Indonesian Dismissals in East Timor Killings May
Slow US Military Embrace
Bush administration could be forced to slow plans to resume relations
with the Indonesian Armed Forces (TNI) after a Jakarta appeals court
Saturday dismissed all pending cases against Indonesians indicted
for crimes against humanity committed in East Timor five years ago.
judicial action is also likely to fuel demands by human rights groups
for the United Nations to create an international tribunal to bring
to justice those responsible for the TNI-backed rampage that resulted
in the killing of as many as 1,500 Timorese and the destruction
of the newly independent country's infrastructure.
mayhem followed a plebiscite in which an overwhelming majority of
the East Timorese population voted in favor of independence from
Indonesia, which invaded the former Portuguese colony in 1975 and
annexed it the following year. As much as one-third of the population
died or was killed in the five years that followed the invasion.
UN-backed multinational force headed by Australia intervened after
the violence that followed the plebiscite and helped establish a
UN administration that oversaw a transitional period to independence
that took effect 15 months ago.
decisions show that courts in Indonesia are simply not independent
and are incapable of rendering justice for the atrocities committed
in East Timor," said Brad Adams, director of the Asia division
of U.S.-based Human Rights Watch (HRW).
has given the international community no choice but to initiate
a justice mechanism for these appalling crimes, which took place
in full view of the world in 1999," he added in a statement.
was one of six international human rights groups, including Amnesty
International, the Coalition for International Justice and the Open
Society Justice Initiative, that sent a letter to UN Secretary-General
Kofi Annan in late June urging him to immediately appoint an International
Commission of Experts to recommend how best to ensure that "those
responsible for such violence be brought to justice," as demanded
by the UN Security Council resolution that authorized the Australian-led
decision by the Jakarta appeals court, which overturned the convictions
of four high-ranking Indonesian military and security officials
and reduced by half the ten-year sentence of a notorious leader
of the TNI-backed militia that led the post-plebiscite violence,
comes at a critical moment in the evolution of U.S. policy toward
the world's most populous Muslim country and one with radical Islamists
reportedly linked to al-Qaeda terrorists, Indonesia has been seen
as a key ally in the Bush administration's "war on terrorism"
since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on New York and the Pentagon, and
Washington has made little secret of its desire to end the break
in ties between the TNI and the Pentagon that was imposed after
the events in East Timor.
Congress refused to go along with normalizing military links in
the absence of clear evidence that the TNI, which was very much
a law unto itself under the dictatorship of former President Suharto
(1965-1998), was both subject to civilian control and had cooperated
fully with efforts to bring to justice those in its ranks responsible
for the violence in East Timor and the 2002 murder of two U.S. schoolteachers
in West Papua.
indeed, was the officially stated policy of the U.S. government
as recently as the end of 2002, when the U.S. ambassador in Jakarta,
Ralph Boyce, told the government there that full restoration of
military ties, including eligibility for credits for buying U.S.
weapons (Foreign Military Financing, or FMF) and for participation
in International Military Education and Training (IMET) programs
would not be possible "until there is justice for the serious
human rights violations committed in East Timor and elsewhere."
Washington has moved in recent months toward full normalization.
In addition to providing millions of dollars in security assistance
and training, the Pentagon last month announced the resumption of
the Bilateral Defense Dialogue (BDD) with the TNI that had been
cut off after the violence in East Timor.
addition, the State Department recently told congressional staff
that it intended to reinstate Indonesia's eligibility for FMF in
2005, according to knowledgeable Capitol Hill sources.
a letter to Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld last week, even before
the appeals court issued its decision, a bipartisan group of 65
members of Congress said they were "surprised and disappointed
to learn" the BDD is scheduled to reconvene. They urged Rumsfeld
to reconsider his decision, particularly in light of reports of
new abuses by the TNI in West Papua and Aceh province, a restive
gas-producing region that has been under a state of siege for some
TNI has successfully evaded accountability for its well-documented
crimes against humanity and war crimes in East Timor, and there
has been little progress in improving human rights practices in
Indonesia," the group, which is headed by Republicans Tom Tancredo
and Chris Smith and Democrat Lane Evans, wrote.
the TNI continues its brutal tactics in Aceh, Papua and elsewhere,
[and] there are reports that [it] has extensive connections to the
terror group Laskar Jihad," added the letter.
believe that a resumption of the dialogue at this time would go
against the strong posture Congress and the executive branch took
in the late 1990s to severely limit military assistance, joint exercises
and exchanges with the TNI until human rights issues were addressed."
appeals court decision is likely to strengthen that sentiment.
noted that the four acquitted officials are Maj. Gen. Rachmat Damiri,
who was commander of the military region that included East Timor
and has more recently overseen the counter-insurgency campaign in
Aceh; Col. Nur Muis, who was TNI's commander in East Timor; former
police chief Commission Hulman Gultom; and Lt. Col. Soedjarwo.
had been found guilty by the ad hoc Human Rights Court in Jakarta,
which Indonesia set up largely to preempt the creation of an international
tribunal on East Timor, for crimes against humanity.
and Muis were also indicted in February 2003 on three counts of
crimes against humanity by the UN Serious Crimes Unit (SCU) in a
joint indictment with East Timorese authorities in Dili, the capital
of the new country. But the Indonesian government has refused to
recognize that tribunal or to extradite anyone to East Timor.
result of Saturday's decision is not only that no senior Indonesian
military official will be held accountable for crimes committed
by the TNI and client militia in East Timor, but that the only two
people who will have been successfully prosecuted are Timorese
the militia leader whose sentence was halved, and the former governor
of the province.
international community must fulfill its promises of justice to
the East Timorese people," said John M. Miller, a spokesman
for the U.S. branch of the East Timor Action Network (ETAN). "The
UN-backed SCU in Dili has issued a large number of highly credible
indictments of senior Indonesian officials. They must not be allowed
to rot in some file drawer in Dili."
SCU has so far filed 83 indictments that accuse 373 individuals.
Some 279 of them, including the former TNI commander and recent
presidential candidate Wiranto, are currently at large in Indonesia.
Lobe is Inter Press Service's correspondent in Washington, DC.
© 2004 One World