10 July 2007

Truth or Consequence

By Imam Shofwan
 
She is said to have been breathtakingly beautiful, and even now, decades later, there are traces of what had made her so attractive to men: an oval face, cleft chin, eyes that slant upwards just so, and hair that is thick and wavy. When she was younger, her skin was also a smooth golden brown, her body slim yet full in the right places. 

These days there are wrinkles around her eyes, but it is the weariness in her face and the slump in her shoulders that betray her age of 50 years – and what she has been through. Then again Lalerek Mutin, a small community east of the Timor Leste capital, isn’t known as “widow’s village” for nothing. 

“My husband was kidnapped and killed by three soldiers when I was four months pregnant,” she tells me. “My child died of hunger. Now I raise my two kids from two of the three soldiers who committed sexual acts on me.”

I had picked her out at random from among the 8,000 witnesses who testified before the Commission of Acceptance, Truth, and Reconciliation of Timor Leste or CAVR, its acronym in Portuguese. The testimonies were given voluntarily. Later, these were compiled in a 2,500-paged book entitled “Chega!” or “Enough!” in Portuguese, where the identities of the witnesses and their alleged abusers were concealed behind code names. 

The woman I would meet in Lalerek Mutin went by the code name “MI” in the book, which lists crimes against humanity committed in East Timor from August 1974, more than a year before the invasion and occupation of Timor Leste by Indonesia, to 1999, when the Indonesian forces departed after the U.N.-sponsored referendum.

The witnesses came from the 13 districts across Timor Leste. They told of the human-rights violations they experienced or had seen, where and when these happened, who were involved. The atrocities enumerated in Chega! range from detention to torture, to rape and sexual slavery, to murder. In all, some 183,000 people are estimated to have died in East Timor during the 25 years of Indonesian occupation.

Most of the victims were East Timorese. Some of the alleged perpetrators, meanwhile, were from militia formed by local political parties like Frente Revolucionaria de Timor-Leste Independente (Fretilin), Uniao Democrattica Timorense (UDT), and Associacao Popular Democratica (Apodeti). 

But majority of those said to have committed the crimes belonged to the Indonesian Armed Forces and the militia they themselves had formed. I felt scared when I learned that most of the crimes were being blamed on members of the Indonesian military, which had also been a constant presence while I was growing up in Rembang, studying in Semarang, and later working in Jakarta.

Looking for healing

According to Aniceto Guterres Lopes, former head of the National CAVR, the idea to create the Commission practically rose from the wreckage that was Timor Leste after the 1999 referendum. Majority of the people voted for independence, and for that buildings were razed to the ground and half of the population was forced to flee their villages. Those who did not want to leave or were suspected to be pro-independence were killed by the Indonesian military or its militia.

“That time we really needed reconciliation,” says Guterres Lopes. “And this reconciliation could only be reached by revealing the truth.”

“The purpose,” explains Agustinho Vasconselos, former commissioner of the National CAVR and current head of the post-CAVR Technical Secretariat, “is to record the crime, so that people can learn from it and do not commit it again.”

Yet not one of the recommendations put forward by the Commission had been acted upon up until the time he is saying this to me, in May 2007, or two years after CAVR had wrapped up its official activities. Indonesia itself had already refused to have its officers in Timor Leste face an international court of justice, although it promised justice for those wronged by its soldiers. There was actually a group of officers brought to court, but no one was convicted. From General Benny Moerdani and General Wiranto, who were in command of the Indonesian Armed Forces in East Timor, way down to the military rank and file -- not one took responsibility for the deaths that occurred here during the Indonesian occupation.

When I try to ask Xanana Gusmao, then the outgoing president of Timor Leste, about what had happened to CAVR’s work, he declines to comment. “I think this is not the time for the interview,” he tells me. After all, I have caught up with him while he is in the thick of giving and attending farewell parties.

But I can’t help thinking that it had been under Gusmao’s leadership that CAVR was formed. He had also been active in gathering support for the Commission, including its funding. CAVR is estimated to have consumed some $25 million in total. In November 2005, it completed its work with the release of Chega! Copies of the report were distributed to members of the National Parliament and made available to the general public. Another version was sent to then President Gusmao; unlike Chega!, it contained the real names of both the victims and the alleged perpetrators.

Justice at a standstill

Activists had been pleased with the CAVR report, which aside from detailing human rights-violations committed in Timor Leste from 1974 to 1999, also recounted how U.S.- and British-made planes and weapons were used to commit crimes towards civilians. The report recommended that a court of justice be formed for all crimes committed, as well as reconciliation and pardon for light crimes. Among the demands in Chega! was that some countries, including Indonesia and Australia, provide reparation for the victims.

