Picture Credit: flickr.com/Gedsman
In 1975 Indonesia invaded East Timor (then a Portuguese Colony). The UN never recognized Indonesian sovereignty in East Timor and in 1999 the UN finally organized a referendum in which the East Timorese voted for independence. In response, the Indonesian National Army and pro-Indonesian Timorese militias began a campaign of violence and arson, murdering an estimated 2,000 people and forcing 500,000 to flee their homes.
The United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) set up the UN Special Panels within the District Court of Dili, East Timor's capital, and created the Serious Crimes Investigation Unit (SCU) to investigate and prosecute the crimes committed in East Timor. Despite the indictment of Indonesian military officers, trials could not go forward because the Indonesian government did not recognize the court and refused to extradite the accused.
In 2002, East Timor established the Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation (CAVR in its Portuguese acronym) to investigate and document the human rights violations and make recommendations for legal proceedings. CAVR's report was released in January 2005 and detailed the torture that occurred and dismissed the claim that "rogue elements" of the military were responsible for the human rights abuses. The government of East Timor however, favors reconciliation which could hinder legal action progress towards an International Tribunal. In 2005, it set up the Truth and Friendship Commission (CTF) with the government of Indonesia to establish the conclusive truth into the violent events and to further promote reconciliation and friendship. Human rights advocates have criticized this commission for allowing amnesties for perpetrators of serious crimes and for its biased treatment of victims during hearings.
In 2006 the Security Council created the Serious Crimes Investigation Team (SCIT) to resume the investigative functions of the former SCU. This page follows the work of the SCIT and provides analysis on the issue of justice vs. reconciliation in East Timor.
Also see our page on East Timor and General Wiranto
Archive | Links
The Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation's 2,500 page report was published on the International Center for Transitional Justice website. The report details the human rights abuses that occurred in East Timor during the period of Indonesian occupation (1975 – 1999). The report gives a history of colonialism and occupation in East Timor and directly addresses issues of responsibility of the Indonesian military.
After lengthy deferrals in the Security Council, the Commission of Experts was finally able to release its report on the prosecution of human rights violations committed in East Timor. The report called the Indonesian Ad-Hoc Court "manifestly inadequate" owing to the prosecution's "lack of commitment" and proposed the establishment of an international tribunal for East Timor if Indonesia failed to promptly strengthen its judicial system. The Commission also included the possibility of an exceptional International Criminal Court investigation (that would extend the Court's jurisdiction to crimes committed before its establishment) if the above recommendations were not implemented.
2007 | 2006 | 2005
Indonesian Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda condemns UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon's threat to boycott the proceedings of the Indonesia-East Timor Commission of Truth and Friendship (CTF). Ban disagrees with the CTF's decision to recommend amnesties to Indonesians responsible for war crimes during the 24-year occupation of East Timor. Wirajuda counters that the CTF's purpose is to reconcile and not prosecute. Moreover, East Timor willingly agreed to resolve the conflict without damaging its current relations with Indonesia. In either case, the commission cannot prosecute anyone – it can only make recommendations to the two parliaments. (Earthtimes.org)
The UN threatens to boycott the East Timor truth commission unless the panel relinquishes the idea of granting amnesties to perpetrators of the numerous killings which occurred during East Timor's independence from Indonesia in 1999. Without the UN's cooperation, the commission will face serious trouble with its proceedings. Commission Chairman Benyamin Mangkudilaga criticized the UN and said that "if they do not come, then their credibility is at stake." UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon explains that the UN strongly opposes amnesties for human rights violators and war criminals. (Associated Press)
Militia groups, including the Eurico Guterres-led Aitarak, launched a massive campaign of violence across East Timor following the UN-organized referendum in 1999. In March 2006, Indonesia's Jakarta-based Supreme Court reversed a 2004 ruling by the Ad-Hoc Human Rights Tribunal that had halved Guterres' 10-year jail term, thus restoring the original sentence. Out of 18 individuals implicated by the Indonesian government, the court acquitted all but Guterres. (Australian Associated Press)
