The politics of justice in E. Timor

Whether justice can be served in East Timor depends in large part on politics in Indonesia, the territory's former occupier.

On Jan. 31 the Indonesian Com-mission for Human Rights Violations in East Timor concluded Indonesia's former armed forces chief, Gen. Wiranto, "must ... bear responsibility" for systematic crimes against humanity in the territory.

The government commission named 33 pro-Indonesia East Timorese leaders and Indonesian officers and soldiers as being "suspected of involvement" in these crimes. They include Dili regional commander Col. Muhammad Noer Muis and Lt. Col. Jacob Sarosa, the Battalion 745 commander.

Indonesia's attorney general is now deciding whether the government should prosecute its own military. Politically powerful generals are fighting this effort and deny any responsibility for the violence. "We supported the ballot [which was] carried out successfully and also declared martial law to prevent human rights abuses occurring in East Timor," Wiranto said recently.

President Abdurrahman Wahid suspended Wiranto from a Cabinet post following the commission's report, but Mr. Wahid has also said he will pardon the general if he is ever convicted of crimes.

Wahid has used the East Timor issue as leverage in his fight to push the generals out of politics. In that sense, the past violence in East Timor is contributing to the democratization of Indonesia.

But "nationalism will rear its head if [Wahid] pushes too hard,'' warns Kusmanto Anggoro, an analyst at Jakarta's Center for Strategic and International Studies. He expects a trial will be held, but Wiranto will be spared. "They'll go after a few on-the-ground commanders. I don't think they'll have the clout to go higher.''

"Having given a pardon to Wiranto," says Bob Lowry, an Australian expert on the Indonesian military, "it would seem very, very difficult to go down the line and put anyone in jail."

The UN and the US threaten to push for an international human rights tribunal if Indonesia doesn't bring those responsible for the chaos in East Timor to justice.

Meanwhile, in Dili, UN investigators are struggling with their caseload. They say at least 500 murders took place last September. "The number could be much higher," says Sydney Jones, director of the UN human rights office in East Timor.

*Dan Murphy contributed to this report from Jakarta.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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