The release of the groundbreaking report, however, was soon overshadowed by a political crisis that eventually led to the resignation of then Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri. Recalls Francisco Branco of Fretilin, the biggest party in the national legislature: “At that time, Parliament had other priorities, besides examining and reading the results of CAVR’s work.”

But by May 2007, this infant country’s lawmakers still had not done much regarding Chega! – even though many of them had been instrumental in crafting together the legal basis for the Commission’s work.
Some of the parliamentarians I meet say they simply have not yet received the report. ”I only received the short version of the report. Not full and complete,” says Vincente da Silva Guterres, a legislator from the Timorese Resistance National Council, which is more popularly known by its Portuguese acronym, CNRT. It is also Gusmao’s party.

Mario Sabino Lopes from the Democrat Party admits having a copy of Chega!, but says the “process” on what to do with the testimonies and recommendations was at a standstill in Parliament. He also points out that the legislature had been busy with campaigns – and then somehow found it necessary to note that his party was a minority in parliament “and does not wield enough votes”.

All these have left activists like Edio Saldanha Borges very upset. Saldanha Borges had quit the Human Rights Association shortly after Chega!’s release and established an alliance for international justice. According to him, all members of parliament had copies of Chega! and if some claim that they haven’t, they are lying. “It is an outright lie,” he says angrily, “because, according to the Constitution 162, year 2002, CAVR is responsible to the Parliament.”

He also confesses to feeling bad towards Gusmao, who is a respected and much admired figure among the Timorese. But Saldanha Borges apparently cannot accept that the same man who was instrumental in starting the CAVR later created the Commission on Truth and Friendship (CTF) with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. Gusmao even took most of CAVR’s members to join CTF and sit in its various committees.

Saldanha Borges is scathing in his remarks about CTF and its creators: “After taking statement from the victims, they then create a friendship commission whose aim is to pardon the perpetrators. This is a betrayal of the victims.”

It’s a view shared by many human-rights advocates from New York to Dili. Since CTF was formed in March 2005, it has been seen by many as a “sham”. To those like Saldanha Borges, the CTF contradicts CAVR’s mission to reveal truth that will eventually lead to reconciliation; instead, they say, it hides the truth in the guise of friendship.

Human Rights Association head Jose Luis Olivera says that Gusmao’s decision to help form the CTF only showed that the ex-resistance leader was just “playing” with the victims of human-rights violations in Timor Leste. Says Olivera: “By supporting the creation of CAVR, Xanana wanted to be regarded as supporting human rights. But actually, he was not serious, as proven by his creation of (CTF).”

Varied crimes and characters

The creation of CAVR had posed a lot of challenges because of the wide variety of human-rights crimes to be handled and the large number of people involved, some of whom were still occupying high-ranking positions. On the East Timorese side, the more prominent personalities included Gusmao, who had been the leader of the resistance movement, and Fretilin’s Francisco Guterres Luo’lo, who wound up the president of the National Parliament. Recalls Guterres Lopes: “A lot of people were pessimistic of our mission to document all the crimes committed in the last 25 years. At that time most people were focusing on human-rights violations in 1999.”

Which were themselves horrific, thus explaining why they became the subject of several investigations, including one by the United Nations. Indeed, Geoffrey Robinson in East Timor 1999 concluded that crimes against humanity in East Timor after the UN-sponsored referendum here had been systematic and widespread. Yet even these were not enough for those like Guterres Lopes – or MI, for that matter -- to forget what had happened during the previous years.

The local organizations named in Chega! as being among the perpetrators of the atrocities -- UDT, Fretilin, and Apodeti -- all trace their beginnings in mid-1974, sometime after a government change in Lisbon, which led to Portugal suddenly pulling up its stakes in most of its colonies across the globe. In East Timor, which had been under Portuguese rule since the mid-16th century, debates soon broke out over where the territory would go next. UDT wished for Timor Leste to remain under Portugal, while Fretilin wanted sovereignty. Apodeti, the smallest party, lobbied for integration with Indonesia next door. But all their arguments became moot with Indonesia’s invasion of Timor Leste in December 1975, with support from the United States and Australia.

It took a little longer for members of the Indonesian armed forces to reach MI’s village. She says they arrived in Lalerek Mutin in late 1983, when she was already married. MI’s young husband survived the initial Indonesian military onslaught, which seemed to have been aimed at cleansing the area of Fretilin guerrillas and sympathisers. Many men in the village were killed. By then, other communities elsewhere had already suffered a similar fate, with some enduring far worse. In Krakas village, Viqueque, the slaughter was said to have been indiscriminate, with the sick and elderly among those who were killed.

MI remembers clearly that it was a few months after the Krakas massacre that three Indonesian soldiers came and took her husband away. It was the last she would see of him.

