The respected East Timorese human rights organisation La’o Hamutuk is demanding that the Indonesian government finally be held accountable for their bloody 24-year occupation of East Timor.
This month, to mark the 22-year anniversary of the notorious Santa Cruz massacre — when Indonesian soldiers murdered over 200 peaceful student protesters in cold blood — La’o Hamutuk and a collective of Timorese human rights organisations issued a joint declaration demanding that all Indonesians involved in crimes during the occupation be brought to justice. (Amnesty’s 2011 statement on the 20-year anniversary gives the clearest overview of events and numbers of those who died at Santa Cruz.)
Celestino Gusmão and Mariano Ferreira, activists with La’o Hamutuk, draw a direct correlation with current human rights abuses in West Papua. They told New Matilda that people in Timor-Leste are still suffering today because of the atrocities committed by the Indonesian military.
“We have clear examples of the consequences of impunity — in West Papua and other places in Indonesia, almost every day, people are murdered, tortured, raped or ‘disappeared’. In Timor, the Indonesian occupation also murdered and ‘disappeared’ many people," says Gusmão.
"These bad memories are still alive in the survivors’ minds, while criminals are still free to move around. Without justice it is even harder for us to forget or accept the horror that we lived through.”
The joint declaration condemns Prime Minister Xanana Gusmão for publicly embracing the infamous retired Indonesian Military Commander Wiranto in 2004 and developing warm diplomatic relations with Indonesia:
“Military perpetrators do not fear criminal accountability … In Timor-Leste, our leaders follow only what the big men want, not what the law directs."
Indonesian atrocities during its occupation of East Timor are well documented. The Timor-Leste Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation (CAVR) estimates that 102,800 people were murdered or disappeared, with 84,200 dying from starvation or illness. Many more were raped, tortured or displaced.
Apart from a handful of dedicated international activists, the world largely turned a blind eye to Indonesia’s reign of terror until the Santa Cruz massacre, which was covertly filmed by several Western journalists, was exposed in 1991.
In addition to the joint declaration, La’o Hamutuk continue to needle the Indonesians, recently publishing an open letter requesting they release the whereabouts of the bodies of Timorese resistance fighters killed during the occupation. La’o Hamutuk say this is essential to both wider reconciliation and the healing of the families of those who were killed:
“During the resistance many of our soldiers were brutally murdered or captured and tortured. The families of the missing soldiers and the others that disappeared during the occupation want the bodies of their loved ones returned so they can give them a proper burial."
Echoing calls in the joint declaration, the letter also demands that the international community take its share of responsibility for enabling human rights abuses by supporting the Indonesian occupation.
“We want the governments of the UK, US and Australia and the international companies that benefited from the illegal Indonesian occupation to take responsibility for their complicity. They have an obligation to help us because they supported the occupation. We want them to support the establishment of an international tribunal to investigate human rights abuses by the Indonesian military. This will establish the truth and will have the legal capacity to ensure Timorese people obtain fair reparations from the perpetrators and from the major nations that benefited from Indonesian occupation, as CAVR recommends.”
In many ways, East Timor today can be viewed as a success story. Since independence in 2002, infrastructure has been developed, children educated and real efforts made to deal with corruption. The Gusmão government hopes that a sustainable financial future might be possible, if substantial oil and gas reserves are used correctly.
However, according to La’o Hamutuk, the many wounds inflicted by the Indonesians must be healed before the country can really move on.
“The government is only thinking about developing the economy, not dealing with the past,” says Ferreira. “But genuine accountability will help to bring greater democracy and justice to the people of Timor-Leste.”
Dr Gordon Peake is the author of Beloved Land, which was published in September and tells the many different stories of East Timor. He says that reconciliation is a not a straightforward issue. “Timor’s situation can’t be found in a peace-building handbook,” he told New Matilda.
He suggests that the East Timorese government is merely being practical in its dealings with Indonesia, acting to secure the future of the country.
“The government are being Class A pragmatists. Indonesia could put Timor in its pocket, if it wanted to — Dili would close down if Indonesia stopped supplying goods and products.”
Alongside these discussions of reconciliation, Peake suggests that more attention needs to be paid to conflict-related mental health in East Timor. A 2000 study in The Lancet found that more than one fifth of East Timorese had witnessed the murder of a relative or friend, he writes in Beloved Land. A University of Auckland study found that 5 per cent of people had post-traumatic stress disorder, with 12 per cent exhibiting signs of psychosis. “It’s amazing that the statistics are as low as they are,” he said.
It may not be easy to bring those involved in human rights abuses to justice. Thirteen years on, many of those involved, both Indonesians and Timorese, now live in relative peace and obscurity, while the families of their victims continue to suffer. La’o Hamutuk insists that the past needs to be dealt with before the future can be assured.
“Everyone in Timor has been a victim of the illegal Indonesian occupation,” Ferreira says. “Justice is needed to satisfy all the people that lost their beloved ones and justice is the only credible way to deal with criminals and respect those who died.”
The East Timor Ministry of Justice did not respond to requests for comment for this article.
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