005 \=/]

Indonesian Investigations Into the Violence That Followed the 1999 Referendum

In 2002, Indonesia opened an investigation into military and police atrocities following the referendum in 1999 and inaugurated a human rights court to hold military accountable for atrocities in East Timor in 1999. Sixteen security officers, and two civilians were brought to trial. Twelve were acquitted. Four had their sentences overturned by a higher court. Only two went to prison. They were East Timorese not Indonesians. The proceedings were described human rights groups as a “sham” and “theater” to appease Indonesia’s critics. In May 2001, a Indonesia court found six Timorese guilty in the mob killing of United Nations aid workers in 2000 but their sentences were only 10 to 20 months.

In November 2004, the two-year process ended under which 18 people were tried by Indonesian court for human rights abuses in East Timor during 1999 independence drive. Only one conviction — that of militia leader Eurico Guterres — was left standing. [Source: BBC]

In 2004, an Indonesian court convicted three army officers and one policeman of crimes against humanity. One general was convicted of failing to control subordinates that killed 15 people in Dili. Another general was convicted of taking part in the killing of at least a dozen East Timorese in the city of Suai. Militia leader Eurico Guterres was given a 10 year sentence for leading a paramilitary gang. In August 2004, an Indonesian court of appeals overturned convictions of three army officers and one policeman found guilty of crimes against humanity. Guterres sentence was reduced from 10 years to five years. Hundreds of other security people and militia members involved in the violence in 1999 were never even indicted or accused.

In July 2004, AFP reported: “A former governor of East Timor convicted of human rights abuses is reported to have flown to Jakarta to begin a three year jail term. Officials say Abilio Soares will become the first person convicted by a Jakarta human rights court to serve time for abuses connected with East Timor's bloody 1999 split from Indonesia. They say Soares left his home in the West Timor capital, Kupang, this morning for transfer to Jakarta's Cipinang prison. Of six people sentenced to jail, three army officers, a former Dili police chief and a militia leader remain free - pending appeals. [Source: AFP, July 17, 2004]

East Timor Truth Commissions

In January 2002, the independent Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation (CAVR) was set up in East Timor as part of an agreement between East Timor and Indonesia to investigate human rights violation in the previous 25 years and try and heal wounds of past. People who had committed serious crimes were directed into the justice system. Those who committed less serious crimes had to perform “an act of reconciliation” such as a period of community service or a public apology.

The CAVR was formally established in East Timor with seven national commissioners and a mandate recognized in the Constitution of the Democratic Republic of Timor Leste in Article 162. The seven commissioners of CAVR comprised of Aniceto Guterres Lopes, Father Jovito Araujo, Olandina Caeiro, Jacinto Alves, José Estêvâo Soares, Isabel Guterres, and Reverend Agustinho de Vasconselos.

On March 9, 2005, the Commission of Truth and Friendship (CTF) was formally established between Indonesia and the government of East Timor. It came about in response to the acquittals of serious crime offenders by the Indonesian human rights court in 2004. There was some discussion about establishing an international and an independent UN tribunal (of the Cambodian type) for serious human rights abuses and genocide. International NGOs, such as ETAN, closely supported local NGOs on this issue but not much came of this.

According to Wikileaks: “The Dili and Jakarta governments agreed in December 2004 to set up the CTF "to establish the conclusive truth" about 1999. It began work in 2005 and was due to operate for a year. But its mandate was extended, amid controversy over the conduct of its hearings, its terms of reference and claims by human rights and legal groups that it was more interested in "friendship than truth". East Timor's leaders backed the commission as a way of achieving reconciliation with Indonesia. They also acknowledged that, because of Indonesian resistance, there was little chance of the UN Security Council setting up an international tribunal. Paul Toohey wrote in The Australian, “The UN refused from the start to co-operate with the commission because its terms of reference gave it power to grant amnesty. The UN believes convicted war criminals should face the consequences. [Source: Wikileaks, July 28, 2008, Paul Toohey, The Australian on July 18, 2008]

Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation (CAVR)

In August 2005,the Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation (CAVR), held its first meeting. The body, which had no power to prosecute, examined the violence that accompanied East Timor's independence in 1999 and reported on alleged atrocities during Indonesia's 24-year rule and presented its findings to the United Nations. It found finds that the occupation was directly responsible for the deaths of more than 100,000 East Timorese.

