AUSGOV: Senate debate on war crimes tribunal
Hansard, Australian Senate
EAST TIMOR: INTERNATIONAL WAR CRIMES TRIBUNAL 21 August 2001
Senator BROWN (Tasmania) (4.20 p.m.) --I ask that general business notice of motion No. 979 standing in my name for today and relating to the setting up of an international war crimes tribunal on East Timor be taken as a formal motion.
Leave not granted.
Senator BROWN (Tasmania) (4.21
p.m.) --I note that objection from Labor. I move:
That so much of the standing orders be suspended as would prevent him moving a motion relating to the conduct of the business of the Senate, namely a motion to give precedence to general business notice of motion no. 979.
I will forgo making further comment on the need for urgency of this motion, because I understand that I will get support for this motion.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Motion (by Senator Brown) agreed to:
That general business notice of motion (979) may now be moved immediately and have precedence over all other business this day until determined.
Senator BROWN (Tasmania) (4.22
p.m.) --I now move:
That the Senate calls on the Australian Government to request that the United Nations set up an international war crimes tribunal to bring justice to those responsible for the crimes against humanity committed during the 1975 to 1999 Indonesian occupation of East Timor.
Madam Deputy President, you will be aware that there have been moves within Indonesia to establish a war crimes tribunal for the period immediately before and after the 1999 referendum in East Timor. We know about the awful circumstances of the East Timorese under the Indonesian military, with widespread murder, rape and destruction of property, including some 70 per cent of houses, in East Timor during that period. There has been, in the wake of unsatisfactory moves by the Indonesian government to establish a war crimes tribunal which would bring to justice the people who were responsible for that particular period of bloodshed, growing pressure on the United Nations to establish a war crimes tribunal and, moreover, as my motion indicates, to extend the war crimes tribunal to the whole period of Indonesian occupation of what is now the independent nation of East Timor. I call on the Senate to support this motion, whereby the Australian government would add its pressure to the United Nations to do just that, by drawing attention to the true horror of that quarter century of occupation for the East Timorese and to the war crimes that took place under the Indonesian military and government during that time.
I can do no better than to quote the article in the Australian of Friday, 2 February this year, by Fiona Carruthers from Dili, which has the headline ‘Start with 1975 invasion, says war crimes author.’ This refers to the call by United Nations war crimes investigator James Dunn, who was the consul for Australia in East Timor before the 1975 invasion, as follows:
As Mr Dunn prepares to hand the UN his report into the violence surrounding the UN-supervised independence poll on August 30, 1999, he is urging the Australian Government to upgrade its role in pushing Indonesia to respect the need for justice.
Australia could encourage the process (of war crimes prosecutions) far more than they have been doing at the moment,
Mr Dunn said in Dili ...
The report goes on to say:
Between 1000 and 2000 East Timorese are estimated are estimated to have died during the transition to independence in late 1999. About 250,000 people fled ... and 35,000--or 70 per cent—of their homes were destroyed.
It’s important that those who planned and organised these brutal operations are brought to justice, Mr Dunn said.
I address that in my report.
It went on to say:
While 1999 was a critical year for East Timor, the UN tended to focus on atrocities committed during the independence vote to the exclusion of earlier mass killings, many of which have never been fully investigated.
Further, it said:
Mr Dunn named the Craras massacre of 1983, in which an estimated 700 to 1000 people died, and a mass killing near Bobonoro in 1976, when it is believed more than 1000 people were killed, as two events that UN experts should investigate.
During the Indonesian occupation, some 200,000 Timorese have died.
Listen to what Mr Dunn then said:
That is like losing 6 million Australians.
That is the proportion of the carnage which occurred in East Timor under the brutal military dictatorship of President Suharto. Mr Dunn goes on to say:
It’s massive in relative terms and if we’re going to make the world a safer place, we have to tackle indiscriminate killing and torture head on.
Who could countermand that? How can we turn our backs on that quarter century of brutality which led to the deaths of one in three or one in four of the East Timorese population? We cannot do that, and we cannot settle for an investigation set up by Jakarta which limits the time, limits the scope and limits the intensity of the investigation. There is an alternative, and that is the United Nations.
The United Nations investigation into these war crimes must extend right back to 1975.
