Wednesday, March 29, 2006

No moral high road in East Timor conflict

“JAMES S. KALLMAN: A number of recent articles in this newspaper have referred to the establishment of a Special Crimes Unit (SCU) of the United Nations to investigate and prosecute possible war crimes in connection with East Timor. According to an article in The Jakarta Post on Feb. 22, "The SCU has legally processed 83 cases and could decide to indict high-ranking Indonesian military officials."

The prosecution of war criminals, whoever and wherever they may be, is a laudable and necessary endeavor for those of us who value human rights and purport to uphold the values of a civilized society. However, it should not be forgotten that the long-running civil war in East Timor was, as are all guerrilla conflicts, a dirty little war that pulled participants on both sides into a vicious circle of escalating violence. In other words, there were crimes on both sides of the fence.

In fact, in a Jan. 29, 2002, interview, then interim East Timor foreign minister Jose Ramos-Horta told the Associated Press that he was "shocked by the number of Fretilin human rights abuses". At the same time, AP reported that Ramos-Horta told human rights activists and diplomats that "in the Fretilin-held areas of the mountains, there were gross human rights abuses as serious as any committed by Indonesian troops or their proxy militias".

This may be one of the underlying reasons why both Ramos-Horta and Xanana Gusmau have been less than enthusiastic in supporting the SCU's action in singling out only Indonesian Military figures for prosecution. Both leaders have been adamant in their championing of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to sort out the black deeds of the past rather than pursuing prosecutions. These men both know better than anyone else that guerrilla warfare by its very nature promotes atrocities and neither side in this kind of conflict ever has any moral high road to claim. In all fairness, whatever process is used to sort out this particularly sordid bit of history, it should be one that looks at both sides with equal scrutiny.”

Source: The Jakarta Post (from UNOTIL Public Information Office, Daily Media Review)

Category: Timor-Leste (East Timor)

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