This is an input broadcasted in three parts 26 September, 
1999, on Indonesia-Act <> and on
Reg.East-Timor <> lists.
(re-editted to eliminate typos and mounted 27-Sep-1999)

Bringing the Guilty to Justice

Efforts to bring Indonesian generals responsible for the genocide and scorched earth in East Timor before an international court have mainly been treated from the perspective of establishing law and justice in an international scale in the post-cold war period.
> The easiest thing in the world is to do nothing and just let 
> tyrants go on slaughtering innocent people like the East Timorese.
> I don't think the public want that, therefore you do what you can, 
> you get evidence where you can, and when you have a case, then you 
> bring it


> Aside from achieving successful prosecutions, there's a warning 
> element in all of this, by standing up and calling for an international 
> inquiry into the massacre of civilians, Mary Robinson put the killers
> on notice, and to go through with a tribunal would also warn others in
> the world who might be thinking of pursuing their own ends by the same
>  means.

...... etc.
This is, of course, quite correct and indeed very important. But, I think, it is not quite enough.

There are, I believe, several more important aspects of the problem, and going into them in some detail may help recruit a sufficiently wide circle of interests to get the responsible generals before an international tribunal after all.

With all due respect and trust to human rights organisations in the country and the national committee (Komnas HAM) which have all been doing a great job monitoring the situation in the country, one must not forget that thousands of "militia" thugs are busy roaming around, threatening death to political adversaries. Apart from that, one must count with the army thwarting any domestic investigations the same way it did with earlier ones (e.g. on the kidnapping of political activists, on the rape of Sino-Indonesian woman and girls, on the killing and torturing of innocent muslim civilians in Aceh). Therefore, there is really no realistic alternative to an impartial international tribunal.

Incidentally, since the "militia" has widened its area of operation to include most of the territory of Indonesia proper, to demonstrate that they can operate there too with impunity, obstructing foreign aid-workers and even firing shots at a foreign embassy in Jakarta, they are putting the lie to statements of the army leadership in Indonesia, that the "militia" had slipped out of their control. Jakarta, Yogya, and other places where they are also terrorizing East Timorese supected of favouring independence, are furthermore outside the command territories of army generals directly in charge in East Timor. Thus, while "modestly" denying any involvement in the crimes, General Wiranto is nevertheless leaving no doubts in the minds of those with eyes to see, about who really is in charge.

Every potshot into the Australian embassy in Jakarta cannot be anything other than a personal message from General Wiranto.

And this also reveals a relatively puerile level of intellectual maturity and political discretion which may still prove to be a source of repeating embarrassments for diplomats from fellow Asian countries who have for the one or the other reason been moved to vote against an international tribunal on the crimes against humanity in East Timor, perhaps out of what they perceived as solidarity with the Indonesian government.

Now let us consider the other possibly important aspects of the problem.

1. Signal Effect for International Terrorism

Discretion on admissible forms and extent of armed resistance against oppression has always been a difficult moral question. Whereas no doubt exists about the noble motivations of those who conspired to lay a bomb to kill Hitler, most will as a rule seriously question the decision to kill British officers by blowing up the King David Hotel, and one would have to be a militant extremist to want to understand the massacre of sportsmen in the Olympic village in Munich. Under conditions of the cold war, we witnessed a complete devaluation of moral restraints, so that countless innocent air passengers, pedestrians, etc. became the hostages of hijackers, bombers, and performers of other forms of terror.

Against this background, the valiant fight of the East Timorese for independence provides a startling contrast. For 24 years, they kept up stiff armed resistance against overwhelming odds (the Indonesian army held more men under arms, than the entire male adult population of East Timor capable of carrying arms!), inspite of the cruelest sacrifices (one quarter of the population, 200,000 people died).