This article argues that former Indonesian dictator Suharto "belongs in the same category as Milosevic and Saddam" for crimes against humanity. Under Suharto's rule nearly 400,000 West Papuans and East Timorese died during lengthy Indonesian invasion. Critics state that Suharto's case lends credibility to the belief that the Hague and Baghdad trials are "victor's justice." Western states are reluctant to indict Suharto due to their close ties with Indonesia during the Cold War. (Associated Press)
Despite East Timorese efforts to promote reconciliation rather than legal action, the lead prosecutor of the UN backed Special Crimes Unit (SCU) still wants to proceed. The SCU has legally processed 83 cases and could decide to indict high-ranking Indonesian military officials. The SCU's role is separate to the Commission for Truth and Friendship, which has a mandate only to make recommendations to East Timor and Indonesia regarding legal proceedings. (Jakarta Post)
East Timor President Xanana Gusmao has now finally handed over the independent Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. The report criticizes lengthy Australian support of Indonesian occupation and dismissal of violence as the work of "rogue elements" of the military. The report recommends renewing the mandates of the UN-backed Serious Crimes Unit and Special Panels and continue to investigate and try cases from 1975-99. This author however believes it unlikely this will occur given Gusmao's support of Indonesia and reluctance to damage relations with East Timor's large neighbour. (Australian)
The 2,500 page UN report on East Timor details over 180,000 East Timorese civilian deaths, directly caused by the Indonesian occupation during 1975-99. The report gives graphic detail of the torture many East Timorese faced including mutilation, sexual violence and starvation as a weapon of war. The report recommends that Indonesia and members of the UN Security Council who gave backing to Indonesia pay reparations. The report was three and a half years in the making and represents the most extensive of its type. (Australian)
East Timor refuses to release the Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation report. The report details how high-level Indonesian military officials knew of the grave human rights violations that surrounded the 1999 elections. Officials have had a difficult time bringing these military officers to justice. East Timor's Foreign Minister José Ramos Horta raises the question – did the United Nations miss its opportunity to do so in 1999? (International Herald Tribune)
A Singapore newspaper procured a leaked copy of the East Timor Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation report. The report states that the death and destruction surrounding the 1999 independence vote was not the work of rogue elements of the Indonesian military, as claimed by Jakarta. Instead, high-level military commanders and national government ministers approved a systematic plan of massacres and executions. (Sydney Morning Herald)
Under pressure from Indonesia, the East Timorese parliament has not released the final report of the Commission for Friendship, Truth and Reconciliation in East Timor. The report was intended to be forwarded to the United Nations, which would then choose the appropriate course of action against human rights violators in the region. This process has now been stalled. In order to bring justice to victims in East Timor, the parliament must make the report public, says the International Center for Transitional Justice.
The survivors of the 1999 massacres in East Timor are profoundly dissatisfied with efforts to bring justice to those responsible for the deaths of thousands of their fellow citizens. The survivors' "frustration is deepened by a sense of betrayal by their own government and the United Nations," whom they view as "playing word games" in claiming that the Commission on Truth and Friendship, rather than an international criminal tribunal, will result in "true" justice. (Washington Post)
Maintaining that "a criminal trial is not always the best avenue to communal healing," the author of this International Herald Tribune op-ed argues that promoting the international tribunals over local justice initiatives is a form of "judicial colonialism." He points to nationally- and culturally-based methods of restorative justice which have been as – or more – effective than the internationally imposed tribunals in Rwanda, Mozambique, and East Timor.
Two international lawyers working in East Timor condemn the Truth and Friendship Commission as "nothing more than the latest in a series of attempts to avoid holding Indonesian military suspects and militia accountable for war crimes and crimes against humanity." Citing East Timor's inability to effectively prosecute culpable Indonesians by itself, the lawyers argue that only a large nation such as Australia can help to bring legitimacy to the quest for international justice in the region. (The Age)
Amnesty International released a public statement condemning the Security Council's delay in pursuing justice for human rights violations that took place in East Timor in 1999. The statement criticizes the ineffectiveness of the existing Commission of Truth and Friendship, which does nothing to prosecute the perpetrators of the crimes. The statement echoes a letter sent by the Amnesty secretariat in July 2005, which urged the Security Council to begin the process of implementing criminal investigations and tribunals in East Timor.
