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Truth and Friendship Commission report shows Indonesia directed violence

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24-04timorlest.jpgThe much anticipated Truth and Friendship Commission's (CTF) final report was released recently. FORUM-ASIA's partner in Timor Leste, the Judicial Systems Monitoring Programme (JSMP) has conducted a series of interviews on the CTF with victims and community representatives from several districts. Reviewing evidence examined by previous investigations into the conflict, the report draws some familiar conclusions.

For example, it found that in 1999, the Indonesian military directed Timorese militia campaigns responsible for gross human rights violations.

"This is worth celebrating as it is a reversal of the official Indonesian position that the violence was solely a result of internal conflict," said JSMP in a statement.

JSMP said the report acknowledge its limitations and admitted that the process of hearing was flawed.

"Findings appear to reflect some Commissioners' frustrations with the grandstanding and evasiveness of witnesses, and with the inability to pursue sensitive lines of questioning," said the human rights NGO based in Dili.

The CTF was empowered to recommend amnesties for perpetrators who showed remorse and cooperated fully. However, none have been found to have fulfilled the above criteria. Therefore, no recommendations for amnesty were made.

The Commission's mandate did not extend to reparations. It has established an agreed history of events but the process is seen by many as further sidelining the voices and interests of victims. Even the report's laudable recommendation for a public apology by heads of state – an important symbolic step toward redress – has seemingly met with official resistance.

The comments JSMP received from several of its interviewees, among other things, included:

* The CTF is aimed at protecting leaders who were directly or indirectly involved in the humanitarian crisis that resulted from occupation by Indonesia.

* Lack of grassroots education about the CTF process that led to much confusion and likely also to an incomplete assessment of the impact of pre-independence violence.

* The report recommends investigation of disappearances from this period and documentation of the conflict – these are laudable measures.

* However, instead of emphasizing the creation of new legal processes and entities, critics feel that it should instead provide more practical, compensatory measures.

* For families of the victims of 1999, the existence of the CTF makes citizens feel as if those who died are not being given any value by the government. When will we get justice if the government lacks the good will?

* Need for strong diplomatic ties between Indonesia and East Timor should not supersede the call to bring perpetrators to justice.

* In accordance with the Commission's terms of reference, the report did not name those responsible for coordinating the violence; nor does it advocate prosecutions.

* Number of those polled by JSMP spoke of their belief that too many questions yet remain unanswered in the interest of political expediency.

The CTF was intended to put an end to national debate over the cause and effect of East Timor's troubled rise to nationhood, though clearly it has not quelled public outrage.

Politicians on both sides have played down the prospect of a tribunal to further investigate the crimes against humanity that were unquestionably visited upon the Timorese people.

Despite the unwillingness of government, community support for a court-based approach is unyielding.