25 June 2013

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.