Balancing Justice and Reconciliation in East Timor

Author: Jeffrey Kingston


As East Timor emerges from a long Indonesian nightmare, it is seeking to balance the agendas of justice and reconciliation. The verdict on justice for East Timor is one of disappointment. The main obstacle to accountability is Indonesia, abetted by an international community that seeks its assistance in the “war on terror.” East Timor's leaders have emphasized reconciliation while promoting a healing process and good governance. Recent violence reveals just how difficult this task remains. The hybrid tribunal established in East Timor by the UN was once heralded as an important innovation in transitional justice, avoiding the high cost and lengthy proceedings of other international tribunals. However, the tribunal has been unable to hold accountable those who bear the greatest responsibility for outrages committed against Timorese and defendants did not get fair trials or competent defense. A truth commission report released in December 2005, Chega! (Enough), emphasizes justice and reparations. The political leadership soft peddles justice because they believe this makes more sense and will better serve the people. Indonesians are now being given a chance to testify in front of the Commission of Truth and Friendship (CTF), but concern is widespread concern that the CTF emphasizes reaching closure, has no judicial mandate, and only ensures impunity for ranking perpetrators. Indonesia and East Timorese can regain dignity and move beyond their shared tragedy through a process of reconciliation that is based on justice and atonement. Germany shows this is possible; Japan, that it is difficult and problematic if neglected.
Countries: Indonesia

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September 2006
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