Don’t Scratch a Back that isn’t Itching

A United Nations body in Timor Leste has charged several Indonesian generals with human rights violations following the independence referendum. But Xanana Gusmao does not support the move.THE man with a disturbed expression came down the airplane steps. He did not look up, and there was not a trace of a smile on his face. With the sun beating down on Dili’s Nocolau Lobato Airport, the Timor Leste President, Ray Kala Xanana Gusmao, was clearly not happy. Last Friday, near the steps of the Merpati Nusantara Airlines plane that had brought him from Bali, he coolly greeted several Timor Leste officials, among them Prime Minister Mari Alklatiri, speaker of the national parliament Gutteres and Foreign Minister Ramos Horta. Several ministers, journalists and airport officials held their breaths. “The president is very angry,” whispered a journalist in the local Tetun language.

President Xanana, 57, was deeply disappointed. While attending the Conference of Non-Aligned Countries in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, the previous Tuesday, he had received startling news. The Serious Crimes Unit (SCU), a UN body giving assistance to the courts in Timor Leste, had started criminal proceedings against seven generals from TNI (the Indonesian Military) and one former Indonesian civilian official. Based on the body’s investigations, the eight people were believed to be responsible for the violence in East Timor following the 1999 independence referendum. The UN organized the referendum to determine whether the people of East Timor wanted to stay with Indonesia, or to go their own way.

But it was not the crimes of the generals that made Xanana so angry. The Serious Crimes Unit had issued their charges without coordinating with the Timor Leste Government beforehand. “Don’t wreck the good relations between Timor Leste and Indonesia,” growled Xanana. After speaking to journalists, Xanana called Prime Minister Mari Alklatiri and Attorney General Longuinhos Monteiro. They held an emergency meeting at the presidential office at Kai Koli, Dili.

The SCU charges were no trivial matter. The body will bring the case before a special UN panel. They sent an official letter to the Indonesian Attorney General’s Office (AGO) asking them to present the eight defendants in a Dili court, and contacted Interpol, asking that the men be arrested if they attempted to travel outside Indonesia.

The eight men are General (ret) Wiranto (former defense minister/TNI commander), Maj. Gen. Zacky Anwar Makarim (former head of the TNI special team in East Timor), Maj. Gen. Kiki Syahnakri (former commander of the Operation Command/Emergency Military Authority in East Timor), Maj. Gen. Adam Damari (former commander of the Udayana Area Military Command), Col. Suhartono Suratman (former commander of the Military District 164, East Timor), Col. Mohammad Noer Muis (former commander of the Military District 164, East Timor), Lt. Col. Yayat Sudradjat (former commander of the Tribuana VIII Taskforce) and former Governor of East Timor, Abilio Jose Osorio Soares.

All are accused of being responsible for vile crimes: murder, intimidation and expelling pro-independence Timorese. The charge sheet records more than 280 murders in 40 incidents-10 of them major attacks-carried out by pro-Jakarta militias with the full knowledge of those charged. “According to the SCU, from statements of witnesses and various documents, the suspects gave assistance, issued orders and funded the [pro-Jakarta] militias,” said Attorney General Monteiro.

There is a basis for these accusations. The unit’s accusations refer to the statements of 1,500 people that they interviewed over the past three years. A staff of 40 at the international body worked hard in turns to gather evidence. The charges, running to 400 pages, were drawn up and are about to be handed over to the court.

One event the SCU looked into was the incident at the Suai Church on September 6, 1999. Pro-independence Timorese had been using the church as a shelter. On that day, the army and pro-Jakarta militias suddenly arrived and sprayed the crowd with bullets. The refugees panicked and bodies fell. At least 30 people died, including women and children. Three pastors were also killed. Another attack occurred at Liquica at the village of Cailaco, Bobonaro regency in Dili, and at several other places (see Soldiers Smeared with Blood?)

The accused generals were surprised. Two days after the charges were announced, Wiranto called a sudden press conference. “It’s not possible I ordered murders. You can ask other military officers,” he said. (See interview with General Wiranto.

