This report reviews Indonesia’s unimpressive record in bringing to justice those responsible for gross human rights violations. Since May 1998 only four major cases have resulted in convictions. In three of those cases there are significant reservations about the process. While there have been high level inquiries for other major cases, and additional trials may result, other instances of blatant violations from the distant past to the present have not been touched.
One reason for slow judicial progress has been the inadequacy of the legal system. The need for new procedures to deal with gross violations was treated with urgency only after huge international protest over the murder and destruction that followed East Timor's vote for independence. A number of new laws and mechanisms – examined in detail in the report – have now been created, raising the possibility that Indonesia will make further progress at a faster rate. The stakes are high. If Indonesia does not use those laws vigorously, and against some senior military and civilian officials, not merely subordinates, it will convince many that they enjoy impunity to continue human rights abuses. And it will convince victims, particularly in Aceh, Papua and Maluku where rising tensions threaten Indonesia’s stability, that the state will not protect them.
This report confirms the experience of other countries in transition that bringing perpetrators of gross human rights abuses in Indonesia to justice will remain as much a political issue as a judicial one and that only a handful are likely to be held to account either by judicial means or other formal processes such as a Truth Commission. This is the direct result of the inability of the civilian government to exercise full authority over the armed forces. But the report also demonstrates the bona fides of some Indonesian government leaders in pursuit of both judicial and political accountability, just as it documents an overwhelming array of obstacles to their efforts.
Time alone will tell whether Indonesia is making the right choices about priorities and tactics in response to those obstacles. But as much as the government and key constituencies want to be left to themselves to decide, other domestic constituencies and the international community cannot readily accommodate the delays and uncertainties of the process. To be a cohesive nation, Indonesia’s institutions must deliver protection and justice to all citizens. The continuation of serious human rights abuses in parts of Indonesia is fuelling separatist tensions, making accountability for past abuses both harder and more important and leading many to question the capacity of the Abdurrahman government.
The international community has a particular obligation to ensure accountability for Indonesian perpetrators of serious crimes committed in East Timor in 1999. It has a more general concern for accountability because of its stake in democratisation and stability in an important country. This requires a higher degree of international engagement in Indonesian processes than might otherwise be normal or tolerable.
The prospect of an international tribunal to adjudicate serious crimes committed in East Timor was first raised within the UN in 1999, and judicial processes have been set in train by the UN administration in East Timor for the investigation of such crimes. This international interest and activity will continue to put pressure on Indonesia to set its own house in order. If handled judiciously, it will strengthen those in Indonesia advancing the cause of accountability, but the international community can not expect a quick, neat or comprehensive pay-off.
Read the whole report here Indonesia: Impunity versus Accountability for Gross Human Rights Violations. 2001.