Tuesday 28 August 2001
The path travelled by new nations is never smooth. Throughout Africa and Asia the people’s dreams for independence, of the 1960s and ‘70s, remain almost entirely unfulfilled. Those dreams were for freedom and the pursuit of happiness, but violence, poverty and dictatorship too often became the reality.
There are lessons in history. The new nations of the post-colonial world have a common heritage. The legacy of the experience of repression is a community scarred by suspicion and confrontation. It is as if the events that mar the start of the journey stay with us, as unwelcome fellow travellers.
Despite this we, the Timorese people, remain confident we can find our way. East Timor’s first elections take place on Thursday, the second anniversary of the United Nations ballot of 1999. This will be the first step towards practical independence, enabling a Constituent Assembly to draft a constitution. It is a proud moment for a new country.
Two years ago East Timor was burning. Two-thirds of the population were fleeing for their lives. Militia and army thugs were let loose in a deliberate, organised act of destruction.
Today Dili is thriving. We are opening schools and health clinics, markets and shops. To a visitor this rapid progress appears to be popular and widespread. It would be a mistake, however, to believe in the permanence of these material goods, because this rapid growth is only skin deep. Travel beyond Dili, or a few of the main towns, and you will see no more expensive cars, refrigerators or restaurants. Outside the main towns life has changed very little. Unemployment is high and the young people are disillusioned.
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.
I suspect this has been so in other new nations as well. History has shown us the spectacle of independence leaders turning into tyrants, seemingly overnight. Most new nations find the transition to democracy difficult. It will be difficult in East Timor as well because we need to break down old habits of suspicion and coercion in order to allow democracy to flourish.
It is our dream that we can build a society founded on the values enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; they 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 cast its mind back to the 24 years of Indonesian occupation. In particular it is important to remember the defiance of UN Security Council resolutions in 1975 and in 1999, the “scorched earth” withdrawal of Indonesian troops from East Timor during September and October of 1999, as well as the organised opposition to the UN ballot.
Up to 3000 people died in 1999, untold numbers of women were raped and 500,000 people displaced. About 100,000 are yet to return. Those events live on in the minds of Timorese despite the 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 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. As with apartheid, there are numerous shades of responsibility and guilt.
Nonetheless, our people demand an accounting and they are entitled to have the guilt of the authors of the most serious crimes demonstrated. Where there are mitigating circumstances these need to be kept in mind. Some militia members were themselves subject to threats against their families; some were drugged.
To date there is no definitive account of the crimes committed by the Indonesian army and the militias during 1999. The UN investigations have not even been given sufficient resources to be able to report on a few of the most serious incidents. As long as this continues the perpetrators go free and are 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 continue 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.
Carlos Belo, the Catholic Bishop of Dili, was co-recipient of the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize.
The Road to Freedom, a book of his speeches, will be published next month by Caritas Australia.
Donations to Caritas’ Remembering East Timor appeal can be made on 1800 024413.
This story was found at:
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
BD: Reconstruction and 'Aid & Development' - A collection of recent press releases, reports, and articles