28 June 2009

Fernanda Borges on Justice and Reconciliation in East Timor

Partido Unidade Nacional On Justice and Reconciliation 17 – 19 June 2009 Presentation by Fernanda Borges, PUN President - My warm greetings to all participants, First and foremost, on behalf of my party, I would like to thank the Norwegian people represented here by the Ambassador of Norway to East Timor Mr Eivind Homme, Bishop Gunnar Stalsett, Special Envoy to East Timor and Mrs Eva Irene Tuft, Charge d'Affairs at the Embassy of Norway in Dili, for facilitating this National Consensus Dialogue and for their tireless friendship and support to East Timor. It is certainly positive to come together, a range of different political parties and individuals with differing views on justice, truth and reconciliation, to try to discuss and understand these issues better for the benefit of the people of East Timor.

It is important for all of us not to see these issues from the point of personal or political interest. We need to consider the long-term impact on the nation if issues such as truth, justice and reconciliation are not addressed in a constructive manner.

Leaders need to listen to what the people are saying, listen to the vulnerable victims of the conflict who don’t have a strong voice, and respond with concrete measures to address their concerns surrounding justice, reconciliation and truth. People believe that discussing the past will lead to violence. It is possible to create mechanisms to deal with unresolved issues from the past conflict that will not lead to violence. For this to happen, political parties need to commit to honest, peaceful dialogue and not manipulate issues related to the past conflict for political gain.

The crisis that occurred in 2006 should represent a lesson to East Timor as a nation. The 2006 crisis was caused by a number of factors, including unresolved issues from the past and our failure to create a sense of national unity and strong democratic institutions to guard against conflict. Divisions remain within our society based on people and community’s roles during the internal conflict and the Indonesian occupation. It is better that these social divisions are openly discussed so we can learn how to address them and avoid future conflict.

I wish to quickly touch on four issues that have been at the heart of our discussions in the course of this dialogue.


First, we must part from the premise that without truth there cannot be justice or reconciliation. To achieve this, two significant truth-seeking exercises in the form of the CAVR and the CVA was promoted and implemented by the State very early in our independence. More needs to be done as truth needs to be used to achieve concrete results such as:

i) education programs in our schools – using the CAVR and CVA report findings to teach about history and human rights in Timor-Leste

ii) reparations for victims

iii) criminal prosecutions, and

iv) reconciliation efforts at different levels of society.


Reconciliation is a process, it is not something which can happen overnight. It will not work if we as leaders tell the people to reconcile. There have to be dedicated efforts to facilitate reconciliation through community-based programs and open dialogue between opposing political sides. The 2000 CNRT congress which was held to discuss, among other issues the idea of a truth and reconciliation commission, defined reconciliation as:

“A process, which acknowledges past mistakes including regret and forgiveness as a product of a path inherent in the process of achieving justice; it is also a process which must involve the People of Timor-Leste so that the cycle of accusation, denial and counter-accusation can be broken. This process must not be seen only as a conflict resolution or mere political tool which aims at pacification and reintegration of individuals or groups in the context of their acceptance of independence and sovereignty of Timor-Leste but, above all, must be seen as a process where truth must be the outcome.”

Reconciliation depends upon both sides of the conflict. However, the person or group at fault must admit this fault and demonstrate remorse for what they have done. This makes it more likely that victims will be willing to personally forgive perpetrators and move forward.


The issue of justice is important because only through justice can we stop impunity in East Timor. Victims see that perpetrators have not been held responsible for their crimes and this makes them lose confidence in the state and its legal system. Perpetrators feel that they are untouchable and people don’t fear the law, leading to violent crime, abuse of power and corruption.

Do we want to build a nation based on the rule of law or on political divisions? Justice should not be a political issue because it is based on the law and all should be equally subject to the law – whether they were pro-autonomy or pro-independence. This is what it says in the constitution. If we decide to seriously address the question of justice for crimes against humanity and war crimes, this will demonstrate the Timorese state’s condemnation of past rights abuses and indicate a commitment to creating a just and peaceful state.

It is not a question of taking everyone who committed a crime during the 25 year conflict to court, it is a question of bringing those responsible for the most serious crimes to trial. Those people who committed crimes against humanity or war crimes. These are international crimes that we should prosecute due to our international obligations and our need to end impunity in this country.

I would also like to take this opportunity to highlight here that the international community, in particular the United Nations has full responsibility under international law to prosecuting crimes against humanity that occurred in East Timor. It should not be left to the East Timor State to bear this burden alone as this international commitment is important for humanity. It is for this reason that my party, PUN has been calling for an international tribunal to prosecute these crimes.

We all heard from presenters and participants that pursuing justice through criminal trials is difficult. However, this does not mean that we should not try. Citizens’ rights to justice are enshrined in our Constitution. If we fail to deliver on these basic fundamentals then we have essentially failed to carry out our mandate successfully for the people. Worst still, as the President of the Republic Dr. Jose Ramos Horta recently stated in Jornal Nacional Diario (24 April 2009) “Weak Justice Can Destroy Peace: “when the justice system is weak in this nation, then peace will be destroyed, because people who are victims lose trust in justice, then people will take justice into their own hands and destroy peace. Justice must be 100% independent, 100% imparcial, 100% competent, in order to win the trust of the people.” [“Justisa Fraku Bele Sobu Dame”: "sistema justisa kuandu fraku iha nasaun ne’e maka dame mos sei naksobu, tamba ema ne’ebe vitima la iha ona konfiansa ba justisa, maka ema ne’e sei halo justisa ho nia liman rasik, i sobu dame. Justisa tenki 100% independente, 100% imparsial, 100% kompetenti, para bele ajuda manan konfiansa povu nian".]

Justice can occur via domestic or international court. What is important is that crimes of the past and their perpetrators are dealt with via a transparent and credible legal process. This will cost money, it will require significant technical support but we can find a way if there is the political will.


Justice and Reconciliation alone will not be sufficient to address the grave socioeconomic problems that the most vulnerable victims confront. We must provide a safety net that will help victims quickly in the form of individual and community reparations.

Reparations are the state’s legal and moral responsibility to the victims of the past conflict. The state has recognised this responsibility for victims of the 2006 conflict and should do so for 1975 – 1999 victims.

Although it is possible to say ‘we are all victims’ the reparations program proposed by the CAVR report is aimed at the most vulnerable victims who continue to suffer from negative effects of the torture, sexual abuse or other violation that they experienced. Reparations are necessary to restore the dignity of these victims and help them overcome their vulnerability.

Memorialisation is a means of providing recognition for victims and creating a society which understands the negative impact of using violence to resolve conflict.


Before concluding, I wish to say that despite finding this Dialogue a very productive and informative experience, it is important not to stop here. We need to view this event not as producing a final consensus but the start of a constructive national dialogue on how to deal with our past. Dealing with negative impact of East Timor’s long conflict is a complex matter that requires different responses such as victim reparations, human rights education, prosecutions, further truth seeking activities and institutional reform. East Timor needs to commit itself to a long term effort to promote truth, justice and reconciliation in relations to the past conflict.

We need to take the first step forward by debating the CAVR and CVA reports in parliament and then opening dialogue with communities to determine which recommendations should be implemented and how.

We need to show progress in these areas to address the frustration and anger of victims and their families about the state’s lack of attention to their plight.

Thank you.

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