Geoffrey Gunn: Closed Book or Open Book on Indonesia and Timor-Leste? The Commission of Truth and Friendship Report on 1999 HR Violations

Roundup: Talking About History

[Geoffrey Gunn, former advisor to CAVR on “international actors”, Is a coordinator of Japan Focus.]

Officially received by Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Timor-Leste President Jose Ramos-Horta at a ceremony on the Indonesian island of Bali on 15 July, the long awaited report of the joint Timor Leste-Indonesian Commission of Truth and Friendship (CTF), set up in 2005, has received mixed reviews.

On the one hand, by offering words of remorse the Indonesian president (former platoon commander of the 305th Battalion in occupied East Timor) could seek to put the sordid history of 1999 behind him with no relief for the victims of Indonesian repression and murder. For the Timor-Leste president and, indeed, the entire government, the question remains: how will the report be received by East Timorese, and how will it affect relations with its giant neighbor? Will the damaging and incriminating 2005 findings of the UN-backed Truth Commission (CAVR) raking over the entire 24 year period of Indonesian occupation of the small half-island nation, simply be buried. [1]

It is not that the 300 page CTF report has ignored the institutional crimes committed in East Timor in 1999 – indeed, the admission is refreshing and sobering – but the failure to sheet home individual responsibility obviously subverts the course of international justice such as pursued in Rwanda, Bosnia, Cambodia and, with more immediacy, as with the case of Radovan Karadzic dispatched to the war crimes tribunal at the Hague after 13 years on the lam. Another feature of the “friendship” report is that it attempts to offer balance by also blaming the East Timor independence movement for various atrocities. But this was an unequal struggle of a mostly unarmed and pacific people against a militarized, internationally-backed and ruthless behemoth. It also replays the internal “civil war” propaganda of 1999 that Indonesian parlayed to justify its security presence, later turned rogue.

To be sure, if the CTF report actually leads to fundamental reform of the Indonesian military – such as endorsed by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice during a 25 July Jakarta stopover - then that is a good thing. Rice seemed to think that the two governments could work out the justice part but, obviously, without major international backing for an independent tribunal, and in the absence of any plans to prosecute major perpetrators or to compensate victims, it simply will not happen.

Justice is also the expectation of civil society groups inside both Timor-Leste and Indonesia. It is also the expectation of the international human rights community (London-based TAPOL is an exemplar of civil society concern in both East Timor and Indonesia over the decades). Inside Indonesia, for example,

Choirul Anam of the Indonesian Human Rights Working Group stated that [retired General] “Wiranto has our special attention because trying Wiranto would cut off the biggest impunity chain.” [2] Inside East Timor, for example, the head of a Dili Diocese committee set up to evaluate the CTF report, Carmelite Father Anacleto Maia da Costa, states that it merely confirms what international bodies already surmised, it does not recommend punishing those responsible, and it “breaks the hearts” of those affected by the rape, torture and murder of 1999. The Catholic church stands behind justice. [3]


[1] The official CAVR report is available.

[2] cited in Olivia Rondonuwu, “Indonesia, Timor violence probe will not name names,” 9 July 2008.

[3] "TIMOR-LESTE Truth Commission Report Ignores Justice, Church Says, “ 29 July, 2008

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