On the previous Tuesday, seven generals met to discuss what they should do. A day later, Wiranto and “his men” from the Institute for Indonesian Democracy-a non-governmental organization set up by the former TNI commander-had a meeting at the NGO’s office on Jalan Teluk Betung, Jakarta. “We discussed matters relating to Wiranto. We put together a strategy to oppose [negative] opinions currently being directed at him,” said Herman Ibrahim, a retired military officer who attended the meeting.

Although the generals have denied them, allegations against these officers are nothing new. The accusations in the SCU charges are also nothing special. At the moment, the ad hoc human rights court in Jakarta is trying several senior officers accused of human rights violations in Timor Leste. The Commission to Investigate Human Rights Violations in East Timor has also questioned them. The result? “At the very least, Wiranto knew [of the scorched earth policy in Timor Leste],” says Munir, a member of the commission.

The ad hoc court is the result of a compromise between the Indonesian Government and the UN, which wanted to set up a court to be known as the International Crime Tribunal for East Timor. A similar body was set up to try former leaders in Yugoslavia and Rwanda.

So why is the SCU being so obstinate? They view Jakarta as not being serious. Wiranto, for example, has been mentioned from the start. Although the National Human Rights Commission has recommended Wiranto be put on trial, the AGO has not drawn up charges. “The prosecution service has made other senior officials fall flat on their faces by protecting that one official,” Hikmahanto Juwana, an expert on international law from the University of Indonesia told Ardi Bramantyo from TEMPO.

According to Hikmahanto, legally, the UN body in Timor Leste can set up a human rights court for the generals. But there is a technical problem: Indonesia and Timor Leste do not yet have an extradition treaty. Apart from that-and this also weakens the effectiveness of the SCU charges-nothing has happened yet about the open conflict between Xanana and Unmiset (United Nations Mission of Support in East Timor). This organization was set up last May based on a UN Security Council resolution to help with matters of administration and political stability in the country.

Although the SCU was set up by the UN, it is officially part of the AGO. The SCU chairman is Attorney General Longuinhos Monteiro himself. At present, three local and five international prosecutors work for the SCU. Under them are several local and foreign volunteers.

The SCU was set up based on regulations No. 16/2001 and No. 26/2001 of Untaet-a UN body formed to support the transition government in East Timor. Its job was to organize the implementation of UN resolution No. 1272/1999 to investigate crimes against humanity that had taken place in East Timor.

According to Monteiro, the SCU is already dealing with all matters relating to crimes against humanity. But it is unclear why after the charges against the generals were reported in the mass media, the UN body seems to want to wash its hands of the affair. “Unmiset was ordered to remove all UN logos at the Attorney General’s Office,” said Monteiro. The charge sheets, which are usually signed by Siri Frigard, the deputy attorney general from Australia who is handling cases of crimes against humanity, must now be signed by Monteiro. “Unmiset should not get involved in this case,” said the attorney general angrily.

Unfortunately, as of the end of last week, none of the UN officials in Timor Leste were prepared to comment. Siri Frigard flew to Australia for a holiday in the middle of last week.

There is nothing wrong with the UN surrendering its authority to the Timor Leste Government. In any case, the UN’s presence in Timor Leste is temporary, and sooner of later it will have to leave. A TEMPO source at the Timor Leste AGO says that Monteiro is in fact overwhelmed by his duty to charge the generals. What is more, President Xanana has not wanted this matter to be raised from the beginning. Xanana’s reason is Timor Leste needs Indonesian help to improve the economy. “What the families of the victims need more is economic improvement, not trials,” said Xanana. He said that the plan to put the Jakarta generals on trial is something that is not necessary. “Don’t scratch a back that isn’t itching,” he said, quoting a parable.

Xanana’s statement means that for the time being, the generals can breathe again. Furthermore, Megawati’s government does not want to “surrender” Wiranto and friends to the Dili court. “There is no international court to examine the cases of human rights abuses is East Timor,” says Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda.

Now responsibility is on the shoulders of the ad hoc court in Jakarta. Whatever happens, the crimes against humanity committed by senior officers must be investigated. However long it takes.

Arif Zulkifli, A. Manan, Darmawan Sepriyossa (Jakarta), Alexandre Assis (Dili)

Tempo Magazine February 04 – March 10, 2003

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