Nevertheless, although Soeharto Indonesia was supported in this and armed for it by leading Western democracies (occasionally in direct violation of own laws!), and his army trained by them, the East Timorese never even considered any retaliatary acts of terror. Not that they did not have the opportunity. The East Timorese could rely on an extensive diaspora. But there has never been even a hint of anything like plane hijacking, kidnappings, bomb threats, destruction of property, or sabotage of industrial installations throughout those 24 years. (Any belligerent acts were aimed directly at the occupational armed forces in accordance with the basic human right to resist against oppression -- a right we Indonesians had once also made full use of in defending our independence against our former colonial masters).

The East Timorese guerilla (Falintil) even complied with UNAMET in allowing itself to be concentrated in so-called cantonments, which would have proven to be boobytraps in case the Indonesian army side broke the peace. And even as the Indonesian military launched its retaliatary terror for the referendum vote, Falintil continued to restrain itself so as not to complicate the siuation for the UN. Already with its 98% participation in the UN-monitored referendum under continued intimidations and mortal threats of the "militia", the entire nation demonstrated its unreserved trust in the UN.

The failure of the UN to protect the East Timorese in time against the apparently pre-planned campaign of scorched earth and ethnic cleansing unleashed against them by the Indonesian military after the referendem could now have grave international consequences as precedent. Propounders of terrorism around the world have been given a fatal argument: "it does not pay to abide by the rules"!

Is this the message the Srilankan government likes to have relayed to the Tamil Tigers? or the Philippine government would like to suggest to the Moro movement? which India would like see reaching Kashmiris or Sikhs? How deep is China's trust in the Buddhist commitment to peaceful methods of the Tibetan diaspora and their international fan community?

There is only one way left to thwart the fatal consequences of this macabre conjuncture, and that is to bring the generals that were responsible for the carnage in East Timor before a tribunal.

They have already gotten away with mass killings of up to a million civilians in Java and Bali around 1966, and of thousands more in Aceh and Irian Jaya more recently, they have gotten away with systematic rape of women and girls in Aceh, Irian Jaya, a Sino-Indonesian residential area of Jakarta, and in East Timor, they have gotten away with bleeding the Indonesian economy and the burning of its forests and jungles, and one has looked through one's fingers when they terrorized the East Timorese population before the referendum.

Will they now also get away with the total destruction of East Timorese cities, the killing of more thousands of East Timorese civilians, and deportation of some 200,000 refugees (again one quarter of the population!) as hostages into Indonesian territory, but all this now in immediate flagrant contempt of UN-supervised international agreements and a UN-monitored peace?

Will they get away with such a slap in the face of the UN too?

Read the undiplomatic triumphant grin that General Wiranto has been demonstratively sporting on his lips these last days.

2. Prevention of Indonesian Democratic Reforms by the Military

The free hand which the Indonesian military and its locally recruited auxiliary forces known as "militia" had de-facto been given to wreak havoc upon East Timor and its population for its vote for independence has still other fatal consequences. It has significantly strengthened the political position of the army generals, particularly of General Wiranto, in a critical stage of Indonesia's aspired transition to democratic rule.

The sudden turnabout in the development in East Timor permitted the army to put up pressure on the caretaker president, Habibie, so far even as to be able to force the precipitous passage of a law that retained wide powers for the military in case of emergency, provoking riots in the capital as activists of democratic reform took to the streets in protest, joined by large parts of the general population.

At the same time, however, it revealed that the repeatedly given assurances that the army "had learned its lessons" and had embarked on a route of reform was no more than lip service. The army's ultima ratio in political persuasion, that of sole recourse to unbridled terror involving mass killing of civilians, had in reality remained unchanged since the carnage of 1965-1966 with which then-still-General Soeharto came to power.

It is a deadly combination of (a) an uncompromising arrogance of despotic power inherited from the country's mediaeval past, and (b) ruthless high-efficiency anti-insurgency training acquired under recent conditions of "hot" manifestations of the cold war.

Colonial policy during the period of the Dutch East India Company (i.e. up to around 1800) practically boiled down to fighting the economically more efficient mercantile communities which offered effective competition to the company in the country, and encouraging or preserving more backward feudal or pre-feudal communal societies which proved suitable as suppliers of the crops and other wares, with which the Company earned its not unsubstantial profits. The net effect on the culture inheritance of a feudal elite -- "freed" of actual state governing responsibility by the coloniser -- with particular regard to political handcraft and statesmanly wisdom was a singularly "unnatural" survival of extremely unenlightened feudal concepts in almost primordial form in combination with utterly decadent Byzantinism. This is what the Central Javanese general Soeharto and his army had acquired as ultimate culture of statesmanship.

