The Jakarta Post
January 25, 2002
End game in East Timor
Even though it has been almost two and a half years since an eruption of violence in East Timor, not a single Indonesian military and police officer responsible for security in the territory at that time has been prosecuted. While it is up to a court of law to determine whether they were responsible for neglect, or worse as widely alleged, for promoting or fanning the violence preceding and following the UN-sponsored self-determination ballot in August 1999, there is no doubt that Indonesia owes the international community some credible explanation. All the more reason now that East Timor has become an independent state, albeit under UN administration.
An impartial court of law, preferably in Indonesia, would be the best place to conduct such a hearing. But, unless Indonesia lives up to its responsibility as a member of the international community, an international tribunal hearing for these officers will be the most appropriate alternative. That was certainly the warning that came from the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights, Leandro Despuoy, during his visit to Indonesia this week.
Successive administrations since 1999 -- from presidents B.J. Habibie, Abdurrahman Wahid to Megawati Soekarnoputri—for some reason used various tactics to delay the prosecutions. But the world has waited long enough, and there is no way Indonesia can hope to escape from this international obligation forever.
Is this waiting game about to end anytime soon? Hardly.
Earlier this month, President Megawati appointed judges to preside over the new ad hoc human rights courts, which will deal with the 1999 East Timor mayhem, among other things. But without domestic and foreign pressures, the proceedings will likely take a long time. Any conviction, one way or the other, is likely to remain a very long way away, if it ever reaches that stage.
With Despuoy’s visit and the warning of an international tribunal, this is a good time to review the whole situation and to ask ourselves whether these delaying tactics have served the nation’s interests. The administration’s relentless efforts to shield a handful of military and police officers from legal prosecution has not been without its costs to the rest of the nation.
The U.S. Congress has severed all military cooperation programs with Indonesia, including training, and imposed an embargo on sales of military hardware in response to the 1999 violence in East Timor. The European Union also momentarily imposed a similar embargo. For better or for worse, these embargoes have compromised the ability of our defense forces in dealing with the various armed conflicts.
The heaviest cost that the East Timor debacle is exacting on Indonesia, though, is on its international reputation and image. This incident hurt the entire nation, and not just the military.
The 1999 mayhem itself has already raised doubts about the ability of Indonesia, as a state, to protect lives and property of people under its charge. Indonesia’s failure to prosecute the military and police officers has now raised doubts about its ability, again as a state, to uphold the law and deliver justice.
It is no wonder that more and more people around the world see Indonesia as a pariah state. If this image continues, more and more investors and tourists will shun Indonesia.
The tragic aspect of all this is that it did not have to be this way at all. All it takes is strong political will from the Megawati administration to send military and police officers in charge of East Timor’s security in 1999 to court. How difficult can that be? They are already assisted by highly paid lawyers, so their rights to a fair hearing should be secured. If they were innocent, then let them prove their case in court.
Clearly, it is in the best interest of this nation to accelerate the entire legal process. These delays should come to an end, for our own good. We need to put the East Timor nightmare behind us, once and for all, and quickly, and restore our reputation and credibility among the international community. Most of all, we need to get on with our lives.
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