Supporting this motion will take courage by the Senate and by this parliament, because we all know that our own government record is not entirely divorced from those events. We know that military assistance was given to the Suharto regime by the Australian government—not least in the training of Kopassus. These obnoxious and brutal elite troops, who have not only operated in East Timor but also in Aceh and West Papua, have been implicated in the recent assassination of political figures in Jakarta. We must not, however, become complicit in a cover-up in any way. We must demand the most full and open investigation into those 25 years, and we must do it without fear or favour.
I say to the Senate that, if we do not move to ensure that the United Nations establishes a war crimes tribunal on this matter now, we will get one later. But, if we have one later and Australia has not pushed for a full UN tribunal now, the question will be: why not? The question I would put to anybody who opposes this motion is: why not? The argument may be, ‘We now have a new president in Jakarta and she is looking at this whole question anew.’ So be it, but what Australia should be doing, as part of the community of nations and the civilising process for the human community on this planet, is insisting that, as in Bosnia and Kosovo, the crimes committed in East Timor come under the survey of an international war crimes tribunal. You cannot look at 200,000 people being murdered—with many more having their lives destroyed through rape, physical injury and mental horror—out of a population in East Timor of 600,000 to 800,000 and not have the word ‘genocide’ raise its ugly head in connection with the events in that country.
We must not just have a supportive role in the United Nations establishing a tribunal in this matter but take a leading role in it. My motion is a call to both the opposition and the government to support that process. You would support it for Bosnia, you would support it for Kosovo and you would support it for Rwanda; you must support it for East Timor. If not, why not? I am very passionate about this motion. I think Australia has a real opportunity here to show a better face than it showed through the 25 years of the travail of East Timor. The question is: can this chamber and then the government, which this chamber is calling on to act through the United Nations to establish an international war crimes tribunal, have the courage, the humanity and the quest for dignity that are involved in the imperative that this motion be supported?
Senator COOK (Western Australia—Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (4.33 p.m.) --I move an amendment to Senator Brown’s motion:
Omit all words after That the Senate, substitute:
(a)welcomes the decision of Indonesian President, Megawati Sukarnoputri, to broaden the scope of the special Indonesian court dealing with human rights violations in East Timor in the period leading up to the 1999 independence ballot;
(b)expresses the view that the successful prosecution of those responsible for crimes against humanity in East Timor in this period would be a major step forward in the promotion of human rights in Indonesia and the securing of justice for East Timor;
(c)further observes that failure to bring to justice those responsible for crimes against humanity can only encourage a climate of impunity and abuse of human rights;
(d)notes the lack of unanimous support within the United Nations Security Council for the establishment of an international tribunal to deal with crimes against humanity in East Timor;
(e)calls on the Indonesian Government to take all necessary steps to ensure that those military personnel and other persons responsible for crimes against humanity in East Timor are brought to justice; and
(f)affirms that in the meantime the question of establishing an international tribunal should remain open.
We think that the amendment I have moved would significantly improve Senator Brown’s motion. We think that so strongly that, were this amendment to be defeated, we would not support the original motion. That will be our position in this debate. I want to say a few words in support of what I have moved. The proper place to begin is in fact at the same place that Senator Brown began in his expression of support for his motion—that is, with a consideration of the absolute horror and disgust that we in the Australian Labor Party and, we believe, that people in the wider Australian community have for crimes against humanity during a period of war or at any time. They are among the most base and reviled types of deprivation of liberty or murder that can occur. We of course stand foursquare with all civilised peoples of the world in rejecting exercises of that sort, and there is no doubt or question about that in our minds at all.
I do not adopt, nor would I express in the same language as Senator Brown, what has occurred in East Timor. What is quite clearly the case is that, in the time leading up to the UN ballot and in the time immediately after the ballot in East Timor, atrocities against individuals and institutions were committed on a broad scale and many people died. Many others were tortured; rape and wounding occurred. People were abducted, people were driven away from their homes and large parts of the community were razed. The infrastructure of the island virtually became non-existent. These are matters that have been considered by the Senate in the past, and in the past we have put on the record at some considerable length our concern about those things and the steps that should have been taken. We have made always, one believes, public and constructive criticism about how things could have been handled differently to prevent the loss of life.
