Justice for East Timorese

The following paragraphs are excerpts from a very good, but very long piece in The Age this moring…

No peace without justice in East Timor

Lindsay Murdoch

The Age, April 4, 2009

Worshippers in many Catholic churches across Australia will be asked to observe a minute’s silence this weekend to mark the 10th anniversary on Monday of what the world came to know as the Liquica massacre.

Eurico Guterres, one of its alleged organisers, will spend the anniversary campaigning across the border [from East Timor] in Indonesian West Timor to be elected a member of Indonesia’s national parliament.

Former general Wiranto, the man who was in charge of the military that inflicted terror across East Timor that year, will be campaigning to be elected Indonesia’s next president.

But in East Timor, 10 years has not dimmed the memories or fervour.

“When I speak with the victims, the one thing they ask me is, ‘When will there be justice?”‘ says Christina Carrascalao, who works to help improve the lives of the survivors, many of them poor, illiterate farmers. “I tell them I can’t answer that.”

The United Nations Serious Crimes Unit in Dili, which investigated the attack, said in court-filed documents that militiamen and Indonesian soldiers took part in the killings.

A campaign of terror targeting independence supporters continued across the half-island nation for months.

What the Indonesian organisers did not count on is the bravery of the long suffering East Timorese, who defied the intimidation and voted overwhelmingly in a United Nations referendum in August that year to break from Jakarta’s rule and become the world’s newest nation.

“Ten years later we want to get on with our lives but it’s difficult when there hasn’t been justice for what happened,” Christina Carrascalao says.

But only low to mid-level militiamen have been convicted over the massacre or any of the other atrocities committed in East Timor in 1999, with higher ranking personnel, including Indonesian military and police officers, beyond reach in Indonesia.

[Then mayor of Liquica, a town of 30,000 people,] Leoneto Martins was among 19 accused who stood trial for crimes against humanity at a tribunal in Jakarta that human rights groups described as a sham. All were eventually acquitted.

Eurico Guterres served two years of a 10-year sentence for crimes against humanity before being acquitted on appeal in 2008.

East Timor’s leaders Jose Ramos Horta, a 1996 Nobel laureate, and Xanana Gusmao, a former freedom fighter, oppose calls for an international war crimes tribunal, saying reconciliation is more important than new trials and warning of a possible backlash within elements of the Indonesian military and destabilisation of their country’s fledgling democracy.

Gusmao is scheduled to go to the church this weekend to mark the anniversary. He will not receive the hero’s welcome he did in 1999 when he returned to East Timor after spending six years in a Jakarta jail.

Clinton Fernandes, a former Australian intelligence officer who was reporting on East Timor in 1999, says most East Timorese cannot see why they should be punished for petty crimes, such as stealing a chicken, when people responsible for mass murder go unpunished.

“The rule of law today cannot succeed amid a culture of impunity for horrific crimes,” says Fernandes, who now lectures at the University of NSW. He says the Liquica massacre particularly shocked the world because of the clear involvement of Indonesia’s powerful military in escalating violence against pro-independence supporters, which was being denied at the time by the then Indonesian and Australian governments.

Fernandes says the massacre also violated the sanctity of the church, where an estimated 2000 people had fled to escape violence

“There is no statute of limitations for serious crimes such as murder, torture and sexual slavery,” he says.

“With time and pressure, there will be an international tribunal. It is a cause worth pursuing and the only way ahead.”

Lindsay Murdoch is Darwin correspondent.

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~ by Garry on April 4, 2009.

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