Indonesia has named the members of a joint truth commission intended to probe – not punish – human rights violations committed in East Timor in 1999, as calls for an international tribunal grow louder. Victims are dismayed that the commission "has only been created to serve the interests of the governments" and "reflects the limits of East Timor's hard-won independence. (Irrawaddy)
The Indonesian government rejected a UN panel's recommendation for an international tribunal for East Timor, and in its place backed a Commission for Truth and Friendship which is set to start work in August. Lacking a response from Jakarta, the Security Council had put off the release of the panel's report; now that Indonesia has commented, will the Council publish the recommendations? (Washington Post)
Wary of "offending Indonesia," the UN Security Council has delayed the publication of a UN panel's recommendation for an international tribunal for East Timor. Both countries' opposition to an international court breeds fear among human rights activists that the Council may suppress the report altogether in the name of not disturbing the "current good relations" between East Timor and Indonesia. (Reuters)
Indonesia dismissed as "preposterous" a UN report suggesting the establishment of a war crimes tribunal for East Timor. Contrary to the report's assessment, Jakarta holds that its trials are adequate and sees no need for an international judicial body to prosecute its citizens – an argument hard to believe considering that only one person has been sentenced so far for the atrocities committed. (Guardian)
According to UN experts on the Indonesian tribunal for East Timor, Jakarta's trials have been "manifestly inadequate" with "scant respect for relevant international standards." In a report to Secretary General Kofi Annan, the group of experts recommends that if Indonesia does not retry accused war criminals in credible trials, the UN should set up a war crimes tribunal for East Timor. (Age)
This Jakarta Post article condemns the fact that no Indonesians have served any jail time for crimes committed in East Timor and draws attention to the continuing "repressive activities" of Indonesian military leaders who escaped prosecution. The author urges support for the UN commission of experts investigating issues of impunity in East Timor, and warns that "justice for the East Timorese victims is not a â€˜residual' issue to be dealt with by the leaders of the two countries alone, but a touchstone for the credibility of the UN."
A UN Commission of Experts is visiting East Timor to evaluate the status of the judicial proceedings against suspects accused of committing human rights atrocities in 1999. The visit coincides with the sixth anniversary of a massacre at the Catholic Church in Liquica and the Commission will "propose next steps" for East Timor to take in its struggle against impunity. (East Timor Action Network)
The International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) urges the parliaments of Indonesia and East Timor to make "significant amendments" to the Commission for Truth and Friendship's terms of reference. As they stand, the terms do not allow the Commission to recommend prosecution of war criminals, and instead give it the power to grant amnesties. The ICTJ calls for the abolition of such provisions and advocates for a more transparent and independent Commission.
As the UN-administered Serious Crimes Unit of East Timor concludes its work, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has assembled a commission of experts to analyze what went wrong with the war crimes prosecutions. The author of this Asia Times article blames "the world's slide into apathy over Timor" and points to significant factual errors in an official UN statement on the 1999 violence as evidence of such indifference.
According to this BBC report, the United Nations will close its ad hoc court in East Timor before pulling out of the country altogether in May. This means that the court's most high profile indictee, General Wiranto, will likely go unpunished. East Timorese must now put their faith in government organizations such as the Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation, which works to reassimilate former militiamen into the community.
This Jakarta Post Op-Ed denounces proposals for an International Truth and Friendship Commission as a ploy by Indonesian and East Timor officials "to put bilateral relations between East Timor and Indonesia ahead of justice for the victims or rights abuses." The author also criticizes the Ad-Hoc Human Rights Court in Jakarta and the Special Panel Court of Dili, and advocates instead for the establishment of an international tribunal to try alleged perpetrators of human rights atrocities.