BACK DOOR Newsletter on East Timor .........home .........August news

"On Thursday we elect a constituent assembly which will write our constitution. It is a proud moment for a new country. As we move towards independence, we must remain vigilant in pursuing justice for those whose lives were scarred by violence. The inner life of the people of East Timor continues to be clouded by the events of 1999, as well as by doubts about the future." Bishop Carlos Belo
See also:

BD: Calls for International War Crimes Tribunal
BD: War Crimes & Crimes Against Humanity

Sydney Morning Herald

Bishop Carlos Belo

To forge a future, Timor needs justice for the past

Date: 28/08/2001

The people of East Timor are entitled to have the perpetrators of the violence against them prosecuted, writes Carlos Belo.

This week marks the second anniversary of the referendum in which we, the people of East Timor, voted for independence. It is the second anniversary of the violence that affected all our lives. At this time we remember all those who have suffered during our transition to independence.

This week we also take the next step in the path towards full independence. On Thursday we elect a constituent assembly which will write our constitution.

It is a proud moment for a new country.

As we move towards independence, we must remain vigilant in pursuing justice for those whose lives were scarred by violence. The inner life of the people of East Timor continues to be clouded by the events of 1999, as well as by doubts about the future.

The path to independence is not only a material phenomenon. It has a spiritual dimension. It is as much a product of ideas as of things. It is our dream that we can build a society founded on the values enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. These are the values that guided and inspired our struggle for independence.

Democracy needs openness and trust. It requires an ability to place our immediate needs behind the common good, to open our minds to those who might represent a larger community than our own family or selves. It requires our minds to look forward rather than backwards.

To do that we need to overcome the legacy of the past. The international community should remain conscious of the legacy of 24 years of Indonesian occupation. In particular, it is important to remember the "scorched earth" withdrawal of Indonesian troops from East Timor during September and October 1999. Up to 3,000 died in 1999, untold numbers of women were raped and 500,000 persons displaced - 100,000 are yet to return.

Those events live on in the minds of Timorese despite the apparent material progress of the past two years.

The survivors of crimes require more than material progress. They need justice, and only justice will lead to reconciliation.

Justice cannot be provided simply or easily. One thing is certain, however, and that is that the future of East Timor depends on it. Only through overcoming the pain and loss of the past 24 years of repression can our country truly walk the path to independence.

Justice for the people of East Timor requires that the perpetrators of the most serious crimes be identified and prosecuted in the same manner as a common criminal. This means that a legal process is needed.

The crimes of 1999 alone are so extensive that it is not possible to deal with them all in a court of law. Nonetheless our people demand an accounting and they are entitled to have the guilt of the authors of the most serious crimes demonstrated.

To date there is no definitive account of the crimes committed by the Indonesian army (TNI) and the militias during 1999. The UN investigations have not even been resourced sufficiently to be able to report on a few of the most serious incidents. As long as this continues the perpetrators remain free and able to pursue their military careers unhindered.

Prosecuting the crimes of 1999 is essential for East Timor, but also for Indonesia. Democracy there is fragile and the military continues to intrude on both government and civil society.

Much remains to be done.

We call on the international community for the following:

* To push for an international legal process for the generals and top militia leaders whose crimes are not only against the people of East Timor but against the international community for breaches of international criminal law. This requires the international community to call them to account before an international criminal tribunal.

* Ensure that a genuine Indonesian legal process that conforms with modern legal standards brings to account the large numbers of TNI officers directly engaged in crimes against humanity in East Timor and in Indonesia. These officers will continue to perpetrate crimes until and unless they are exposed.

* Provide adequate resources and expertise to East Timor's legal process to deal with the hundreds of militia who remain in the country.

* Support the recently established Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation in East Timor to enable people to overcome the legacy of the past and move forward on the path to independence.

Genuine development in East Timor should not merely concentrate on material progress. Human development requires addressing the trauma and injustice experienced by almost all East Timorese.

Long-term development is just as unlikely to occur in East Timor as in the other post-colonial nations of Africa and Asia without a comprehensive process which enables people to heal and overcome the past.

The path to independence follows the road of justice and reconciliation.

Bishop Carlos Belo is the apostolic administrator of Dili, East Timor. His book, The Road to Freedom, will be published by Caritas Australia next month.


See also:

BD: Calls for International War Crimes Tribunal - A collection of recent reports, articles and news

BD: War Crimes & Crimes Against Humanity - A collection of recent press releases, petitions, articles and news


BACK DOOR Newsletter on East Timor .........home .........August news
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