11 September 2008

Commission for Truth and Friendship - From Problem to Partner

Pat Walsh, 9 September 2008

The much-criticised Commission for Truth and Friendship (CTF) released its report on the violence of 1999 at a ceremony in Bali on 15 July 2008 presided over by Indonesia’s President SBY and his Timor-Leste counterpart, President Ramos-Horta. Oddly, the report has not yet been made public in Timor-Leste, so few have had a chance to evaluate whether their criticisms of CTF were justified. As one who has seen the report, I believe it is a positive contribution and not the whitewash many feared.

A major cause of resistance to CTF was the fear that it would undermine CAVR which was just finishing its work when CTF was established in 2005 and whose terms of reference, though wider, also included 1999. Many worried that CTF would override the CAVR report and neutralise its findings and recommendations on TNI by presenting an alternative version of the truth, and therefore responsibility, about 1999.

These concerns were shared by CAVR and prompted it to include a number of last minute caveats about CTF in its Chega! report. CAVR stopped short of writing-off CTF a priori. It made clear its belief, however, that CTF should complement CAVR, not conflict with it. Inter alia, CAVR counselled that the new body should not compromise the rights of victims to redress and criminal justice, should add to the search for the truth about human rights violations in 1999, and should require that names only be cleared through a proper judicial process.

As things have turned out, CTF has measured up to these concerns in some significant ways. Though it does not go as far as CAVR, its report Per Memoriam ad Spem (Through Memory to Hope) has strengthened, not weakened, CAVR’s findings and recommendations. CAVR and CTF concur that human rights violations amounting to crimes against humanity occurred in 1999 and that TNI was principally responsible for these crimes. Both Commissions also call for an apology, for reparations to be made to victims and for reform of the TNI. By not recommending amnesties, clearing names or claiming ‘conclusive truth’, CTF has also left the door open on the issue of future criminal justice.

CTF has also delivered significantly in an area where CAVR is yet to make much progress. Indonesia has so far officially ignored Chega! but, through CTF, it has now dropped its defensiveness about the violence of 1999. President SBY’s admission of responsibility is shared by sections of the legal, military, ecclesiastical, academic and foreign affairs professions represented by the Indonesian CTF Commissioners, all of whom served – it should not be forgotten – during the Soeharto period.

The CTF did not have any authority to name names or conduct prosecutions. Having come this far, the challenge now is to take the next logical step, namely to prosecute the perpetrators of crimes against humanity as recommended by CAVR and to demonstrate that the rule of law applies to all. As the Indonesian commentator HS Dillon wrote in The Jakarta Post on 24 July 08: ‘The commission went to great lengths to stay within the confines of its mandate by not arriving at the logical conclusion that the perpetrators of crimes against humanity should be brought to justice’. He argued that Indonesia should follow South Korea’s example and bring closure to the crimes against humanity committed in Timor-Leste by convicting then pardoning those responsible. This, said the former member of Indonesia’s human rights commission, would truly serve the demands of restorative justice. It would restore the dignity and honour of Indonesia and the TNI, salve the wounds of victims, put friendship between Timor-Leste and Indonesia on a firm foundation and, through measures to prevent recurrence, help end the culture of violence.

The Timor-Leste Parliament is expected to consider both the CAVR and CTF reports when it resumes sittings later this month. It will not now have to choose between two versions of the truth about 1999 or, by implication, the years preceding 1999. Nor will it be forced to take sides in favour of one or other report, a prospect that many feared would seriously damage CAVR, polarise Timorese society on the deeply emotional issue of historical crimes and, in the process, create the very tensions with Indonesia that CTF’s friendship objective was intended to avoid. The Parliament should view the two reports as complementary and mutually re-inforcing. It should act to implement their recommendations and to urge that this be done, where possible, in cooperation with Indonesia.

The CAVR recommendations on CTF can be found in Chega! 7.3.1-7.3.3. Visit the CAVR website: www.cavr-timorleste.org

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