KairosCanada: Appeal for Tribunal
East Timor - A New Country Burdened by the Past
“There must be no hiding place for political monsters such as unleashed the destruction of East Timor in 1999. These are crimes which are far greater than their immediate victims ... They strike at the future as well as the present. They make the world more dangerous for everyone.”
Bishop Belo, Bishop of Dili, Winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, 1996
On August 30, following 24 years of brutal occupation by Indonesia, East Timor will hold its first democratic elections [already held]. This will be a day to celebrate, but also a time to mourn.
Two years ago on August 30, in a UN sponsored ballot, an overwhelming majority of East Timorese people opted for independence from Indonesia. They paid a high price. Following the vote, militia groups organized by the Indonesian military went on a rampage, devastating much of the country’s infrastructure. No one knows exactly how many were killed, but the death toll is estimated to exceed 1,000. Schools and health facilities were destroyed and three quarters of the population fled in terror. While some countries, such as Canada, may be helping to rebuild that infrastructure, efforts must also be made to bring those responsible to justice.
The international community has allowed Indonesia the opportunity to try those responsible for the human rights abuses in East Timor. Two years later, no one has been brought to trial. As was the case throughout 24 years of Indonesian occupation, East Timor is again denied justice.
The international community must stop waiting for Indonesia to hold trials. Churches, human rights groups, the transitional government of East Timor and the UN’s own Commission of Inquiry have all called for an international tribunal to try the perpetrators of abuses in East Timor. To make its transition to independence, East Timor needs justice to overcome the abuses in its past.
The violence was neither random, nor a civil war — it was a deliberate, systematic campaign to ensure that an independent East Timor would have little to start with. UN investigations and an investigation by Indonesia’s own Human Rights Commission found evidence that senior Indonesian military officials were involved in planning the 1999 rampage. There is also evidence that Indonesian security forces either stood by or participated in the violence, alongside militia groups.
These and subsequent investigations have uncovered serious and widespread human rights abuses, including crimes against humanity — such as murder, deportation and rape – systematically targeting civilians. Such crimes threaten the human rights of all of us and should be prosecuted in an international forum, as in the case of Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia.
Fair and just trials are critical not only to East Timor, but also to human rights reform in Indonesia. If prosecutions for abuses that took place under the glare of an international spotlight can be mishandled, what hope for justice remains for the thousands of other human rights abuses which took place in Indonesia?
Both Indonesia and East Timor are struggling to emerge from the oppression of the Suharto regime. Citizens of East Timor wrestle with trauma, homelessness and poverty, while those responsible for this injustice live freely in Indonesia. Justice is essential for reform and healing in both countries.
Challenges facing trials in Indonesia
Indonesia’s commitment to justice for East Timor remains open to question. Last year, the Indonesian parliament amended the constitution in an effort to protect individuals from prosecution for past human rights abuses. Many of the agreements that Indonesia struck with the UN regarding the trials, such as agreements regarding time frames, have not been fulfilled. Moreover, Indonesia has not co-operated with UN investigations in East Timor, refusing to hand over evidence and suspects.
The Indonesian justice system has been seriously undermined by more than thirty years of corruption under General Suharto. Current laws are not adequate to try serious human rights abuses effectively and judges have little experience in these matters. For example, those responsible for brutally killing three UN aid workers in West Timor were convicted only of “mob violence” under Indonesian law.
Indonesia’s new president, Megawati Sukarnoputri, has indicated that she will move forward with East Timor trials, but has mandated trials which are far too limited. For example, the jurisdiction of the trials excludes serious abuses, including sexual slavery, experienced by thousands of refugees forced into West Timor. The list of suspects is too restricted, omitting a number of senior military officers, thus allowing those who planned the devastation to escape prosecution. Some of these individuals have actually been promoted after being named as suspects.
The international community has a responsibility
Systematic human rights abuses or crimes against humanity should be tried in an international forum. The international community has a responsibility to ensure these abuses are addressed, particularly in this instance, given that they took place during a UN sponsored process. As well, the UN opposed Indonesia’s occupation of East Timor, meaning that it has a particular responsibility to this contested territory.
Setting up an international tribunal is not without its challenges: governments may express concern about the costs of such a process or may fear the process would further destabilize Indonesia. However, the moral and political costs of doing nothing are also substantial.
When they went to the polls in 1999, the people of East Timor put their faith in the international community. We must not abandon them as they work to rebuild their country. We must stand alongside the people of East Timor, as well as the people of Indonesia, in their struggle to bring those responsible for the abuses in East Timor to justice.
What you can do
Please show your support for the creation of an international tribunal on East Timor and for human rights reform in Indonesia.
Below is a brief outline of a letter you
can send to Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, The Hon. John Manley.
Please also send a copy of your correspondence to our office. We will forward
copies to all of the member countries on the UN Security Council, the UN
body which mandates the creation of an international tribunal.
Kairos: Canadian Ecumenical
(formerly the Canada-Asia Working Group)
947 Queen St. E. Suite 213
Toronto, Ontario M4M 1J9
Tel: +1 416 465 8826
Fax:+1 416 463 5569
The Hon. John Manley
Minister of Foreign Affairs
Lester B. Pearson Bldg.
125 Sussex Dr.
Dear Mr. Manley,
Canadian churches and church organizations have a long history of involvement with the people of East Timor. As East Timor holds its first elections [already held], we celebrate this accomplishment. But, we also mourn the destruction and devastation which took place after the referendum two years ago.
I am concerned that no one has been brought to trial in Indonesia for these abuses. Despite international pressure, including from Canada, the Indonesian government has continued to delay justice and has not fulfilled many of the commitments it has made to the international community. The Indonesian justice system is unable to deal with serious abuses such as those which took place in East Timor.
I urge the Canadian government to support an international tribunal for the abuses which took place in East Timor. I believe that those responsible for human rights abuses must be held accountable for their actions. Justice for the abuses in East Timor is essential for human rights in both East Timor and Indonesia.
Canada’s support for East Timor’s transition to independence is important.
I look forward to receiving information about Canada’s action on these matters.
Church leaders on justice for East Timor
“For decades the people of East Timor suffered
enormous brutality and slaughter of tens of thousands of people.
In order for the new country to begin a new life, it is essential that
the United Nations establish an international tribunal ... ”
The Very Reverend Bill Phipps
Former Moderator of the United Church of Canada
Member of Canadian Ecumenical Delegation to East Timor, 1998
“Here is work for a United Nations international
tribunal. Without such an effort the new nation will not be able to move
ahead in true freedom. The work of building global peace requires such
a demonstration of justice.”
Msgr. Peter Schonenbach
General Secretary, Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops
Member of Canadian Ecumenical Delegation to East Timor, 1998
947 Queen St. E., Suite 201, Toronto, ON, M4M 1J9
Tel: 416-462-1613 | Toll-free: 1-877-403-8933 | Fax: 416-463-5569
Version en Français: Justice pour le Timor oriental
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