IFET letter to President Xanana Gusmão

International Federation for East Timor, March 31, 2003

Kay Rala Xanana Gusmão
President of the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste
Palace of the Ashes
Dili, Timor-Leste


Xanana Gusmão

Photo: Jörg Meier

Your Excellency,

Having regard to our continuing solidarity with the people of Timor-Leste in their tasks of reconstruction and nation-building, we are writing to express our concern about your response to the decision by the Serious Crimes Unit (SCU) to indict on 24 February 2003 several high-ranking Indonesian military officers for crimes against humanity committed in Timor-Leste in 1999.

The trials in Jakarta’s ad hoc human rights court have been a manifest travesty of justice so the international community and the Government of Timor-Leste must share the responsibility of providing justice for East Timor. To this end, the issuing of the indictments by the SCU is a major step towards holding the highest-ranking perpetrators to account and relieving the suffering of the many thousands of Timorese victims and their families. We were therefore dismayed by your statement that the process is not in the national interest of Timor-Leste and by the impression given by Foreign Minister José Ramos Horta on a visit to Jakarta at the beginning of March that relations with Indonesia are more important than justice. We are also disappointed by your insistence that an international tribunal is not a priority for Timor-Leste.

At the same time, we warmly welcome your praise for the professionalism and integrity of the Serious Crimes Panel and the office of the Prosecutor-General and your support for the independence of the judiciary, expressed in Mr. Horta’s statement to the current session of the UN Commission on Human Rights.

In expressing our concerns, we are acutely aware of the views of the victims and many other Timorese who believe that stability, peace and reconciliation cannot be achieved without justice.

We greatly admire your statesmanship in promoting reconciliation and good relations with Indonesia and we fully support those objectives. However, we do not believe that they are incompatible with the pursuit of justice nor that they should be given priority over justice.

Ultimately, the relationship between the two countries will not work if it relies on concessions by one side alone. Indonesia must be encouraged to understand that it will be strengthened as a nation if it confronts the issue of impunity and in particular the responsibility of its armed forces for gross violations in Timor-Leste.

It should be made clear that the proceedings against the military officers are not an attack on the people of Indonesia, but are aimed solely at those individuals and institutions which inflicted appalling violence on the people of Timor-Leste and did grave harm to the name of Indonesia. We believe that, as well as supporting the serious crimes process, the Government of Timor-Leste should be working to develop its relations with the people of Indonesia in their struggle for democracy and respect for the rule of law.

We fear that your response to the indictments could encourage Indonesian authorities to ignore the numerous other gross violations of human rights perpetrated in their country during the three-and-a-half decades of rule under former President Suharto. Many in Indonesia continue to have their rights violated. Some of these abuses are perpetrated by or under the command of security officials responsible for similar violations in Timor-Leste. The people of Indonesia will not be well served by the continued protection of TNI impunity.

Moreover, there are worrying signs in Indonesia that the armed forces are seeking to strengthen their political role. This will not only be a setback for the pro-democracy reform process in Indonesia but will also present a threat to Timor Leste’s security.

We fully agree with your statement that Timor-Leste must pursue the process of national reconciliation by taking into account the history of the past 29 years and acts of violence perpetrated back to 1974 not just in 1999, but we would point out that national reconciliation does not require impunity for those in Indonesia who directed the violence.

You will appreciate that the support of yourself and the Government of Timor-Leste for the serious crimes process is critical if it is to succeed. We therefore urge you to re-consider your policy and to press for the indictees to be transferred to the jurisdiction of Timor-Leste.

We agree that Timor-Leste is not able to provide justice on its own. Its efforts must be fully supported by the international community and the UN must share the responsibility for administering justice. We were dismayed by the attempt by the UN to distance itself from the indictments and we will be pressing it to support the process, both politically and with the necessary resources, now and after the expiration of the UNMISET mandate in May 2004. We will continue to urge it to find other ways of bringing the perpetrators to justice, including the establishment of an international criminal tribunal and prosecutions in third countries under universal jurisdiction provisions.

We ask you to join us in urging the international community to live up to its responsibilities in this respect.

We are grateful to you for taking time to consider our representations on this crucial issue and we look forward to your response.

Yours sincerely,


John M. Miller
UN Representative
International Federation for East Timor (IFET)

International Federation for East Timor (IFET)
Secretariat: Charles Scheiner
P.O. Box 88 Dili, East Timor
via Darwin, Australia
Tel. +61-417-923273 or +670-390-325013

U.N. Representative: John M. Miller
48 Duffield St., Brooklyn, NY 11201 USA
Tel. +1-718-596-7668
fax: +1-718-222-4097

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