[TimorLesteStudies] Last gasp for justice in Timor?

Susan Harris harriss at law.anu.edu.au
Wed Oct 29 16:08:29 EST 2008

Opinion Editorial: Last gasp for justice in Timor?

Will today*s date mark the last best chance for justice for survivors
of occupation in East Timor?  In 1999, Mary Robinson, then UN High
Commissioner for Human Rights said of the violence in East Timor: 

To end the century and the millennium tolerating impunity for those
guilty of these shocking violations would be a betrayal of everything
the United Nations stands for regarding the universal protection and
promotion of human rights.

In 2008, the outcomes of the transitional justice processes set in
place by the UN and Indonesia are cause for deep concern in terms of
their inadequacy, and would confirm Robinson*s worst fears.  Not one
Indonesian perpetrator has been punished.  

The Timorese National Parliament will hold an extraordinary plenary
session today to debate two important reports.  One is the Final Report
called *Chega!* (*No more, stop, enough!* in Portuguese),
produced by the Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation in
Dili in 2006 (the CAVR).  The other is the Bilateral Commission for
Truth and Friendship (CTF) report, a process comprising of ten
Commissioners, five from Indonesia and five from Timor-Leste with a
secretariat in Denpasar, Indonesia. The CTF was founded by then
Presidents Gusmão and Yudhoyono in 2004 but the report was delayed until

A Timorese Parliamentary Committee will present two resolutions to the
Parliament that according to the Committee*s press release today
*recognize the achievements of both Commissions, acknowledge their
findings, and propose implementation of their recommendations*.  The
proposed resolutions highlight CAVR and CTF recommendations in the areas
of victim reparations, a commission for disappeared persons, justice,
education and the establishment of an independent institution to oversee
implementation efforts. 

These recommendations seem innocuous, but both reports are
controversial. The CAVR was established by the United Nations as an
independent body to inquire into human rights violations committed on
all sides, between April 1974 and October 1999, and facilitate community
reconciliation with justice for those who committed less serious
offences.  The Commission could not grant amnesty and was meant to refer
*serious crimes* to the court in Dili.  The CAVR delivered its final
report to Parliament in November 2005, and to the UN Security Council in
January 2006.  Yet it was not publicly disseminated within Timor until
June 2006, and has not been brought before Parliament until now.  This
is because the Report did not win full acceptance by the Timorese
Government, mainly due to controversial recommendations about national
and international reparations, including a demand that Australia pay
reparations for its recognition of Indonesia in Timor*s waters. 
However, it is generally considered by international observers to be a
document of great worth and integrity in telling the truth about the
period of occupation.

An example is the Report*s estimation of the number of people who
died during the conflict, a figure that has never been known. The Chega!
Final Report says that an upper estimate of 183,000 died as a result of
both killings and deaths due to privation.  In a land of contested
history, this analysis has great worth. 

Even though the CAVR was designed to be a companion for justice, not a
substitute for it, generally it has been the mechanism that offered the
most benefit to ordinary Timorese citizens, in terms of both recognition
of suffering and a recommendation that victims be compensated by the new
Timorese Government  As one survivor told the CAVR:

I will not* hold office like these important men who once fought
together with us.  All I ask for is my right to a decent life as the
family member of a fighter.  I got this way because my husband and
children disappeared.  The important men are not permitted to forget us
[just because they] now have a strong chair stuck on the ground.  In the
past, when their positions were not yet certain, we fought together. 

The CTF did not enjoy the same kind of acceptance by civil society,
either in Indonesia or Timor.  At its inception, Indonesian NGOs feared
it would be a *whitewash machine*, because it could recommend
amnesty for those involved, and its findings would *not lead to
prosecution*. It was designed to *emphasize institutional
responsibilities* rather than identifying and assigning blame. It had
the power to recommend rehabilitation for those *wrongly accused*
(but did not in the final report) but had no power to propose
rehabilitation or reparations for victims. The final CTF report was
delayed several years but turned out to slightly exceed expectations by
admitting that the Indonesian military was indeed at fault in the 1999
violence.  In terms of the relationship with Indonesia, the reaction of
the Timorese parliament to the report tomorrow is extremely important.

Justice issues are equally important in today*s East Timor. The
opposition is planning a massive march on Dili and rumours of tension in
the police force are raising concerns of a return to the instability of
2006 and February this year.  East Timor remains one of the poorest
countries in Asia.  According to the United Nations, 90 out of 1,000
children die before their first birthday, half the population is
illiterate, 64 percent suffers from food insecurity, half lack access to
safe drinking water, and 40 percent live below the official poverty
line, defined by an income of 55 cents a day.  

There are many political reasons why the Timorese Parliament may not
respond with energy and commitment to the recommendations of the two
Reports.  But for the long term human security of Timor, for the memory
of the victims and the future of the survivors, both Australia and the
international community should hope that they do. 

Susan Harris Rimmer is a researcher on the ARC project *Building
Democracy After Conflict* at RegNet, College of the Asia-Pacific, ANU.

Susan Harris Rimmer
Building Democracy and Justice After Conflict
Centre for International Governance and Justice
Regulatory Institutions Network 
College of Asia and the Pacific, RSPAS 
The Australian National University 
Canberra ACT 0200 
Email: harriss at law.anu.edu.au
Phone: +61 2 612 56768
Fax: +61 2 612 51507 
M: 0406 376 809

More information about the Easttimorstudies mailing list