What we are now invited to consider is: what is the correct path to justice? What is the exact nature of the crimes and how can those that have perpetrated them be brought to justice? It is true that the conscience of the world could not rest when war criminals continue to be at large and, for the sake of the future, it is important to deal with those problems of the immediate past. I therefore think that the question before the Senate, despite the massive horror of the crimes and the rejection of that conduct that we have expressed, is: what is the best way of finding justice in these circumstances? I regret to say, but it is true—and I am sure Senator Brown knows this—that the United Nations Security Council currently by any assessment is not of the mind to establish an international tribunal in relation to East Timor.
If that is the case, then even if we were to carry Senator Brown’s original motion—and that is not our proposal at all—it would be a motion that would go nowhere and not result, as a consequence, in any injustices being corrected. On the other hand, we do know that the new President of Indonesia, Megawati Sukarnoputri, has set up a new process which will broaden the scope of the special Indonesian court’s work in investigating human rights violations in East Timor in the lead-up to the 1999 election. If that occurs, that will be in the longer term interests of the promotion of human rights in East Timor and in Indonesia. We think that the appropriate response is to allow that process to be concluded. We see the development of that process as an important one, though we are not without an opinion about the efficacy of the process. We believe it is an important issue and we believe that Australia should be on the record about it.
As a consequence, in the amendment that I have moved we call on the Indonesian president, and her government, to make sure that all necessary steps are taken to bring to justice those responsible for crimes and human rights violations. We also believe that, if this is done, it will go a long way towards securing justice in East Timor.
In all of these circumstances, we think that a degree of prudence is necessary and we should leave open the question of an international tribunal but, in doing so, hope, expect and express our view quite directly that the quickest way to justice and the best way to justice is for the scope and widening of the Indonesian machinery that has now been put in place by President Megawati to be able to operate. At the end of the day, if this matter can be settled with justice and honour within Indonesia, that is a far better outcome than an international body seeking to impose a standard on that country from outside. Therefore, we welcome what the new Indonesian president has done and hope that that can solve the problem. We express in my amendment precisely those sentiments.
Dealing with these issues in this chamber has become a matter that crops up from time to time. I just want to say a word about the importance of how we confront them. These are matters so fundamental to our civilisation, way of life, expectation of democratic rights and expectation of human liberties and freedoms that, as much as possible, while never retreating from any point of principle, we should try to gather the most significant expression of view to articulate, as completely as possible, a full Australian position. I do not know precisely what the government’s intention is, but I imagine it is not to support the Brown motion. I do not know whether the government’s intention is to support our amendment at this stage, but I certainly do invite the government to consider doing that and, if the vote is called, to vote for our amendment. I think that, in a balanced way, it articulates all of the concerns and would, in a balanced way, express most forcefully a view from this chamber on this matter.
Having said that, I also think it is entirely appropriate that we keep a constructive focus here. Senator Brown’s motion calls for something that we know will not occur and, as a consequence, is not likely to directly and materially affect the wellbeing of the people concerned or the hunt for the perpetrators and the process of bringing those perpetrators to justice. Asking for something that will not occur leaves us to one side in this issue. Supporting a process that will occur and calling for it to be properly implemented gives us a clear stake in resolving the matter. I therefore hope that this does not become one of those debates in which there is an attempt to make populist points against a sober and considered position and to appeal to populist sentiment against a considered position by which a genuine outcome can be more speedily reached.
I direct those remarks to Senator Brown. I do not question his commitment—I sometimes question his method and at times we differ on method. If his method were to simply pursue this issue for the sake of populism, then I think it is the wrong approach. I suggest, and I offer this advice in this chamber: let us try to pursue this issue in the interests of achieving justice for those people who have been injured or damaged or who have lost their lives, and of bringing those responsible to justice. That does require the widest possible unity around a principled position, and I believe our amendment reflects that.
