'We had to pay with blood and bones for freedom'
Monday March 15th 2010
Fernanda Borges is the leader of Timor Leste’s Pun (National Unity Party) and currently the only female leader of a political party in the national Parliament. After winning three seats (4.5% of the vote) in the 2007 national elections, Borges declined an invitation to join the coalition government formed by prime minister Xanana Gusmao. Pun currently holds two seats in the parliament. Borges has been a vocal critic of Gusmao and president Jose Ramos Horta’s performance on law and justice issues, particularly the recent release and return to Indonesia of accused war criminal Maternus Bere (a Timorese-born Indonesian citizen) before he could be put on trial in Timor Leste. Borges also supports the establishment of an international tribunal to try Indonesian military, and Timorese militias – and controversially also Timorese resistance forces – accused of crimes against humanity between 1975 and 1999.
After ten years the focus is back on us – can we do it? Or are we going to break down from a fragile state to an ungovernable state. It’s a fine line that Timor is treading. It’s a really big ask for the old generation of leaders to put national interest above their own personal dilemmas, their own baggage that they have accumulated over many, many years of resistance and ten years of trying to govern this country and achieve results for the people. It is also now a challenge for the youth, for the younger generation. People like myself who are in their 40s and mid-30s, who are coming through and have had some exposure to governance issues, have new ideas, want to participate, and want to contribute. But the space in which we are allowed to do that is very limited, because the democratic processes are not being allowed to be enacted, to be implemented properly.
We (PUN) defend the principles of what is right in the national interest. One of those principles is the rule of law – and justice for the 1974–1999 crimes, which our constitution also calls for; for justice to take place, for reparations, the truth to be discovered, missing persons found – if possible, returned to families. We have stayed with these principles, fighting for good governance, and focusing on delivery of services to the people. Because unless you have a government that can deliver services to the people, the objective of having a government is not being met.
Unfortunately the creation of institutions alone – and necessary basic laws – are not enough. It requires the culture and the goodwill of politicians to really implement those laws properly to allow for the principles of democracy to work properly in a country like ours, particularly one that comes from a post conflict situation like East Timor. Where you have leaders that were in the guerrilla transition coming forward to govern the country – governance is different to guerrilla warfare – as we are discovering now.
To be successful in East Timor the leadership has to have the people with them. Not the people far away from them, somewhere else. We have this disconnect at the moment, between Ramos Horta and Xanana Gusmao [and the people] – a complete disconnect.
Take the Maternus Bere case. Someone who was already indicted by the courts, captured, brought before a judge, put in jail awaiting trial, was then released after a decision by the Prime Minister, defying all the institutions that are there to stop this from happening. Every serious crime needs to be brought before a national or international court.
The judicial issues in Timor are not just about the past. It is about dealing with the rule of law in the country to stop corruption, in order to have confidence in the business sector, for investment to come in, because then you are saying to the people that the law is above everybody, and the courts decide on those things, and you can guarantee people their rights thought judicial processes, the courts making those decisions not just the politicians. You are then instilling human rights.
Anyone who gets to know our history will realise the Timorese people have been yearning for justice – real justice – since the colonial period. The Indonesians only made it more prominent. We Timorese had to pay with blood and bones to get our freedom. For us, justice is integral to anything we do. The people have a very deep sense within them that this is important. That is why I believe we can fight corruption; we can fight the crimes that come up, because people want it.
Reconciliation with Indonesia? We want that, and we should try and put the past behind us, we should be friends with our neighbours. But the people say it cannot be done without justice. This is not only for the Timorese people’s benefit, it is also for the Indonesians living in Indonesia, Because in doing so we are strengthening both countries, we are strengthening both people’s rights. Our call for an international tribunal comes from that – to get both countries working properly, helping each other to work properly. It is also about us putting our past properly behind us.
I also think that those crimes that were committed under international law, clearly are the international community’s responsibility. Because it was crimes against humanity it is incumbent on the UN, particularly the 1999 crimes when the UN was mandated by the Security Council to carry out a referendum. The 5th of May agreement was signed by the Indonesians that they would provide security, they have got to be called to account for that. They didn’t provide security - in fact they created militias that later on violated people’s rights.
While President Ramos Horta and Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao are in power we are never going to see anyone come in and be prosecuted. And in not being able to do it, the militias are spitting in the face of the victims. We are also calling for it because we don’t have the capacity in the country to be able to try such a difficult case. It would put too much stress on diplomatic relations with Indonesia.
Our resistance was not all honourable, there were a lot of things that happened, a lot of the political actors were involved, and committed or ordered crimes to be committed in this country. The [Timorese] people know who committed these hideous crimes, they know who has done wrong – but they can’t do anything. And while they remain in very important positions, it’s very difficult for the people to feel free. You are free, you are independent, but you are not free from those that violated your rights, that killed your family member. We are free from Indonesia, but we are not free from the wounds that they inflicted on us over the years, of killing thousand and thousands of Timorese – we are not free from that
How do you free people? It’s not bringing back those that died, but instilling a process for victims to free themselves, to become truly free. At the moment its not possible. It’s the same for victims from 1975, they need to be free from those wounds, they are bleeding. It is the courts, it is looking at the facts, enabling victims to tell their story – the truth. The courts will analyse the evidence and decide in the appropriate manner, in accordance with the law.
In the 2010 election we aim for a minimum of six seats – to be able to get into government. If we can get those six seats then we will be in a position to say we will go into government on the following basis and negotiate a platform on which we can contribute. But its got to be negotiated properly, we don’t want to be sandwiched. Once you are in government you have to compromise, so we need to negotiate an agreement that is clear to the people.
That means justice for crimes against humanity, genocide, war crimes, all those things that are hard for some people to swallow, we will want those in place, If they are not interested in that then of course we cannot have a seat in government, because we will not be talking the same language, we will not be able to agree.
• Fernanda Borges was interviewed by Anthony Anderton