In 2005, Ellen Nakashima wrote in the Washington Post, East Timor and Indonesia “have created a Commission on Truth and Friendship, modeled after South Africa's post-apartheid panel. The commission's aim is to establish the "conclusive truth" about the crimes up to and after the August 1999 vote; its work will not lead to prosecutions. The 10-member panel, formed in August with a one-year term, has the power to recommend amnesty for people who fully explain their crimes, apologize and show remorse. It contains no provision for criminal proceedings or compensation. The lack of prosecution, critics warn, is a recipe for impunity.[Source: Ellen Nakashima, Washington Post, September 16, 2005 \=/]

"What's more important for us?" said Jose Ramos-Horta, East Timor's foreign minister, who proposed the commission to the Jakarta government. "That democracy slowly is consolidated in Indonesia? Or the blind pursuit of justice at the expense of stability in Indonesia?" Ramos-Horta, a 1996 Nobel Peace laureate who spent 24 years in exile, and President Xanana Gusmao, a charismatic former freedom fighter who spent more than six years in a Jakarta prison, oppose survivors' calls for an international war crimes tribunal. The Timor government also has rejected a recommendation by a U.N. advisory panel that the Indonesian government redo its widely criticized East Timor war crimes trials. The trials concluded last year with only one of 18 defendants convicted. New trials, Ramos-Horta asserted, would prompt a backlash within Indonesia's powerful military and destabilize East Timor's fledgling democracy. "Truth is already a major aspect of justice," he said, leaning back in a swivel chair in his office in the government palace overlooking the Indian Ocean. \=/

The commission was independent from the national government and was set up to investigate and gather information on human rights violations that occurred in East Timor between 25 April, 1974 and 25 October 1999. It had a mandate of a “Community-based Reconciliation Process”. It was scheduled to close in early 2005. By the end of March 2004 it had collected information through hearings in all the districts and sub-districts, facilitated reconciliation and compiled some 7500 statements. The commission also undertook the compilation of statistics documenting East Timorese deaths between 1974 and 1999. The reconciliation aspect of the commission’s work focused on the rebuilding of community relations that have been disrupted, including the reintegration of former militia who committed less serious crimes. [Source: Andrea K. Molnar, Northern Illinois University, Department of Anthropology and Center for Southeast Asian Studies, May 2005 ,]

Many survivors and family members of abuses and atrocities in 1999 and under the Indonesian occupation criticized the truth commission for not bringing to justice Indonesian security forces who committed abuses. An estimated 150,000 to 175,000 Timorese -- up to one-fourth of the population -- were killed during Indonesia's occupation of East Timor. Aniceto Guterres, a truth commission member and human rights lawyer who was an early proponent of an international tribunal, told the Washington Post he had deep misgivings about the panel's lack of a prosecution option. But "if I had to choose between truth and justice," he said, "I would opt for truth." \=/

U.N. Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation Report

In 2006, Sian Powell wrote in The Australian, “The Indonesian military used starvation as a weapon to exterminate the East Timorese, according to a UN report documenting the deaths of as many as 180,000 civilians at the hands of the occupying forces. Napalm and chemical weapons, which poisoned the food and water supply, were used by Indonesian soldiers against the East Timorese in the brutal invasion and annexation of the half-island to Australia's north, according to the 2,500-page Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation report. The violence culminated in the 1999 reprisals for the independence vote. [Source: Sian Powell, The Australian, January 19, 2006 ||||]

“The report blames the Indonesian government and the security forces for the deaths of as many as 183,000 civilians, more than 90per cent of whom died from hunger and illness. It claims Indonesian police or soldiers were to blame for 70 per cent of the 18,600 unlawful killings or disappearances between 1975 and 1999. Based on interviews with almost 8000 witnesses from East Timor's 13 districts and 65 sub-districts, as well as statements from refugees over the border in West Timor, the report also relies on Indonesian military papers and intelligence from international sources.

