Information und Analyse

Notes on comments by Xanana Gusmão and José Ramos-Horta on dealing with past human rights violations


Made during a Panel Discussion at the German Council on Foreign Relations (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Auswaertige Politik, DGAP), Berlin, October 20th, 2004

02 November 2004


Xanana Gusmão

Foto: Hans-Georg Gaul

Question: If East Timor’s leadership is committed to democracy, the rule of law and human rights, of which international criminal law is an inherent part, how can it be that the arrest warrant issued by the Special Panels for Serious Crimes in May 2004 is not forwarded to Interpol by the Prosecutor General? Answer by Xanana Gusmão: (Summary, based on notes taken by several listeners, not verbatim) We fought for 24 years and during the struggle we followed many other conflicts, some of them ended, some of them are on the way to end. Two and a half years after independence we are ahead of Guinea Bissau, a former Portuguese colony which was the first to start its independence struggle, and they still face human rights abuses and poverty. With our policy we have security, stability and progress. We have good relations with our big neighbour. NGOs say, on behalf of victims there must be justice. For our process, real justice was that the international community recognized our independence and helped to achieve it. For all the sacrifices of our people, our obligation is to bring them real independence, meaning social justice and development. East Timor should not live in the past, but look towards the future. What is the mandate of an international tribunal? It is to punish and to prevent atrocities. I say, don’t force East Timor to punish. Have an international tribunal. The International community should deal with punishment of crimes, not East Timor. We also committed crimes before 1975; if we wanted to start to punish ourselves, we wouldn’t exist as community. If we talk about prevention: Indonesia will not invade us again. Also, there was a process of justice in Indonesia. Look at its size and population and how many challenges they have to face today. We ask ourselves to be patient with us and with Indonesia. They are dealing with their past. We don’t want to undermine the democratization process in Indonesia in which they do very well. In the Serious Crimes Unit, we punish some militias who are stupid enough to come back. I also think that the UN is spending too much money on the Serious Crimes Unit. The lawyers there earn more than I earn as President. And there is no infrastructure for the judicial system in East Timor. We need a working competent, free and functioning judicial system, not only in Dili, but also in the country. I think the SCU can be there for 100 years for all the stupid to come back across the border. In practical terms we don’t see any benefit from this. Answer by Ramos Horta: (Summary, not verbatim)


José Ramos-Horta

Foto: Hans-Georg Gaul

We know our position on the tribunal can be challenged. I see the problem. I encounter it in East Timor as well. A short while ago I went to Ainaro. When I tried to settle a dispute between martial art groups/armed gangs, they asked me why are we to face prison or punishment, when so many others have not been punished for what happened before independence? And I tell them: “That was 1999, there was no law, no rule of law; now it’s 2004, we have rule of law. You engage in violence, you go to prison.” Now East Timor is independent and we have a criminal justice system, which applies to everyone. Each country has to deal with its reality. If things go on as they are, I am sure the Indonesians are coming to terms with our past. Indonesia now has a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. So we have to wait about the work of the truth and reconciliation commission. “I am confident that in few years the Indonesian military won’t be able to commit crimes as years ago.” If we have a chance to talk to Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, we will tell him to reign in the military in Aceh and West Papua. If there was a proposal for the establishment of an international tribunal, it would not pass the UN Security Council. If it would pass the Security Council, there would be no money for the tribunal. If there would be the money, Indonesia would not cooperate. <>

The next day the German daily taz (die tageszeitung, Sven Hansen) covered the event with the focus on the key issue discussed towards the end, namely the East Timorese Government’s lack of support for the UN investigators. In the introductory summary the taz brought to the readers’ attention that Xanana Gusmão and José Ramos-Horta spoke out in favour of ending the criminal investigation of the crimes committed by Indonesia in 1999. The article starts with the quotation of Xanana Gusmão: “Justice means real independence and a higher living standard”. It would be better to give direct support to the country, then to bring those responsible for the 99 crimes against humanity in East Timor to justice. Xanana complained about the high cost of the Serious Crimes Unit (SCU); a SCU prosecutor would earn even more than the Timorese President. “If the international community wants a tribunal they should go ahead with it, but they should not force us to do so.” Indonesia would not repeat the mistake of an intervention. Indonesia today had to face more challenges than East Timor and was in a democratisation process “If we want to help Indonesia, prevention is better than punishment. We talk about justice as justice, not as revenge. If we put justice above reconciliation, Indonesia will understand this as revenge.” Xanana had provoked criticism in May this year, when he met with the presidential candidate General Wiranto. “For the victims, Xanana’s attitude is a slap in the face”, Monika Schlicher of the Berlin based human rights organisation Watch Indonesia! is quoted as saying. “The East Timorese want justice, but the Government lacks the support. Sweeping atrocities under the carpet only leads to repetitions of the same. According to Schlicher, confidence into the rule of law can not develop without dealing with the past. Ramos-Horta appealed to give the planned Indonesian Truth and Reconciliation Commission a chance. According to information from the Foreign Office, during a meeting with the German Minister for Foreign Affairs, Joschka Fischer, who wants to visit East Timor in February, Xanana underlined the importance of reconciliation with Indonesia and of the necessity to support the former independence fighters. Their difficult social situation bore more risks than the bilateral relations with Indonesia. <>

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