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Without justice, there will be no peace

26 May 2006

Letter to the Editor, The Age

The Australian Government is to be congratulated for its timely and wholehearted response to the crisis in East Timor. However, if Australia wants to be part of the solution rather than the problem, we need to look at the underlying issues.

The most obvious cause of the crisis is the East Timor Government's failure to respond quickly and seriously to the grievances of soldiers from the west of the country. But this is also a reminder of the fact that this is a nation born out of trauma, and fear and mistrust run deep.

Many in East Timor — including political parties other than Fretilin, the church and civil society — have called repeatedly in recent years for justice for the war crimes and crimes against humanity carried out during the period of Indonesian occupation. This grievance was a factor in the protests in Dili last year. Yet, after a serious crimes process in East Timor and a sham ad hoc Human Rights Court in Jakarta, all of the non-Timorese perpetrators remain at large, protected by Indonesia.

The East Timor Government cannot afford to upset its big, powerful neighbour, so this matter can be resolved only with the help of other nations and the UN, whether this takes the form of an international war crimes tribunal or some other judicial mechanism.

Australia should ensure that the international community does not turn its back on the people of East Timor, not only for their sakes but to uphold the rule of law and respect for human rights around the world. It might take longer and be more difficult than military intervention, but there can be no lasting peace without justice.


Supporters of the Australian Coalition for Transitional Justice in East Timor: Dr Mark Byrne, Uniya Jesuit Social Justice Centre; Tom Clarke, Timor Sea Justice Campaign; Jenny Drysdale, Australian National University; James Dunn, former UNTAET adviser on serious crimes; Dr Clinton Fernandes, University of New South Wales; Associate Professor Damien Kingsbury, Deakin University; Dr Michael McKinley, Australian National University; Shirley Shackleton; Rob Wesley-Smith, Australians for a Free East Timor


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