The road to Lalerek Mutin

It now takes 10 hours to get from Dili to Viqueque by public bus, at a cost of $10. Viqueque is 100 kms east of Dili, and Lalerek Mutin is approximately 15 kms from Viqueque. During the Indonesian occupation, Viqueque, Baucau, and Los Palos were known as the bases of Fretilin, the group fighting for independence. By the time I get to Lalerek Mutin, Timor Leste has had more or less seven years of being free.

I had been able to figure out who MI was and where she came from by consulting the Audience Record of the National CAVR, 28-29 April 2003. During this period, 14 women gave their testimony on the sexual violation they experienced; all of their real names and some other details were put on record. To tell which one was MI, all I had to do was find the match for her story in Chega!

But there is obviously nothing in the Audience Record or in Chega! that speaks of the beauty of much of Timor Leste’s countryside. From Dili to Manatuto and then to Bacau, the beach appears and disappears from view as the bus traverses the mountainous roads. The beach is not wide, but it is long, and its sand looks like brushed white paint separating the cool blue of the sea from the vibrant green of the hills.

Still, there is no avoiding the evidence that this country has been through a lot. For example, along the road from Dili to Motaain, bordering Indonesia, most of the buildings have either been burned down completely or left with only half their structure still standing. In late 1999, when more than 260,000 East Timorese were forced to move across the border to the western part of the island in the post-referendum chaos, the road we are on must have looked like scorched earth.

There is no public transportation to be had to Lalerek Mutin, and my bus ride stops at Viqueque. I contact Mario Pinto, a Timor Leste radio journalist, and he comes to help me out. He is friendly and smiles often. There is a motorcycle we can use, but I would have to drive it myself since Pinto doesn’t know how.

To reach Lalerek Mutin, we traverse a teak forest, the Viqueque market, a coconut plantation, the Waituku River, and a former military barracks. It is already dark when we finally arrive there, and there is no electric service. Small huts with palm leaves as roof and the earth as flooring serve as homes in Lalerek Mutin. Dogs and pigs wander around freely, as do children covered with dust and not much else.

We proceed directly to the home of Jose Gomes, the village head. Gomes was also among CAVR’s witnesses. We talk about the Krakas massacre for a bit, and I learn that most of the survivors (majority of whom were women) had moved to Lalerek Mutin in 1984. Pinto and I ask for permission to visit MI, who lives near Gomes’s house, and then we excuse ourselves.

Face to face with MI

We find MI sitting in what looks like her terrace. She is hard at work on a big pan of dough, and a makeshift oil lamp fashioned out of a soda bottle is her lone light. Besides farming, MI sells Portuguese hard bread each morning. Each piece of pao, which she makes from scratch, nets her five cents. “If I sell all, I get two U.S. dollars,” MI says. The U.S. has replaced the Indonesian rupiah as the currency in Timor Leste.

“A lot of people come here to ask me about the rape that I experienced,” she says, the words sounding almost like a rebuke. “Some months ago an Australian came and asked me to tell the story.”

The village children now gather at her terrace, their curiosity piqued. A few bare-chested women with babies clutched to their breast follow suit, inching closer to our group. MI suddenly looks uncomfortable. “Halae, halae, halae (Disperse, disperse, disperse)!” she shouts, shooing the children away.

She later says that she did not immediately talk to people from the CAVR who had visited Lalerek Mutin a few years back. It took four tries before they were able to persuade her to give her testimony. “I trusted them,” says MI, “because when the priest came, he was accompanied by CAVR staff.”

If the CAVR staff proved persistent, that may be partly because of the sheer effort it had taken just to form the body. Indeed, there had been strong public pessimism regarding the initiative, but as Guterres Lopes had told me back in Dili, “the support of the international community at that time made us strong”.

Since the 1990s, this kind of commission has been created in post-conflict countries, mostly in Africa and Latin America. CAVR is the 21st such body, following a similar one set up in Sierra Leone. “I think (CAVR) is the first truth commission in Asia,” Jose Estevao Soares, a former CAVR member, had also told me in Dili.

Local and international human-rights advocates, Roman Catholic Church leaders, former political detainees, pro-integration representatives, and the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) discussed the commission’s creation in a June 2000 workshop. CNRT head Gusmao received the signal to create a “truth commission”, and he put the topic on the table during the popular party’s first congress. As a result, one of the recommendations of that congress was the formation of the CAVR.

And so a lead committee was put together, consisting of representatives from various political parties, as well as those from religious, military, and international groups. Its task was to consult the people on their views about the proposal. It was confirmed that the public on the whole wanted justice even as people also sought “reconciliation”.

The National Council, under Gusmao’s leadership, submitted the final blueprint for the commission to Sérgio Vieria De Mello, transitional administrator of Timor Leste. He approved the proposal on 13 July 2001.

