Ten years since the Indonesia/ Timor-Leste Commission on Truth and Friendship III: the CTF’s ambiguous legacy

By Pat Walsh

This post excerpts a portion of “Shining Chega’s Lights in the Cracks,” published in the book Flowers in the Wall (University of Calgary Press, 2018).

Since 2009, when the CTF report, Per Memoriam Ad Spem (Through Memory to Hope), was released, I have argued that it should be embraced because, although it does not go as far as Chega!, and is especially weak on the fundamental issue of impunity, some of its findings and recommendations are very similar to those of the CAVR. Unlike the CAVR’s report, however, the CTF’s recommendations also enjoy the status of being officially endorsed by both governments—in Indonesia’s case by president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, himself a former military officer in Timor-Leste.

The CTF was established by the presidents of Indonesia and Timor-Leste in 2005 as the CAVR was winding up. A bilateral body led and staffed by respected nationals from both countries, it mainly operated out of, and was controlled by, Indonesia. Not surprisingly, then, many concluded that its function was to override and neutralise Chega!, and that its mandate to focus only on specific periods in 1999, to offer amnesty, not to name names, and even to clear the names of those “wrongfully accused,” was provocative and a patent whitewash in the making. It was effectively boycotted by the UN, NGOs in Indonesia and Timor-Leste, and the victims themselves. The CAVR did not oppose it a priori but called for any further truth-seeking to complement, not contradict, the CAVR’s work and to strengthen, not weaken, the chances of criminal justice.

In some respects, however, the CTF belied these concerns. The CTF did not recommend anyone for amnesty or clear the names of any individuals and, like the CAVR before it, it concluded that crimes against humanity and war crimes were committed in Timor-Leste in 1999. Though it stopped short of naming names, it also affirmed that the Indonesian military and its militias were principally responsible for these excesses. Furthermore, the CTF recommended reparations for victims and the opening of Indonesian archives as part of a joint, long-term research project into the causes and impact of the conflict. As its title indicates, Per Memoriam Ad Spem represents a clear official commitment to remembering the Timor-Leste issue in Indonesia rather than having it swept under the carpet. It is an open invitation for joint examination of the issue that is waiting to be taken up. Unfortunately, few Indonesian researchers and intellectuals seem to be aware of the report. Neither government made it available on the Internet (though the Indonesia-based group Asian Justice and Rights, or AJAR, has posted an English translation of the report). Meanwhile, responses to its recommendations have been subjected to in-house management by senior public servants on both sides. Indonesian-Timorese government negotiations remain focussed on border and pension issues, not recommendations concerning human rights or the broad joint interrogation of the shared history of both countries recommended by the report.

While some aspects of the CTF’s work are to be welcomed, its contribution should not be overstated. The CTF did not claim, or even intend, to facilitate reconciliation between Indonesian perpetrators and their Timorese victims. It settled for “friendship.” Arguably, even this is too big a claim, given the pragmatic self-interest at work on both sides: “marriage of convenience” might be a more accurate description of the outcome. Indonesian politicians are silent on the matter but the claim by some Timorese politicians that the CTF is a unique international model of reconciliation is an exaggeration prompted more by self-defence against erstwhile critics than by reality. It also does violence to the deeply sensitive concept of reconciliation, gives comfort to perpetrators over victims, and weakens the campaign against impunity across Asia.

Click here for a free download the full text of Walsh’s essay, chapter 4 of Flowers in the Wall: Truth adn Reconciliation in Timor-Leste, Indonesia and Melanesia.

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