Senator TAMBLING (Northern Territory—Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Health and Aged Care) (4.45 p.m.) --This is a most important motion for consideration by the Senate, and I endorse the remarks and the tenor of the debate from the other speakers. I am, however, very concerned at the timing of the Labor Party amendment that has been proposed here today. Whilst the government is generally inclined to support it, I note that Senator Cook handed me a copy of this amendment some 15 minutes ago, at the commencement of the debate after Senator Brown had, in fact, started speaking. On the amendment that Senator Cook passed to me, which is actually a copy of a fax, I note that there is a date on the top of 9 August 2001. Similarly, on the copy that was subsequently distributed in the chamber the date on the fax is 8 August, which I note is the day after the notice given by Senator Brown. I find it appalling that the Labor Party would come into this place and put down, some two weeks after it had obviously been prepared, a draft amendment—and this is from a party that is so sensitive to the issue of developing foreign policy on the run. There is a very important sensitivity with regard to the appropriate way in which to consider important matters of international significance and of a foreign policy nature.
With regard to the original motion that was proposed by Senator Brown, let me put on the record that the government places a high priority on human rights in East Timor and has urged the Indonesian government to bring to justice those responsible for human rights abuses in East Timor. In fact, the Prime Minister, John Howard, discussed the issue with President Megawati during his visit to Jakarta on 12 and 13 August. There are two processes under way to ensure such justice: the work of the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor, UNTAET, and the judicial system in East Timor, as well as the ongoing process in Indonesia. The Indonesian attorney-general’s department has prepared 12 dossiers for trial, covering 18 of its 22 named suspects, including Enrico Guterres.
In April, former President Wahid issued a decree establishing an ad hoc human rights court to try those accused of crimes in East Timor after the August 1999 ballot. The government warmly welcomes the decision by President Megawati to expand the court’s jurisdiction to include crimes committed both before and after the ballot, which will allow the court to examine crimes in Liquica, Dili and Suai in April and September 1999. The decision sends a strong signal about the President’s commitment to justice.
The government has urged Indonesia to establish the court quickly and to cooperate fully with UNTAET under the terms of the April 2000 Memorandum of Understanding on Legal, Judicial and Human Rights Cooperation. Australia has assisted both the UN and the Indonesian human rights investigations, including pursuant to the UN Security Council resolutions calling for such assistance, and has provided support to the justice sector in East Timor, including the provision of court interpreters and forensic and autopsy assistance. If the Indonesian government does not expose and bring to justice the perpetrators of crimes committed in East Timor, we will need to explore other ways of doing so, including possible international action.
While I have, in the brief period available to me, been able to consider the ALP amendment, I note that it is very important that we concentrate on part (d) of the amendment, that is, that the Senate:
notes the lack of unanimous support within the United Nations Security Council for the establishment of an international tribunal to deal with crimes against humanity in East Timor.
The Australian government certainly notes and endorses those particular remarks. As I said, whilst I am critical of the way in which the Labor Party has processed this matter here today, given the two weeks notice they very obviously had of the matter—and I condemn them for their lack of courtesy and goodwill in seeking to promote this in this way—this is an amendment which the government will support.
Senator BOURNE (New South Wales) (4.50 p.m.) --There are three things to say about this, but I will be brief because we have a first speech coming up. First of all, Senator Brown’s motion relates not only to 1999, which is the period the new President of Indonesia has targeted for what, I think, is a very good thing, that is, her new court dealing with the war crimes and the human rights violations in East Timor leading up to the 1999 referendum. That is something she should be applauded for and it is something that Indonesia should be applauded for, and I do applaud them for it. I agree with most of the amendment, although I do not see why we need part (d). If we had to wait for the UN Security Council to be unanimous on anything we would be waiting a very long time. I agree with almost all that amendment. I also agree with the feeling behind Senator Brown’s original motion. We have a period here where hideous and horrendous war crimes were committed. I have been through some of the more hideous ones in this chamber. I will not go through them again. They sound so gross as to be impossible but they are not and they happened. Those people will never be brought to justice—never—and it looks like we do not care. We should at least be lobbying to say that these people should be brought to justice.
In many cases, now that East Timorese people are free to say what has happened, they will say what has happened. We are getting an awful lot of evidence coming through to the United Nations now about what happened as far back as 1975. People know who the individual was who chopped off somebody’s head and stuck it on a pole outside a school. They know, and they will give that evidence, but we will never hear it because that tribunal will never happen and those people will never be brought to justice, unless something happens throughout the UN or Indonesia changes completely and decides to bring those people to justice, but I do not think that is going to happen either. So if those people are still within East Timor, yes, I think there is a chance that they will be brought to justice, but if they are not—if they are back in Indonesia, and the vast majority of them would be, whether they are East Timorese or not—then, no, they will not be brought to justice. I think that we should be making a stand on that. I think that is important.