The CAVR advisory board was made up of prominent figures in Timor Leste society: Jose Ramos-Horta, Bishop Carlos Felipe Ximenes Belo, Bishop Basilio do Nascimento, Madre Zulmira Osorio Soares, Pastora Maris de Fatima Gomes, and Ana Pessoa Pinto. In addition, there were four international advisers: Vieira de Mello, Ian Martin, as well as Saparinah Sadli and Munir from Jakarta.

Those who became advisers to the CAVR National Commission included Guterres Lopes, Padre Jovito do Rêgo de Araujo, Maria Olandina Isabel Caeiro Alves, Jacinto das Neves Raimundo Alves, José Estevão Soares, Rev. Agustinho de Vasconselos, and Isabel Amaral Guterres.

A life violated

MI says, though, that the CAVR was not first to have sought her testimony regarding what she went through during the Indonesian occupation of East Timor. “During the Indonesian era I gave information to an informal audience from the Church,” she says. “I gave information again during the CAVR era.”

MI, who says she has endured being called “bihu” or spy by some of her neighbours, tells me the names of the three soldiers who had taken turns in forcing her to become a “battlefield wife”. The first, she says, took her even though she was still mourning the death of her 14-month-old son. She soon got pregnant again, but she miscarried and lost the child. She has not heard from the soldier since he was reassigned shortly after her miscarriage.

Then, she says without much emotion, “in 1991, M___ from Nanggala had sexual relations with me, resulting in a child who is now in the first year of junior high school. In 1993, S____ from Battalion 408 fought to get me, made me pregnant, and left the child with me.”

MI says M___ finished his tour of duty and returned to his mother unit without waiting for her to give birth to his child. “I could not work after giving birth,” she says. “My neighbours and relatives gave me food.”
MI says that each time she is asked what she wants most, she says her answer has always been the same: a carabao. It’s a very simple wish, but she says having one would be a great help in her farm. She has said this to those who have repeatedly ask her about her experiences in the hands of Indonesian soldiers, but no carabao has been brought to her doorstep.

We talk with MI until late at night. I start panicking when I see dark clouds covering the stars in the sky.
We thank her and bid goodbye. Drops of rain begin to fall as we journey back to Viqueque, and the dirt road soon turns into slippery mud. We meet groups of people, some pushing cars, others with machetes in hand. “They just came back from the market,” Pinto says reassuringly.

Our ride becomes better once we reach the Viqueque market, where the road is asphalted. But then our motorcycle’s headlight chooses that moment to die, and we spend several minutes in darkness. Fortunately, a truck comes and Pinto asks its driver to beam its light on the road to help us see our way up to a village, which is also pitch black. “Here the electricity is one day on and one day off,” says Pinto.

Searching for two soldiers

Soon I am back in Indonesia, where I try to find M___ and S_____. I meet Col. Ahmad Yani Basuki, the head of the army’s Public Information Service in Jakarta. He asks me to submit an official request for information. I do so the very next morning; I have yet to receive a reply.

I go to Battalion 408 headquarters in Sragen, near the city of Solo, to seek S_____. Lt. Col. Ahmad Bazar, the battalion commander, meets me at the Widoro Kandang shooting range. We talk as soldiers around us go through rounds of exercise. “If it’s about the war preparation of Battalion 408, I can talk,” he says. “But for human-rights issues, you have to get permission from the Regiment Command. We are just field officers.” Our conversation lasts 15 minutes, maybe less.

The following day I contact the Warastama Regiment Command 074 in Solo. Lt. Col. IGK Wicitra Wisnu, the chief of staff, tells me, “This is not under my jurisdiction. We have a supervisor. Rather than give you a wrong answer, it’s better you get permission first from the Information Unit of the Regiment Command.” I feel like a ping-pong ball being thwacked back and forth.

I decide to board near Dormitory 408. I even ask help from fruit and ice-cream vendors to find S_____, to no avail.

I do have an opportunity to meet the wife of someone I know was assigned with S____ to Timor Leste. But she turns angry once she learns what I am after. She screams, “If I make a report about you to the police or to the army, you will be arrested.”

Livid with rage, she tells me I am lucky her husband and two sons – one “a graduate from the Military Academy in Magelang” – are not around. Otherwise, she says, I would surely end up behind bars.
I am still trying to find S_____ and M_____ to give them MI’s message that they have children in Timor Leste who are now going to school.

As for MI and other Timorese like her ever getting a taste of justice, all I keep hearing in my head are these words uttered by Timor Leste President Jose Ramos Horta in his inaugural speech: “I am satisfied with the work results of the Commission on Truth and Friendship and I will continue what had been formed by my predecessor.”

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