“It documents a litany of massacres, thousands of summary executions of civilians and the torture of 8500 East Timorese - with horrific details of public beheadings, the mutilation of genitalia, the burying and burning alive of victims, use of cigarettes to burn victims, and ears and genitals being lopped off to display to families. Thousands of East Timorese women were raped and sexually assaulted during the occupation and the report concludes that rape was also used by the Indonesian military as a weapon of war. "Rape, sexual slavery and sexual violence were tools used as part of the campaign designed to inflict a deep experience of terror, powerlessness and hopelessness upon pro-independence supporters," the commission found.

The deaths amounted to almost a third of East Timor's pre-invasion population. The report found that after taking into account a peacetime baseline mortality rate, the number of East Timorese whose deaths could be directly attributed to Indonesia's deliberate starvation policy was between 84,200 and 183,000 people from 1975 until 1999. The Indonesian security forces "consciously decided to use starvation of East Timorese civilians as a weapon of war", the report says. "The intentional imposition of conditions of life which could not sustain tens of thousands of East Timorese civilians amounted to extermination as a crime against humanity committed against the East Timorese population."

A culture of impunity prevailed in the occupied territory and "widespread and systematic executions, arbitrary detention, torture, rape and sexual slavery was officially accepted by Indonesia", the commission found. "The violations were committed in execution of a systematic plan approved, conducted and controlled by Indonesian military commanders at the highest level." The report also criticises Australia for its long-term de jure recognition of the Indonesian occupation and its failure to try to prevent the use of force in East Timor. It recommends reparations from Indonesia and the members of the UN Security Council, including Britain and the US, who gave military backing to Indonesia between 1974 and 1999, as well as those nations that provided military assistance to Jakarta during the occupation, including Australia.

The commission carefully notes that many of the Indonesian military officers who played key roles in the occupation have since been promoted and details their ascension in the military. Titled Chega!, which means "Enough!" in Portuguese, the report is one of the most detailed and comprehensive of its kind ever compiled. Sponsored by international donors, including Australia, it was 3½ years in the making.

Final Report of the Commission for Truth and Friendship Indonesia-Timor Leste 2008

In July 2008, the final report by joint Indonesian-East Timorese Truth Commission blamed Indonesia for the human rights violations in the run-up to East Timor's independence in 1999 and urged it to apologise. President Yudhoyono expressed "deep regret" but stops short of an apology.

According to a 300-page Commission for Truth and Friendship (CTF) report obtained by the Australian newspaper, The Age, and released by Wikileaks: “Indonesian soldiers, police and civilian officials were involved in an "organised campaign of violence” and Indonesian police, army and civilian government officials funded, armed and co-ordinated anti-independence militias that carried out crimes against humanity. It says the Indonesian state bears "institutional responsibility" for atrocities including murder, rape, torture, illegal detention and forced mass deportations. [Source: Wikileaks, July 28, 2008 <+>]

“While the CTF finds pro-independence groups committed crimes in 1999, the overwhelming weight of evidence is that pro-Indonesian militias were the "primary, direct perpetrators of gross human rights violations". It says the TNI (Indonesian military), police and civilian authorities "consistently and systematically co-operated with and supported the militias in ways that contributed to the perpetration of crimes". The TNI armed the militias, helped co-ordinate and direct their actions, and sometimes participated directly in massacres of suspected independence supporters. <+>

“The civilian government funded militia groups, even when it knew they had committed massacres. "The provision of funding and material support by military and government officials was an integral part of a well-organised and continuous co-operative relationship, in the pursuit of common political goals aimed at promoting militia activities that would intimidate or prevent civilians from supporting the pro-independence movement," the report says. "TNI and police personnel, as well as civilian officials, were at times involved in virtually every phase of these activities that resulted in gross human rights violations including murder, rape, torture, illegal detention, and forcible transfer and deportation," it says. "Viewed as a whole, the gross human rights violations committed against pro-independence supporters in East Timor in 1999 constitute an organised campaign of violence," it says. "The TNI, Polri (police) and civilian government all bear institutional responsibility for these crimes." As a result, it concluded that "Indonesia bears state responsibility" for gross violations of human rights. <+>

“Former general Wiranto, who was armed forces chief in 1999, has argued consistently that the upheaval was the result of mob violence. Indicted by UN prosecutors for crimes against humanity, he has never been tried and is a likely candidate in next year's Indonesian presidential election. When he appeared at a CTF hearing in May 2007, he dismissed as absurd allegations that the military had orchestrated the violence. But the CTF, which does not name names and has no power to recommend prosecutions, says the violence was "systematic, co-ordinated and carefully planned". The crimes happened under the watch of BJ Habibe, who was president of Indonesia throughout 1999.

