Long-term development in East Timor – which celebrates the tenth anniversary of its vote for independence on Sunday 29 August 2009 – will be “seriously hindered” if justice for past crimes remains undelivered, the international development agency Progressio has warned.
Despite a decade of self-rule, East Timor is still the poorest country in the region and one of the least developed nations in the world. An estimated 40 per cent of the East Timorese people live on less than a dollar a day.
Progressio’s Advocacy Coordinator for Asia, Dr Steve Kibble, comments: “Ten years ago this Sunday (August 30th), the East Timorese people bravely voted for independence and a new beginning following a quarter-century of Indonesian occupation. Yet justice for the crimes committed during that dark period of the country’s history, when an estimated 100,000 people lost their lives, has still not been delivered. Without justice, instability and impunity will continue to seriously hinder East Timor’s development.”
Although a comprehensive investigation into crimes committed in East Timor was carried out by an independent Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation (CAVR) from 2001-2005, as yet no-one has been prosecuted for the human rights violations identified in its final report.
Many local and international organisations and many East Timorese, say justice remains largely undelivered and impunity is commonplace. Rameiro Ximenes dos Santos, survivor of a brutal massacre in Liquiça in April 1999, said: “Justice for the past needs to take place. If not, everything gets stuck. If we don’t sort it out, then we will have more problems.”
Julinho Ximenhes, who survived the Santa Cruz massacre in 1999 and now works for a human rights organisation in the East Timorese capital Dili, said: “I hope that the violence that happened here during the Indonesian occupation will not be repeated and that the next generation – our children – will be aware of these violations and justice will be done. Those who are responsible for the crimes in East Timor should be held accountable.”
Progressio (formerly the Catholic Institute for International Realtions), which has a development programme in East Timor, has been running its 'East Timor: Who Cares?' campaign for the past year. The campaign calls on the UK government to provide financial and technical support for a justice centre in East Timor to promote accountability for past crimes.
The 1999 referendum – which saw 78 per cent of the Timorese population opt for independence – unleashed a torrent of violence in which an estimated 1400 people were killed. The events were widely reported by international media and condemned the world over.
In 2008 a bilateral Indonesian-Timorese truth commission agreed that “gross human rights violations” were committed by Indonesian forces as Indonesia withdrew from East Timor in late 1999.
The commission squarely blamed the Indonesian army for what it called “an organised campaign of violence”. To date, none of those who ordered the massacres have been successfully prosecuted.