Timor-Leste: The East Timor Truth Commission Report

2006

Gerry van Klinken

So far the 2000 page report of the East Timor Truth Commission CAVR (www.ictj.org) has not received overwhelming media attention. In one sense it hardly matters if no one else reads it. It was written by and for the Timorese (with some foreign expert help). Over the last three years its public hearings, broadcast on radio and TV, have moved East Timorese to tears even in remote mountain villages. Over six years after the 1999 vote, schools still have no history textbook covering the long war. Now they do. It begins with the courageous but mutually hostile Timorese political parties of 1974. Now Timorese know what brought them to blows in August 1975. They can read the stories of the flight to the mountains as Indonesian troops, ostensibly invited by one of those feuding parties, advanced into their country; and how by late 1978 the last of them were forced to surrender. About half of the population were placed in isolation in camps under a guard so tight they continued to die. Now people know how many perished due to famine in those years - at least 100,000. They also know how many were executed and why and by whom - including by the Resistance. They know in agonising detail about the torture, the rape and systematic sexual slavery, and the abuse of children. They realise that the sufferings of the years 1975-84 were worse than what befell them in 1999, the terrible year they won their independence.

They have also seen beauty with their own eyes - hundreds of community reconciliation events, where small-time militiamen owned up to their misdeeds and were forgiven; a televised meeting where their own political leaders apologised for the abuses committed in the past by Fretilin, UDT and Apodeti.

This was a most democratic commission. It worked in complete openness and enjoyed official support while remaining independent. But of course it does matter that others should read it. The denial of East Timor's right to self-determination - always acknowledged by the UN - was an international project, and it is only fair the world should make amends.

This is the 'to do' list: contribute the relevant archives to East Timor, cough up (from the profits of arms sales!) for victim compensation, table the CAVR report publicly (this one aimed at Indonesian school textbooks), and help prosecute all those responsible. Another 'to do' list is for the Timorese themselves - institutionalise a culture of non-violence, memorialise significant sites, exhume mass graves, start a national register of the disappeared - the list is long and inspiring.

WATCHPOINT: Over six years after the 1999 vote, schools in East Timor still have no history textbook covering the long Indonesian occupation. Now they do.

 

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