Jul 16, 2008
BALI–Indonesia's president has acknowledged that his country carried out gross human rights abuses during East Timor's 1999 break for independence, but stopped short of offering a full apology and said no one would be prosecuted.
A bilateral truth commission, set up in 2005 to investigate the bloodshed, said Indonesian soldiers, police and civil authorities engaged in an "organized campaign of violence" against independence supporters that included murder, torture and other abuses.
The atrocities could be constituted as "gross human rights violations in the form of crimes against humanity," the team wrote in a 300-page report presented yesterday to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and his East Timorese counterpart, Jose Ramos-Horta.
Indonesia "bears institutional responsibility," the commission said, and should apologize.
"We convey our deep regret over what happened," Yudhoyono said after signing a joint statement accepting the team's findings and expressing "remorse."
"Let us not forget those who were victimized during this dark period in our past," he said.
East Timor voted overwhelmingly to end 24 years of often-brutal Indonesian rule in a 1999 referendum that triggered a burst of killing, looting and burning by Indonesian soldiers and their militia proxies that killed at least 1,000 people.
Only one Indonesian has ever been jailed in connection with the violence.
The commission, set up to head off demands by human rights groups for a UN-backed tribunal, was not tasked with identifying perpetrators of the violence or with recommending ways to bring them to justice.
"The focus was always on the responsibility of institutions and groups, not individuals," said Yudhoyono, adding that by helping uncover truth about the violence, the two sides could work together toward building a new, lasting friendship.
Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda agreed, telling reporters: "This is clear. I don't need to mention any person involved because it was not the object of the study."
East Timor's leaders – who are battling massive poverty, social unrest and rebel soldiers who almost killed the president in February – have not pressed for more trials out of concern it would upset Indonesia, its largest trading partner and giant neighbour. The release of the report could well be the final chapter in the story.