Friday 15 Oct 2021 | 01:18 | SYDNEY
Friday 15 Oct 2021 | 01:18 | SYDNEY

Reader riposte: Indonesia and Timor


Graeme Dobell

19 October 2009 11:22

I have been taken to task for my depiction of East Timor's 'forgive and move on' philosophy in its dealings with Indonesia. Perhaps I should have used a formulation along the lines of 'report-and-await-a-proper-response-from-Indonesia-that-may-never-come.' But that's too cynical a characterisation of much of the substantive work that has been done. A gentler way to put it might be 'reconcile and move on.'

Whatever phrase is used, it is a description of East Timor seeking some stability, even some progress, in relations with a huge neighbour. Indonesia's ability to destabilise the border any time it pleases should not be forgotten. I would argue that in dealing with Indonesia, Dili has played a weak hand with some skill.

I'll take up these themes after these words from John M Miller, National Coordinator, East Timor and Indonesia Action Network:

It looks like ignorance of views on human rights and war crimes committed in East Timor is not confined to Jakarta. Graeme Dobell accuses the 'Timor Leste Commission for Truth and Reconciliation' as having the same 'forgive and move-on philosophy' as the joint Timor-Indonesia Commission for Truth and Friendship. Clearly, Dobell hasn't read the Timor-Leste Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation (its actual name and known by its Portuguese acronym, CAVR).

The CAVR recommendations urged the UN set up an ad hoc international tribunal for the period of 1974-1975 should other means to achieve justice fail (as they clearly have). It also calls on countries to make cooperation for the Indonesian military 'totally conditional' on the subordination of the military to the rule of law and civilian government, and strict adherence with international human rights. It encourages Indonesia 'in an authentic spirit of reconciliation and with the aim of strengthening its own nascent democracy' to transfer those indicted by the UN-backed serious crimes process within its borders for trial. It calls for Indonesia (and nations which armed it) to contribute to a fund for reparations for victims. I could go on.

While the recommendations do have a section on reconciliation with Indonesia, these emphasize the need for Indonesia to come clean, calling for Truth as the basis for the relationship between the two countries.

Three years on from the CAVR recommendations, its dark observations about the culture of impunity still hold true: 'The legacy of this lack of justice for years of human rights violations is manifold. For both Timor-Leste and Indonesia the result is that impunity has become entrenched. Those who planned, ordered, committed and are responsible for the most serious human rights violations have not been brought to account, and in many cases have seen their military and civil careers flourish as a result of their activities.'

CAVR sets out Indonesia's crimes explicitly, but the two unstated fears that throbbed through the report when it was issued have both proven correct. One was that Indonesia would not act. The other was that 'the international community' would refuse to act. These realities have shaped the decision of East Timor's leadership to adopt a policy of forgive/reconcile and move on. This is a pragmatic response to the reality of Indonesian power.

When East Timor has shown any inclination to act against individuals accused of war crimes, the informal threat has come back quickly from Indonesia: any legal action by Dili will cause an upsurge in acts of bastardry and destabilisation directed across the border from West Timor. East Timor is not strong enough to risk such retribution. The point of my columns was that Australia is stronger and does not have to obey the Indonesian military's continuing demand for impunity.