I certainly agree with the spirit behind Senator Brown’s original motion. I would agree with the amendment, except that I do not think you need (d), but that is neither here nor there. I would take out (f) and I would amend it with an (f) that would be substantially Senator Brown’s original motion which calls on the Australian government to lobby in favour of an international war crimes tribunal to bring to justice those responsible for the crimes against humanity committed during the period of 1975 to 1999 during the Indonesian occupation of East Timor.
Senator BROWN (Tasmania) (4.54 p.m.) --I do not accept this amendment because it is simply saying, ‘Well, this matter should be left to Jakarta and it should be circumscribed to the events surrounding the referendum in East Timor.’ The opposition and government know that my motion is saying that we should have a war crimes tribunal into the whole of the East Timorese occupation by the Indonesian army. Let me put that in perspective. During the horrific referendum period, 2,000 East Timorese were killed. During the occupation, 200,000 East Timorese were killed. How can we, as a chamber, support a war crimes tribunal into one per cent of the crimes? Are you really satisfied with that? What about the 99 per cent? Is that a matter for us to shrug our shoulders at? You simply cannot say that there is a logic to this, and we cannot leave it to Jakarta. Unfortunately, what is happening here today is that we are seeing that we cannot leave it to Canberra.
The opposition did have their amendment ready a fortnight ago but put it on to us at the start of this debate, and they will have to explain that. It looks like political manoeuvring to try and get a result other than through debate and strength of position in this chamber. The opposition are very well aware that one of the reasons that there has not been further progress on this in the United Nations is because Australia has not been advocating with strength, vigour and determination that the UN establish an international war crimes tribunal into the death of those 200,000 people, the ransacking of their country and the indescribable cruelty to which Senator Bourne just referred.
We either support the United Nations option or we become complicit in denying it. Senator Cook and the opposition know that, if Australia were to take a strong line in the United Nations, we would get an international tribunal—that is my belief. On the issue of East Timor, Australia has huge authority in the United Nations, not least because it was the Howard government that overcame the policy disaster of the previous 25 years and put Australia in the peacekeeping and rescue situation, of which so many Australians can be proud. But we cannot leave it at that. We cannot simply shrug our shoulders at the history of the East Timorese travail any more than war crimes tribunals can shrug their shoulders at what happened in those other countries I have mentioned.
I mentioned in passing—and I do not want to stress this because I think it gets away from what happened to the East Timorese people—that there is a political embarrassment in the body politic here in Canberra about those 25 years. I think that is manifest in the debate that is occurring today. I call for courage to overcome that. If we cannot overcome that, how can we expect President Megawati Sukarnoputri to overcome it in Jakarta? We cannot—yet how much less is the courage required to do the right thing here in Canberra?
Make no mistake about this. Australia is pivotal to getting a United Nations tribunal to look into the whole of that period from 1975--the whole 25 years. I believe that if that does not happen it will be because this chamber, this parliament, this government and this opposition suppressed it. It is not a matter of saying, ‘Oh, well, we have made a decision to go with the Jakarta option.’ It is a matter of denying actively the alternative of a United Nations war crimes tribunal. I ask all of those who are going to vote against that option—and it appears the whole of the opposition and the government will now vote against it—whether a massive rape, death and destruction campaign in East Timor is different from one in Rwanda or Bosnia. Of course it is not—except for one thing: it is closer to home.
Through government decree, we have had some involvement in the training and facilitating of troops in Indonesia, not least the reviled Kopassus, and in facilitating the Suharto government through those years. We are seeing a failure of nerve here today and we are seeing a failure of morality of the highest order—a morality which says that when crimes like that have occurred they should be discovered and the people who perpetrated them should be dealt with. We cannot get away from it. By denying a push through the United Nations, with Australia’s pivotal role there, we effectively end up sheltering the people who murdered, raped and destroyed for 25 years in East Timor. That is how it is. Even at this eleventh hour in this debate, I appeal to the government, if not the opposition, to reconsider. It is a very grave matter. If I fail here today, I will not let up on it.
Amendment agreed to.
Original question, as amended, resolved in the affirmative.
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