Political views of foremost leaders of Indonesian independence in 1945 were mainly characterised by notions of communal solidarity, social equity, and God-fearing propriety inspired by culture traditions of the village community, of clan and extended-kinship solidarity, and of family businesses and trades extant in many varieties in the numerous ethnic groups of the country. When Soeharto took over in 1966, he discarded this traditional system of concepts to supplant it by the despotic feudal tradition he knew.

Views on power maintenance go back to the concept of an intransigent empirial absolutism of the overlord, against which any resistance was like dashing oneself against a monolithic rock. It was embodied in the so-called "lotus" battle formation of the army of Majapahit in mediaeval Central Java: being like a vertical cut through a lotus bud (or an onion) in plan, pointed with its tip to the enemy; the successive layers from outside inwards were made up respectively of infantery, archers, cavalry, war elephants, with the emperor or the prime vizier on an elephant at the center. This highly unflexible formation, acquiring its effectivity from a combination of strictest discipline and considerable number, simply bore down slowly but unrelentlingly upon a more loosely disciplined enemy which would not have the slightest chance of breaking through to its center, but bleed to death in the futile attempt. It reflected a concept of maintaining peace and order by imbuing absolute terror of inexorable bloody reprisal in the wretched hearts of potential recalcitrants.

This was how Soeharto sustained his absolutist power throughout his presidency.

That this has remained the utmost in political wisdom of the army leadership even after Soeharto's "abdication" was demonstrated with unexpected clarity in the totally helpless lack of concept of the army leadership in facing the situation in the province of Aceh.

When initial prospects of democratic reform brought a breathing space in the province, and the local population uttered unmistakably reconciliatary noises, the army leadership was honestly determined to further defuse the situation and allow for a political settling of differences (the declared aim of the army to maintain national unity is honest, inspite of the adverse impression one may gather from its actual deeds). But the slightest provocation from what had once been a small minority aiming for separation from Indonesia promptly succeeded in getting the army back to its method of terror against the civilian population, driving these in masses into the arms of the separatists. The army leadership was perplexed, it had never learned of any other wisdom, it felt unfairly insulted by assertions that it had botched everything up in Aceh. Had it not done its utmost to terrorise the population into submission?

The method of rule by state terror is combined with a highly refined apologetic rhetoric. Already in the 17th century, the deepest impression that a visitor at the Central Javanese court received was the all- transcending Byzantine atmosphere of verbal intrigue and conspiration. This decadent quality, in which proficiency of the tongue totally eclipsed any even the slightest capacity for constructive deeds, developed even further under colonial rule, when any "deeds" in government would mainly be the responsibility of the colonial master.

During his presidency, Soeharto restored the art of rhetoric idealisation and euphemisation of reality and brought it to an unprecedent height of refinement and perfection. Truth of a statement depended upon the rank of the person who uttered it, rather than upon its relation to reality. Undesirable facts were camouflaged under well-sounding euphemisms. Any contradictions of government policy with the undeniable letter of the law were rhetorically re-interpreted to full correspondence with the latter. The utterance of any adverse statements was suppressed through total censorship. Anything that was at variance with the official view was simply regarded non-existent.

The highest accomplishment in this rhetoric dexterity by Soeharto was his success in convincing both the domestic public as well as the world, that his authoritarian regime was based upon "Pancasila", the five principles laid down in the preamble of the national constitution which include soverainty of the people through democratic representation. Even the concentration of the national wealth into the possession of his family he based on an article of the constitution.

With special regard to East Timor, he has managed to convince a segment of the Indonesian public that the territory is legally a part of Indonesia (not recognised by either the UN or the Movement of Unaligned Nations), based solely and exclusively on a "pronunciamente" of the rubber-stamp "legislative body" (the MPR) known to have had no other function than to willingly "legalize" whatever statute Soeharto chose to lay before it.