Paul Toohey wrote in The Australian: The truth about Indonesia's role in East Timor's bloody 1999 referendum has been accepted by both sides but it also states the obvious. There was never any question that it would tread softly. After all, it was called the Commission for Truth and Friendship, not the commission for truth. It was set up by the leaders of East Timor and Indonesia not merely to rake over the horrors of 1999 but most of all to find a way forward for two neighbours with a history of bad blood. There was also never any question that the Indonesian military, police and civilian officials -- that is, the Indonesian government -- would be found responsible for urging and participating in atrocities. For the commission to have concluded otherwise would have rendered the report an embarrassing lie. [Source:Paul Toohey, The Australian on July 18, 2008]

The report recommends that Indonesia clarifies and emphasises "the legal boundaries between civil authorities who are exerting the authority and responsibility of making policies, versus the military and police forces who are exerting operational responsibility". But in a clear statement of intent, the commission refused to recommend any amnesties because it found Indonesian military witnesses evasive and untruthful. The Australian understands it was the Indonesian CTF commissioners, not the East Timorese, who were most insistent on not granting amnesty to Indonesian soldiers. That suggests one of two things: the Indonesian commissioners are enjoying their new democracy and want results or the East Timorese commissioners are meek and want no trouble. As far as East Timor and Indonesia are concerned, the fallout over the events of 1999 ends here and now.

The report recommends no individual receive financial reparation. It suggests, vaguely, that both Indonesia and East Timor employ "collective reparations". One can imagine this would work similarly to the approach taken to Australia's Stolen Generations: no personal payouts but assistance in the form of grants to offer group comfort; counselling, if you're lucky. Maybe tea and biscuit money for survivors to sit around and discuss their grief.

Indonesian President Yudhoyono and East Timor Justice and Reconciliation

Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, the president of Indonesia from 2004 to 2014, was a Jakarta-based army general in 1999 but over the years he had been involved in activities in East Timor. In 1999 he specifically rejected allegations that war crimes were committed. "I am worried of opinion being formed in the international community that what happened in East Timor is a great human tragedy, ethnic cleansing or a large-scale crime, when in reality it is not," he said. "Please do not picture that what happened in East Timor is as bad as the human tragedies in Rwanda, Somalia, Bosnia and Kosovo." [Source: Wikileaks, July 28, 2008 <+>]

In 2008, Paul Toohey wrote in The Australian: “Yudhoyono says he will abide by the commission's outcome and accept responsibility for what happened in East Timor on behalf of his nation. It has been a relatively painless thing for him to do because the violence did not occur on his watch. But that does not make his gesture meaningless. "We convey very deep remorse at what happened in the past that has caused the loss of lives and property," Yudhoyono said in Bali in July 2008 as East Timor's President Jose Ramos Horta and Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao stood by his side to formally receive the report. It really couldn't be put more strongly than that. Or could it? [Source: Paul Toohey, The Australian on July 18, 2008 ==]

“Yudhoyono spoke in Indonesian while reporters were handed an English language translation of his remarks, from where the above quote is drawn. It was immediately suggested that Yudhoyono in fact had used a much softer word than remorse, more along the lines of regret. The event nevertheless carried the appearance of a historic moment, with Yudhoyono officially ending nine years of denial by accepting, without equivocation, the verdict of the 10 commissioners, five of them from East Timor, five from Indonesia. ==

“Analysts thinks it unlikely Yudhoyono will urge further action against the likes of Wiranto on the basis of the report. "Not moving with legal action is an ideal solution for him," one analyst said. Yudhoyono said in his Bali statement: "We must learn from what happened in the past to find out the facts over who has done what to whom and who must be held responsible. Only the truth will free us from those past experiences." It does indeed seem that the truth can free people. The TNI leaders will go unpunished. The commission did not have the power to recommend charges and, despite Yudhoyono's words...there is little sympathy among Indonesians for what happened in East Timor. He says any further internal self-examination -- beyond the bogus human rights trials that have already occurred, in which a handful of militia and mid-ranking military serve short terms -- would not go down well domestically. ==

