14 November 2008

East Timorese occupation victims face fresh wait for justice

12 Nov 2008 10:23am AEDT - East Timor's parliament has again postponed a debate over a report that recommends justice and reparations for victims of crimes committed during Indonesia's occupation of the country. President Jose Ramos-Horta has said he wants all investigations and prosecutions for gross human rights violations committed during the occupation dropped. But human rights advocates say that decision should be left up to the country's citizens.

Presenter: Stephanie March Speakers: East Timorese MP Fernanda Borges; Senior Advisor to the post CAVR technical secretariat Patrick Walsh

Listen link at http://www.radioaustralia.net.au/programguide/stories/200811/s2417294.htm

STEPHANIE MARCH: 18 years ago today Indonesian soldiers opened fire on pro-independence demonstrators in Dili's Santa Cruz cemetery. Victims groups estimate hundreds of people were killed in the massacre. It was only one of many gross human rights violations perpetrated during Indonesia's 24-year occupation of East Timor. And like the thousands of other alleged killings and acts of torture in that time, no one has ever been tried for what happened at Santa Cruz.

Earlier this week, East Timor's parliament again postponed a debate over recommendations made in the Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation report - a 2000 page investigation into the human rights violations committed during the Indonesian occupation.

MP Fernanda Borges is the head of a parliamentary committee that oversees human rights and justice. It recently passed a resolution approving the recommendations of the Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation report - or CAVR. But Ms Borges believes further debate has been postponed to allow President Jose Ramos-Horta more time to convince leaders of the major parties to water down the recommendations, and even remove any calls to pursue prosecutions.

FERNANDA BORGES, MP: The way I see the issue evolving is not time needed to read, it's more they don't want justice.

STEPHANIE MARCH: It's no secret that President Ramos-Horta doesn't want the resolutions of the committee to be approved by parliament. He said recently that he would like all investigations into crimes committed during the occupation and the 1999 referendum violence to stop. East Timor's constitution recognises the report, and it also recognises the need for a national, or international court, to try people for any crimes committed. Fernanda Borges says it's not up to leaders like President Ramos Horta, to decide whether or not justice is done.

FERNANDA BORGES: He wants to forget about justice for the whole period with the argument that if the Indonesians don't get justice then we don't get it. But that is a different issue.

STEPHANIE MARCH: Ms Borges says there are many unresolved internal justice issues that have yet to be dealt with.

FERNANDA BORGES: We have people that live next door to someone that has raped their child, killed one of their brothers and sisters, and they can't see eye to eye. They are waiting for the day when they can see that person prosecuted in the courts.

STEPHANIE MARCH: The commission finished in 2005, and handed its final report to then-president Xanana Gusmao at the end of that year. A body called the post-CAVR Technical Secretariat continues to maintain the commission's archives and distribution of the report. Senior advisor to the post-CAVR Patrick Walsh says some politicians are reluctant to see the report's recommendations passed because they see preserving good relations between East Timor and Indonesia as more important. Another body - the Commission for Truth and Friendship - was set up by both governments to investigate crimes committed in 1999, but without a mandate to recommend there be prosecutions. Patrick Walsh says some politicians view that bilateral commission as the final response from the states on the historic crimes.

PATRICK WALSH: And there is an understanding on Timor's part that it has given an assurance to Indonesia that it will not prosecute on those crimes, or any crimes committed by Indonesia prior to that period.

STEPHANIE MARCH: But pursuing justice is not the only issue. There are other recommendations from the CAVR report to set up an institution to look after the needs of victims, and to archive statements made to the original commission by 10,000 victims.

PATRICK WALSH: They are very important to the victims, that is their life story, if you like. It has been entrusted to us. We feel a huge moral and other obligation to care for those testimonies.

STEPHANIE MARCH: The new institution would also distribute the contents of its report to all East Timorese citizens through media and school programs. It would also help in facilitating reparations for victims.

PATRICK WALSH: Most Timorese including MPs react in shock and horror at the recommendation because they immediately interpret it to mean a handout to every person in Timor who would claim to be a victim, and that, of course, is most of the people.

STEPHANIE MARCH: But he says the commission's reparations are not about financial compensation, but restoring the dignity of victims who continue to be disadvantaged by their experiences between 1974 and 1999.

PATRICK WALSH: A lot of it is about referral. It is about referring somebody who lost a limb, or who is mentally traumatised, making sure they get proper medical attention.

STEPHANIE MARCH: But all this risks being lost, if politicians keep delaying the parliamentary debate, over the issue of justice.

Image: Fernanda Borges, East Timor National Unity Party Member of Parliament.

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