The long-awaited report by the Indonesia-East Timor ‘Commission on Truth and Friendship’ (CTF) has been handed down, confirming what we already knew about the events in East Timor in 1999; that the crimes against humanity committed by the military and their proxy militias were an all of state affair. The real question now, though, is where to from here, given that charges for these crimes are unlikely.
The CTF has been widely criticised as being a toothless tiger, with the UN refusing to participate in it. From the outset, the CTF did not have any power to lay or recommend charges and, being held in Jakarta, did not have access to many of the witnesses.
Yet the CTF report has confirmed that the violence and destruction of 1999 was orchestrated by the Indonesian military (TNI), with the support of other government departments.
As Indonesia travels further down its sometimes bumpy road of democratisation, one might have expected it to pursue judicial redress. However, an earlier inquiry which led to the charging of 18 suspects ended up convicting just one militia leader Eurico Guterres, who on appeal was released from prison after just two years.
It was as though, according to the Indonesian courts, the violence and destruction never happened.
Indonesia’s President Yudhoyono has also been reluctant to pursue the matter, mostly because he is already in campaign mode for next year’s elections. Indonesia’s so-called ‘nationalists’ who remain angry about ‘losing’ East Timor would howl him down if he tried to pursue this matter.
Despite the facts of 1999 being clear that the TNI recruited, financed, trained and armed militias, and led them against the people of East Timor when they were finally allowed to determine their own future under international law — many in Indonesia still believe that East Timor was ‘stolen’ from them by the United Nations, with the connivance of Australia.
So, attempting to re-open judicial proceedings would on one hand be met with the view that this avenue has already been pursued, while on the other anyone who supports further investigation is in league with those allegedly trying to dismember the Indonesian state.
Perhaps some comfort can be taken from the fact that the CTF report went as far as it did, by at least holding Indonesia institutionally accountable, if not naming those individually responsible.
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The CTF report will now allow Indonesia and East Timor to get on with their bilateral relationship, which is what the CTF was always designed for — the emphasis was always on ‘friendship’ over ‘truth’. And the CTF also satisfied, if in minimalist terms, the UN’s requirement for a formal hearing into the events of this time.
Much has been made of Indonesia’s democratisation and its reform process. But the human rights abuses that characterised the Indonesian state under Suharto continued into the ‘democratic’ period, as this report shows, in East Timor in 1999. They also continued in Aceh until August 2005, and still do in West Papua.
Yet in Jakarta, powerful interests ensure there is no accountability.
The findings of the CTF have done little to redress Indonesia’s long-standing culture of impunity.
Associate Professor Damien Kingsbury from Deakin University is author of The Politics of Indonesia Oxford, 3rd ed 2005, and Power Politics and the Indonesian Military (Routledge, 2003). He was a ballot observer coordinator in East Timor in 1999.