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21 March 2009

Crimes against Humanity: Japanese Diplomacy, East Timor and the 'Truth Commission'

Crimes against Humanity: Japanese Diplomacy, East Timor and the 'Truth Commission' By Geoffrey C. Gunn For centuries a backwater of Portuguese colonialism at the eastern end of the Indonesian archipelago, East Timor should have won its independence on 28 November 1975 when the majority FRETILIN party declared independence. Days later, ahead of a Portuguese withdrawal, Indonesian forces advancing from Indonesian West Timor invaded and occupied the half-island nation. Declassified documents reveal that, fearful of the emergence of a “Southeast Asian Cuba,” the US Ford Administration abetted the invasion, just as the US emerged as the largest arms supplier to the pro-Western government of General Suharto. Nevertheless, the United Nations never recognized the illegal Indonesian invasion and FRETILIN and supporters, including East Timor’s former colonial overlord, Portugal, waged a successful diplomatic struggle to re-engage the decolonization/independence question.

Following a landmark meeting in New York in May 1999 between Indonesia, Portugal and the UN, agreement was reached to conduct a referendum whereupon East Timorese could vote for independence or merger with Indonesia. With 80 percent choosing independence at the 30 August 1999 ballot, the Indonesian military unleashed devastating militia violence bringing together rare consensus on the part of the Security Council for the insertion of an international peacekeeping force to restore security and offset a major humanitarian crisis. And so, following a quarter century under Indonesian occupation, and two and a half years under United Nations administration, the territory eventually achieved independence in May 2002 as the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste (DRTL). Especially given the demographic loss at the hands of the invaders, now estimated to be between one quarter and one third of the population, the new nation continues to grapple with the historical legacy of invasion and war in a process that some have compared to South Africa’s attempts to achieve reconciliation as a foundation for national unity. [1]

The Report on International Actors was originally commissioned by the UN-backed East Timor Reception, Truth and Reconciliation Commission or CAVR (as it is commonly known by its Portuguese acronym). Loosely based upon the South African model, the East Timor “Truth Commission” was the first established in the Asian region. Written exclusively by the author using the resources available in the Comarca headquarters of CAVR in Dili, the East Timor capital, between 4 June and 31 July 2003, final revisions were offered on 15 August 2003. Part of a national and international team of human rights investigators, the author's submission was intended for inclusion in a multi-volume investigation on crimes against humanity committed in East Timor from 1975 to 1999, following extensive discussion and editing by the CAVR commissioners. The section on Japan, which is reproduced here, took its place alongside lengthier analyses of the crucial US and Australian roles, especially relating to military assistance. Other sections relating to “international actors” included analysis of the role of the UN system, the Vatican, international media, foreign aid, and various solidarity organizations.

Coinciding with the completion of CAVR's mission in 31 October 2005, the final CAVR report dubbed Chega or Enough was presented to Timor-Leste President and former hero of the armed struggle of resistance, Jose “Xanana” Gusmão, for ratification prior to submission to parliament. The President was also required by law to submit the report to the UN Secretary-General, then to be referred to the Security Council, the General Assembly, the Special Committee on Decolonization, and the UN Commission on Human Rights. But, in presenting the report to the East Timor legislature on 28 November, the President described sections of the report relating to reparations from the countries that had supplied weapons and military training as “politically unrealistic.” He also backed away from a recommendation to revive the UN-backed special crimes unit, also endorsed in June 2005 by a UN Commission of Experts report to the Security Council. The Timor-Leste President further recommended that the document not be made public, implying that it could be injurious to the national interest, a veiled reference to Indonesian displeasure at the revelations, although the concerned international actors might well likewise be embarrassed by the findings.

Notably absent from the author’s submission is the role of the Indonesian armed forces inside East Timor (1975-1999), including the death toll and human rights abuses, which are well covered in CAVR investigations. My brief was to highlight the role of other international actors who either supported or contrived with the Indonesian armed forces. After all, this was a tragedy that could have been averted if the key international supporters of the Jakarta government had the political will to intervene on the side of international law, decolonization and social justice. More the pity that these international actors have so far eluded responsibility for their actions.

In August 2003, CAVR made public its intention to convene hearings in Washington, Canberra, Lisbon, and Jakarta on the role of international actors in the making of the East Timor tragedy, although in fact this did not transpire. This was of no small interest given such shifts in international legal norms as the accomplice liability provisions of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) adopted in July 1998. While the prospect of prosecution as an accomplice remains largely in theory, typically such hearings – sometimes dubbed “people’s tribunals” – seek to send a strong message to state or even corporate suppliers of military, economic and other assistance in situations of breaches of international humanitarian law.

To date, only the 215 page executive summary of the entire 2,500 page official CAVR report has been released. As explained by Jeff Kingston in “Peace or Justice? East Timor’s Troubled Road” (Japan Focus, December 21 2005), the summary was specific as to Japan’s failure to use its considerable economic leverage with Indonesia. While the chapter headings of my submission were prescribed by CAVR, the writing, selection, and interpretation of facts are my own. In releasing this excerpt on the role of Japan, the author also seeks to activate public truth-seeking over the role of international actors in the East Timor tragedy, long veiled by official censorship, and now deflected by the search on the part of the United States and other nations for reliable allies in the war on terror. The version below is slightly edited for consistency only, with notes providing additional information. Read the full article...

1999 East Timor Crimes Against Humanity
- Accounts of atrocities and human rights abuses in East Timor in 1999.

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