Sat, 08 Mar 2003

East Timor's Indictment : A Chance To Save Indonesia's Reform

Aboeprijadi Santoso Journalist Amsterdam

Instead of expressing regret over Dili's indictment of Indonesian generals (as East Timor President Xanana Gusmao did) or flatly rejecting it (as Indonesian Foreign Minister Hassan Wirayuda and President Megawati Soekarnoputri hastily did), Jakarta and Dili would do well to review their policies and consider the long-term implications of the issue.

A new myth has emerged since East Timor's independence in May last year. In order to foster a good relationship with Jakarta, it is believed, Dili should avoid sensitive issues, including efforts to bring those responsible for killings, deportation and destruction in East Timor in 1999 to justice. For Jakarta, having been humiliated when it lost East Timor's independence vote, would only be too happy to welcome a new neighbor that puts the importance of a good relationship before everything else.

This myth ignores four intertwined factors, ranging from international support for East Timor and for the indictments, to the need in Indonesia for real reform.

First, a tiny half-island amidst a great archipelagic neighbor, East Timor's geo-political predicament is unfortunate since it virtually dictates much of the country's foreign policy outlook. Metaphorically, East Timor has, in fact, opted to become a Finland, an independent country living in the shadow of or dependent upon its powerful neighbor, the Soviet Union, rather than a Baltic state, which evolved from domination to occupation by the same giant.

But, unlike Finland or the Baltics in the past, post-Cold War, independent East Timor has obtained the good will and commitment of the international community, which has, in the past, ignored its sufferings, to help the country if its security is at stake.

A recent proposal by UN Chief Kofi Annan to postpone the withdrawal of UN troops from East Timor and its endorsement by the UN Security Council, expresses that awareness acutely. Annan has explicitly spoken of a real threat by former pro-Jakarta militias both inside the country and from Indonesian West Timor.

While the war on terrorism and the crisis on Iraq have pushed the case of crimes against humanity committed by the Indonesian officers and the militias in East Timor in 1999 from the front pages, the issue has certainly not been, and will not be forgotten.

Second, the elections in East Timor in 2001 and 2002 have proved beyond doubt that Xanana Gusmao and Fretilin are the country's most legitimate leader and ruling political party. Whatever the differences between the president and the party on the issue of Dili's indictment of the Indonesian generals, the fact that matters most, is that the judicial authorities in Dili will continue the proceedings. The ruling party and the local populace have strongly supported the process. Reports have indicated that the Dili indictment, if it continues to be ignored by Jakarta, may in the long run damage the popular support for the president, who is sincerely concerned to preserve a good relationship between his country and Indonesia.

Local human rights organizations have expressed concerns on the issue. Perkumpulan Hak's director Jose-Luis de Oliveira has pointed out that victims of the 1999 mayhem have begun to ask, "whose president is Xanana Gusmao really?" For a small population whose majority suffered under the Indonesian Army and had been victimized by the rampage, that's a pregnant question - potentially critical even for a charismatic leader who liberated his country from the colonial joke.

It is too early to conclude on this double institutional leadership, but with a potential threat to the leadership of Xanana Gusmao whose presidency, modeled on the Portuguese, is not as strong as the U.S.'s or Indonesia's -- Jakarta cannot simply rely on President Xanana's good will. On the contrary, if Jakarta wishes to help strengthen Xanana's position, it should seriously consider Dili's indictment.

Third, East Timor's civil society is not alone in demanding justice on the violence in 1999. There has always been and still is relatively broad international public opinion supporting these demands, including human rights organizations in Indonesia, which call for breaking the chain of impunity.

For a number of generals with leading positions at the ministry of defense and the military headquarter in 1999, were neither investigated (including former coordinating minister Gen. (ret) Feisal Tanjung) nor tried (former military chief Gen. (ret) Wiranto). Seven independent researchers in a document titled, Masters of Terror: Indonesia's Military and Violence in East Timor in 1999, Canberra, 2002 have listed 11 major events, 124 officers and militia members as (possible) suspects and several institutions and military and police units as possibly involved in the violence and its planning.

Yet of those, only 5 cases were selected for Jakarta's trial, one was dropped, and of the 18 suspects tried, most have been acquitted and a few got light verdicts despite a minimum sentence of ten years defined for crimes against humanity.

Not surprisingly, the Dili indictments, issued by the UN- sponsored Serious Crimes Investigation Unit within the East Timor justice system, has been welcomed and seen as implicit criticism of Jakarta's "fake" trials.

Fourth, for the Megawati government to cooperate with the justice authorities in Dili would not only be a unique political and moral investment, both internationally and domestically, but it would also be an important contribution, on the part of Jakarta, to foster a good relationship between Indonesia and East Timor, and, ultimately, real reform in Indonesian politics and reconciliation with East Timor.

The political leaders' indignant responses, first, to President Megawati attending East Timor independence day, and, second, to the loss of Sipadan and Ligitan islands at the World Court last year, revealed the depth of the humiliation Jakarta felt, more than it has publicly admitted, since it lost East Timor.

With the shame so deeply felt about East Timor, a creative and imaginative policy change in Jakarta by responding positively to the indictment on 1999 violence could restore the country's dignity and may have a liberating effect. But Megawati is not the type of leader who would initiate a policy break and, with her close links to the military's top-brass, it is hard to envisage such a change.

Yet that's precisely the point. With the military leaders' growing impatient with Aceh and Papua, some have envisioned the possibility of a military strike without presidential consent, ignoring that civil supremacy that rests with the president, who is also the commander-in-chief.

President Megawati could justifiably strike back and restrain her generals. With the Timor atrocities in 1999 now recognized as the Army's achilles heel, she could acquire the leverage and seize the momentum to liberate the Army from its post-colonial trauma in order to definitely close Indonesia's Timor chapter.

For now, the least Jakarta can do, if it is to prevent an international tribunal and to restore Indonesia's dignity after the shameful events of 1999, is to encourage the generals to fully cooperate with the justice authorities and human rights institutions in Indonesia and East Timor.