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The Forum > Article Comments > Crimes against East Timor > Comments

Crimes against East Timor : Comments

By James Dunn, published 30/7/2008

For all its shortcomings the report on East Timor is nevertheless an important document, which will stir the political scene in Jakarta.

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Thank you James Dunn. I found this a very fair summary of the East Timor report. I think you have raised the right questions that need to be answered before there can be closure for the East Timorese who suffered so appallingly at the hands of people who must be brought to justice.

I agree that impunity for such crimes is simply not acceptable. The report has some important positive aspects, but we should all keep up pressure on all parties to seek a more acceptable solution to the question of accountability for crimes against humanity.

The report is, as you say, not the final word but a step in the right direction. You are right to argue that the report will only be useful if there is "genuine political will on the part of all parties involved to vigorously implement its recommendations, and to question its shortcomings". I would agree with you that the report focuses on a too narrow time span and doesn't sufficiently deal with successive Australian Governments' culpabilities.

Expressions of regret, like formal apologies, cannot be the end of the matter.
Posted by Spikey, Wednesday, 30 July 2008 11:27:47 AM
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This is an excellent article and I agree with Spikey.

The logical venue for UN action is the International Court at the Hague which amongst other things has held cases about the genocide in Bosnia.

Several countries would know that the history of Indonesian killing in East Timor was a long term, considered policy of the Indonesian state. Meetings were held in Jakarta, orders given. Thousands of Indonesian politicians, officials and military officers would have had a hand in the killing through talk, paper or ultimately bullets.

So where do you start or stop? Do you prosecute a few military leaders or successive governments in Jakarta.

Another problem, is that the Hague is on Dutch soil. The Dutch would be loathe to remind the world that they were cruel oppressors in Indonesia up to 1949 when international condemnation drove the Dutch Army out..

In any case as the author says to bring Indonesians to trial requires international will. Those who might bring Indonesia to trial (the US, Australia or European countries) fear that "putting Indonesia on trial" will destabilise a perpetually unstable Indonesian government.

Indonesian Governments have successively played the card “you may think we’re bad but just imagine having a communist government or an extremist Islamic government in Indonesia.” Indonesia is seen to be doing its bit for the “War on Terror” which is a redeeming virtue in US eyes.

This “could be worse” syndrome has long prevented countries from making Indonesia atone for its sins in East Timor.

Posted by plantagenet, Wednesday, 30 July 2008 1:57:14 PM
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I believe there are fraught legal and moral issues in this case, as Pete and others can confirm from various of my other posts (that four-letter word "Iraq" springs to mind, along with its far gorier body counts in a much shorter time span). Such are the practical and moral contexts we should remember when mentioning the UN and “international pressure”.

Nonetheless, James Dunn's emphasis on KOPASSUS warrants further consideration here. I recall Dili activists' reports from 1999 mentioning Zacky and Sjafrie in liaison and/or coordination roles during special visits. I seem to recall too a commissioned report by James Dunn (2002?) referring to similar general information; do Dunn or others have any detail to specify and clarify the functions performed by Zacky and Sjafrie? Has their mooted connection become anything more than circumstantial and speculative?

There is a related matter that suggests an inaccuracy from Dunn (and many others) which could seriously diminish the credibility of such claims to identify the chain of command and, thereby, legal responsibility in this case. Both Zacky and Sjafrie were long gone from the KOPASSUS chain of command; their official place was as senior staff officers in TNI HQ at the time (“special advisory” capacity if I'm not mistaken). How would such officers' alleged supervision and planning confirm “initiative” and “command role” from KOPASSUS, as Dunn and others suggest?

Thirdly, how can we be so sure that militia violence “was clearly designed to head off the move towards independence”, as Dunn et al assert? Even if much of the TNI chain of command in East Timor assumed, believed, or were told that to be the campaign's intention (itself an uncertain conclusion), the effect was far different, suggesting rather that an “independence” ballot result was presumed a foregone conclusion anyway. Therefore, the campaign's strategic and nationalist justification, obvious to Indonesian patriots aware of their history, was more that of “scorched earth” and deterrence against separatist mobilization elsewhere in the country's outlying regions.

These questions are still relevant, especially if conditions should make Indonesia as vulnerable to destabilization as it was from 1997.
Posted by mil-observer, Wednesday, 30 July 2008 6:03:14 PM
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