The handling of East Timor by the army leadership throughout this year has served as a continuous illustration of application not only of the outgoing regime's principle of ruthless brutality against civilians, but also of its absolute unscrupulousness in retailoring facts to its suiting. Rather than having learned its lesson from the ideological bankruptcy of the outgoing regime which finally led to Soeharto's downfall, it actually claims for itself the role of being the true caretakers of that obsolescent credo, and demonstrates its strict opposition against any reform in that respect.

This arrogance of power, and deception raised to the rank of state philosophy, is combined in the army leadership in Indonesia with an equally fatal remnant of the cold war.

Pentagon's frustration in Vietnam had two significant consequences: the first, no efforts or expenses were spared to develop an as effective as possible system of counter-insurgency warfare answering to the latest technical achievements and the sum of all experiences of the Vietnam War; the second, in compliance with the so-called Nixon Doctrine of letting Asians fight Asians, local army personnel of countries with authoritarian regimes was provided generous access to these upgraded military techniques.

Since the cold war is over, the insight that this is now neither anymore necessary, nor even desirable, has gained prevailance in about all centers of political responsibility in the world, particularly also in Washington. Indeed, supporting dictatorships and training local armies to treat their own citizens in the manner of "Rambos" dealing with the "Vietcong", which one might have considered a necessary evil under conditions of the cold war, now increasingly proves to be a serious potential threat to international stability.

But the genie, once let out of the bottle, is not so easily returned into it. The new insight not only required time to sicker down to all the echelons in the center (e.g. the Pentagon was revealed still continuing certain programs for Indonesian militaries some time after this had been explicitely prohibited by US Congress), it is, as we could see, totally lost in the Indonesian militaries who had once "benefitted" from the special training. These have in turn recruited thugs and Quislings in East Timor, to train and arm them as slayers of own countrymen.

This now brings us to an appraisal of another crucial aspect of the responsibility the UN would be taking upon themselves, were they to decide against bringing the generals responsible for the human catastrophe in East Timor to justice.

The political crisis that has been plunging Indonesia into an agony of social unrest and violence, being an alarming threat to peace and stability for the whole region, is now well in its second year. After the successful General Elections in June, hopes had been high, that peace could be restored after the newly elected legislative body convenes and elects a new president in November.

In all this, the army leadership had been adopting a low key, allegedly willing to accept the envisioned democratic reforms, and even preparing to undergo reform itself. As a result of general realisation of its central role in power maintenance of the Soeharto regime, and particularly after ever more facts of atrocities against the population and hienous reprisals against political activists came into the open, the army's public image was at an all time low.

Upon unleashing the campaign of unlimited terror and destruction in East Timor, the army leadership under General Wiranto now discarded all its masks. It had never seriously contemplated revising its views and ways, but had merely been lying low, waiting for a convenient opportunity for a comeback. It now demonstrates that it is the actual force in power. It can coerce the popular candidate for the presidency, Megawati Soekarnoputri, into taking consideration of army political demands, and even more so does it have the caretaker president, Burhanuddin Habibie, in its hands.

Even as Jakarta is being rocked by protests against a new law providing extraordinary powers to the military in "emergency" situations, the army speaker glibly notes that the army is not hardpressed for enactment of the new law, because the existing one was even more repressive. General Wiranto, officials indicated further, had "advised Habibie not to sign it" for the time being. Any questions about who is in control?

For the people of Aceh and Irian Jaya, a return to power of the army leadership would mean the death knell for any hopes of a worthy future within the Indonesian national community. It would actually pressure them into risking every extreme to force a separation from Indonesia as their only chance for physical survival. Similarly, having proven to be quite helpless in settling sectarian conflicts all over Indonesia in the past, the army leadership would not suddenly undergo some magic transformation in this respect upon returning to power.

