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What of truth commission for East Timor?

Jakarta Post, January 10, 2005
by Aboeprijadi Santoso, Amsterdam

Indonesia has asked East Timor to initiate a joint-commission of truth and reconciliation to resolve the issue of the violence during and after the United Nations-organized vote in East Timor in 1999.

With some 1,500 deaths, a capital destroyed, hundreds of thousands forcibly deported and 17 of only 18 defendants acquitted (one more has an appeal pending), the crimes against humanity allegedly committed by the Army and its proxies, have apparently been completed with total impunity. But who, then, is responsible for the mayhem?

During Dili's final observance of Indonesian Independence Day on Aug. 17, 1999, then governor Jose Abilio Osorio Soares proudly announced before UN diplomats and community leaders that East Timor would continue to celebrate the day because he believed the country would remain part of Indonesia. As he spoke, violence was sweeping the country, and in the hall, this writer recalls, some civil servants whispered to each other with a sense of disbelief. They were right: A few weeks later, the majority (79 percent) of the people voted for independence.

Yet the governor knew better. Abilio must have been aware of local anxieties and the upcoming danger, for example, what the soldiers and militiamen would do when defeat eventually came -- the "morning after (the vote)" problem had by then become an international concern. Pro-Jakarta militiamen said the administration authorized them to set up check points along the main roads and ports soon after the vote -- indicating that, far from rogue elements fighting in a "civil war", the violence had involved some planning.

When Abilio was finally acquitted by the court, law experts warned that the verdict could endanger Indonesia's position in the international community, as the trials have been widely seen as a sham to avoid an international tribunal.

Indeed, Gen. Wiranto's adviser, Muladi, welcomed it as a step to avert international criticism that only military men were freed from punishment, while Foreign Minister Hassan Wirayuda regretted it, saying it would "erode the credibility of the rights tribunal".

In other words, rather than reflecting on the unjust treatment of the victims, Jakarta was concerned about the image of the military and the rights trials -- the two institutions most responsible for impunity, whose credibility was thus at stake.

A negative, possibly devastating, judgment could be the outcome if the expert commission initiated by the UN secretary-general -- instead of Jakarta's proposed truth commission -- is allowed to probe the way Jakarta handled the case.

One expert who witnessed and researched the case is Professor Geoffrey Robinson of the University of California. The Canadian Indonesianist was a political adviser of UN Mission in East timor (UNAMET), which organized East Timor's referendum. His report to the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva, East Timor 1999, Crimes against Humanity was for years suppressed, but is soon to be published.

"In both 1965 (left-wing massacres) and 1999 (E. Timor)," Robinson told Radio Netherlands recently, "the Army was directly involved in organizing the killings. People talked of the 1999 case as if it was just the work of some rogue elements, but it's clear that the Army was involved in mobilizing their own soldiers to take part in the crimes. The 1999 case was in front of the international community, that's the big difference ...

It's not easy, however, to explain how the massacres, rampage and rapes were organized. Robinson said, "What I think happened was that several Indonesian Military (TNI) officers and other officers in Jakarta spelled out a general strategy to mobilize the militia groups and to use terror and violence in order to intimidate people and to punish them. And within that strategy, as you went down the command, there were more specific ideas about what to do. So, yes, there was planning at some level, a general strategy, but that doesn't mean that a particular individual planned a particular massacre. There is no smoking gun ... but the links between the formal Army commands and the militia groups are well documented.

"That doesn't change the level of responsibility", Robinson insisted. For "the line of responsibility is only partly informal and some of the formal lines of command were still operating ... Probably the Army's Special Forces (Kopassus) had a separate, parallel command, controlling certain activities separately from the formal territorial lines of command". This conclusion is parallel to UN investigator James Dunn's report of Feb. 2001.

Mass murderers like to ensure and measure their success. Hitler did it at the special Wansee conference and the Khmer Rouge kept lists of victims that went into meticulous detail. Not so in the Timor case. But there were documents of a contingency plan to transport people, which according to Dili's Yayasan Hak suggests a preceding scorched-earth plan. This was the directive from the Office of the Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs for the Army and police district commanders in Dili.

All these point to the use of Army infrastructure and other networks to operate the militia groups. Examples abound -- like attacks on churches in Liquisa and Suai and on Carrascalao's house.

The planning apparently involved the TNI headquarters, Army Strategic Reserves Command (Kostrad), Kopassus and the Armed Force's Strategic Intelligence Agency (BAIS), but also key members of President BJ Habibie's Cabinet. One was the defense minister and TNI chief Gen. Wiranto, who let his soldiers do what they did -- a very serious omission. But at a higher level the coordinating minister Gen. ret. Feisal Tanjung played a key role as he chaired a team, known by its acronym TP4OKTT, which included ministers of home and foreign affairs, of defense, justice and the BAIS chief. According to Robinson, it is this group that formulated the general strategy.

The Indonesia-East Timor Truth Commission is yet to spell out its aim and modus operandi. However, being a truth commission, it will have -- if any -- limited judicial power. To resolve the issue, a truly credible court -- a hybrid or international tribunal -- should precede such a commission, check the above findings, and let justice take its course.

The writer is a journalist with Radio Netherlands, Amsterdam.


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