Disappointment by Victims Over the Investigations into the 1999 Violence

Victoms of the 1999 violence in East Timor feel a sense of betrayal by their own government and the United Nations. Ellen Nakashima wrote in the Washington Post, “For years, Eliza dos Santos and Anita dos Santos helped the underground resistance, passing supplies to rebels. They, like their husbands, revered Gusmao, the prisoner turned president. Now, they charge, he and Ramos-Horta, the foreign minister, have forgotten "the little people." The women also criticize the United Nations for closing its special prosecution unit in May 2005, leaving pending more than 600 cases linked to the 1999 crimes.” [Source: Ellen Nakashima, Washington Post, September 16, 2005 \=/]

In 2005, after the Commission on Truth and Friendship held its first meeting, Fretilin leader Adérito de Jesus Soares wrote in New York Times, “The victims of Indonesia's atrocities in East Timor ago are, once again, hoping that action by the United Nations will bring to justice those responsible for their suffering. But unless the Security Council acts on the report of the secretary general's commission of experts, our hopes may, once again, be crushed.” Since the violence in 1999 “various organizations, including the United Nations, have thoroughly investigated what happened. All reached the same conclusion - that the violence in 1999 amounted to crimes against humanity. Most of the investigations urged that the perpetrators be tried by an international tribunal. [Source: Adérito de Jesus Soares, New York Times, August 10, 2005 *-*]

“So far, these recommendations have been set aside and the major perpetrators remain at liberty. Worse, many of those accused of leading the deadly campaign in 1999 are supervising similar atrocities in Indonesia, especially Aceh and West Papua. Initially, the United Nations agreed to give Indonesia a chance to try its own. However, the UN commission of experts concluded that Jakarta's ad-hoc human rights court on East Timor was deeply flawed. Its trials resulted in the acquittal of most of the defendants; the most senior suspects were never even indicted. The commission recommended an internationally supervised six-month timetable for the Indonesian government to re-open the trials based on new evidence that would try or retry senior perpetrators. *-*

“This face-saving measure would give Indonesia one more chance to show that it can credibly try its generals. Should Jakarta fail again, the commission reaffirmed previous recommendations urging that the United Nations establish an international tribunal. The commission of experts also criticizes the Commission on Truth and Friendship set up recently by the East Timor and Indonesian governments, arguing that its terms contradict well-established international legal principles, because of its "apparent exclusion of further justice processes," and hence of real accountability for serious crimes committed in East Timor. The UN commission appealed to the international community not to financially support the Commission on Truth and Friendship unless its terms of reference are substantially revised. *-*

“The Security Council can set an example in combating impunity worldwide by endorsing the commission of experts' recommendations for substantive justice. The United Nations must pressure both the Indonesian and East Timor governments to cooperate in a credible international process to try those responsible for these crimes. The Indonesian government has been reluctant to submit to its international obligations on this issue. The ad-hoc human rights court was part of a strategy by the Indonesian government to whitewash the many crimes against humanity committed by its military during the occupation of East Timor and remove them from the international agenda. *-*

More disappointing is East Timor's position on this issue. The government's pragmatic stance on crimes against humanity has drawn a great deal of criticism from civil society both within East Timor and internationally. The creation of the joint Commission on Truth and Friendship is a direct result of this approach. The East Timorese government has been cautious not to offend its giant neighbor and former colonizer. Foreign Minister José Ramos-Horta has publicly rejected the recommendations of the commission of experts in a joint declaration with Indonesia. Instead, both governments have said that the Commission on Truth and Friendship, which held its first meeting in August 2005, is meant to bring "definitive closure" to the events of 1999. No one doubts that reconciliation between Indonesia and East Timor is extremely important. However, justice is indispensable to the success of true reconciliation. The United Nations, through the Security Council, must listen to the voices of East Timor's victims.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Northern Illinois University, Department of Anthropology and Center for Southeast Asian Studies, May 2005 Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated June 2015

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