All our Asian neighbours, in South, East, and Southeast Asia, having mastered some particularly trying times in these last two years, and now optimistically looking forward to starting the new millennium in profoundly renovated quality, would suddenly be confronted with the nightmarish perspective of the demon of the past regaining full political power and control of the country that forms the very geographical cornerstone of the whole region. It would face a regime which has no other solution to internal conflicts, than reliving bygone cold war-conditioned "dirty wars" of the US in Vietnam/the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, but against its own population of 210 million people.

This is exactly what the world is risking, if it does not bring up the backbone to put the generals before an international tribunal for their grave crimes against humanity. This would not be a reprisal against Indonesia. It would be an act of brotherly solidarity with the people of Indonesia, as well as with the responsible majority of her political elite.

A rotten tooth will eventually infect the neighbouring teeth, and finally ruin the whole jaw, and all conscientious care for the other teeth would not be of any avail. There is no way around bringing up the resolution to let the dentist yank it out. The patient is then left feeling a bit numb, but nevertheless very grateful to the doctor. Sometimes, however, the patient may at first need some friendly persuasion to let herself be helped. And don't then be discouraged by her half-hearted protests as you push her into the doctor's office.

3. Postponement of Economic Revival from the Crisis

The recent monetary crisis suffered by the threshold nations on the West Pacific seabord, and subsequent reforms to overcome it, marked an important transition in their economic development.

A period of authoritarian rule which served to imbue industrial discipline into societies previously leading more leisurely communal economies led to concentration of wealth in hands of the powerful that escaped legal control, and to a substantial increase in numerical size as well as in economic and political significance of the domestic middle class. The ensuing disbalance between freedom and control in the former, and between capacity and lack of freedom in the latter, served as source of the crisis.

Reforms having the net effect of lifting effective hegemonies of a privileged exclusive circle and providing for greater transparency and equality of opportunities promises to alleviate the crisis.

Indonesia was in this respect more than a merely geographical cornerstone of the economic region. Having on the one side a very large population (fourth in the world) and territory with an exceptional wealth of natural resources, it has at the same time lagged in technological developement and technical education of the population. Indonesia thus became a bottomless pit for unlimited capital investments. As the monetary crisis took hold of the economic area, this made the crisis in Indonesia a particularly grave liability for the economy of the entire region. Even as the rest of the area is gradually recovering from the crisis, the enormous Indonesian foreign debt is serving as a millstone chained to the leg of the surrounding economies.

At the same time, the authoritarian political regime in Indonesia had been the most uncompromisingly repressive and untransparent, compared with those in neigbouring countries.

One can therefore easily picture the consequences of a return of old-style authoritarian rule in Indonesia, which would be inevitable if the army leadership under Wiranto would be permitted to regain full control.

It has no idea about a self-regulating political economic system underlying thriving modern industrial economies, that bases control on transparency and equality before the law, rather than on authoritarian regulation, and secures maximum efficiency through freedom of initiative and restrictions of market-controling monopolies rather than through repression and coercion.

In summary, it seems to follow from the above, that a compromise against the call of conscience and civic propriety, failure to bring those who are responsible for the unspeakable crimes against humanity perpetrated and still continuing against a small nation as that of East Timor to justice, would have a wide sphere of very tangible material consequences for all those concerned. Political stability and economic recovery of the entire economic region may be at stake, and even repercussions on international terrorism must be feared. And one wouldn't even be able to protest that the punishment were unfair.

Unfortunately, in the past, political stalemates in the UN had often rendered them ineffective in solving urgent international issues. But that was mainly in the period of cold war. Meanwhile, the UN are increasingly growing up to their responsibilities. They also no longer have the excuse of the cold war.

Sneaking out of their responsibility to the East Timorese who have for their part, as we saw above, always fulfilled theirs towards the UN with great courage and even at the expense of lives, would be disastrous to the UN's image and greatly impair their capacity to handle sensitive situations in the nearer future.

It would also mean failing their responsibility to Indonesia, the population of which is still seeking to escape the grips of an authoritarian military leadership, to return to democratic rule by law, and to become a source of security and stability rather than being a threat to that in the world.

Waruno Mahdi, 
September 26, 1999.

Back to Index