Friday, April 15, 2011

Session II: East Timor (Part II)

Fernanda Borges, MP: Why Implementation of CAVR is Critical to the Success of Timor Leste

Fernanda Borges, a Parliamentarian in East Timor, began her presentation by describing a broad selection of challenges to justice in East Timor, which collectively contribute to the lack of political will referenced by conference participants throughout the day. To start, key parties are opposed to transitional justice because they want to maintain a political advantage; and pursuing transitional justice before the 2012 elections raises “old baggage,” as no one wants to be held accountable for past atrocities. Moreover, the national justice system is weak and bureaucratic. There is no separation of powers within the government, and power largely rests within the hands of three individuals. There has never really been formal justice in East Timor and the UN has not been consistent in ensuring transitional justice. Overall, reconciliation with Indonesia is the priority, and thus in many ways, Indonesia is still governing affairs in East Timor, despite its independence.

Borges cautioned that the weak institutions and justice mechanisms in East Timor create the potential for the growth of authoritarianism. Furthermore, recent incidents—such as post-election violence, an assassination attempt, and more generally, deepening corruption—suggest that a “fear of justice” is manifesting itself through politically motivated violence.

At the end of her talk, Borges identified several major issues that must be addressed if East Timor is committed to promoting accountability. The first is determining how to handle the return of refugees from Indonesia, which includes determining the vetting process. The second is continuing the serious crimes investigations that were initiated by the UN; parliamentarians must be involved in the working group addressing these investigations. The government should also prioritize reparations and work with Indonesia to cultivate a culture of non-violence. Lastly, there is strong political will for finding the missing, but there needs to be a systematic way of doing so.

Geoffrey Robinson: Legacies of Violence: East Timor Ten Years On

UCLA history professor Geoffrey Robinson began his presentation by discussing the release of Martenus Bere, who was charged in the September 1999 Suai massacre, on August 30, 2009, the tenth anniversary of the vote for independence in East Timor. Bere was released into the hands of Indonesian authorities and virtually guaranteed that he would not be prosecuted, though he had been indicted. The decision to release Bere passed “virtually without comment” among dignitaries celebrating the anniversary.

Robinson described this incident to illuminate a number of tensions that still exist in East Timor today. These tensions include deep and lasting legacies of decades of violence; the failure on the part of the East Timor government to uphold its own commitment to justice; and the reluctance on the part of major powers and the UN to insist Indonesia be held accountable for past crimes. The legacies of violence are most apparent in the consistent pattern of mobilization of militia groups to commit acts of violence for political purposes, even in the absence of the Indonesian military.

One way to disrupt this legacy of violence is to ensure that those who are responsible for serious crimes, including crimes against humanity, are brought to justice. However, the pattern of impunity is not limited to the violence of 1999; senior officials involved in violent crimes between 2006-2008 remain free as well. East Timor’s own leaders have argued against punitive justice, instead arguing for restorative justice. Reconciliation with Indonesia is presented as essential to stability and security, and consequently justice for past atrocities takes a back seat. This policy endorses a hierarchy of values that leaves many victims without a remedy and allows the violence to continue. Robinson pointed out that East Timor’s argument that stability and security must be higher priorities than justice mimics the arguments that Indonesia itself made in the 1980s, as it was being criticized on human rights grounds. Consequently, the argument sounds particularly hollow.

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