In the top-security cell, which smells pungent, one man is a day or so
away from death, his head twice normal size due to a neurological disease.
The warden keenly observes: "You can smell death in this
This is a country, they speculate, where local eye-for-an-eye justice
is inevitable; and where the formal UN-sponsored legal system and formal
law struggles for relevance amid ineptitude, while the local order sharpen
My client is a militia commander charged with offences amounting to
Crimes Against Humanity, originally charged with other co-accused, who for
their part pleaded early. He now stands alone; charged on the basis of
command responsibility for an assortment of charges namely, murder, rape,
torture, imprisonment and persecution.
I am speaking with my client in his cell, and a nun appears and is
granted entrance. The men of C block, all on charges of multiple murders,
are reputed to be the most hardened of militia men -they all run to kiss
her hand. They sit cross-legged like schoolboys and with handclapping
gestures sing what sounds like a hymn she has taught them by rote.
This is a common theme. Inscribed on cement walls throughout the gaol,
a strange combination of extreme religious fanaticism and deep-seated
fascination with violence. Inmates see no contradiction in etching on
their cell wall, a crucified lord and a bloodthirsty warrior eating a
child. Hung over sleeping mats are crosses made from discarded boxes of
In an unused part of this prison, which operated during the Indonesian
occupation, vacant cells are an ominous reminder of a brutal past. In
these close quarters political prisoners languished, while the rest of the
world sought amnesty. A lifetime of history scratched into these walls,
like an artist's pallet - they tell stories.
Ghosts of an ideal. Now on Timor's list of 'disappeared', few would
have lived to see their glorious Falintil flag raised on independent soil.
Bullet holes in the court yard mark the fate of brave advocates of self
In a twist of fate the prison now swells with pro-integration militia,
indicted for crimes arising out of the events of September 1999. In the
scheme of things however, these inmates are largely small fry. Simple
villagers easily coaxed or coerced, partly by virtue of their servile
deference to Indonesian authority, partly due to an acceptance of the
impunity enjoyed by TNI military officers.
These indictees are generally characterised by an absence of education,
and a distinct lack of sophistication. These are the scapegoats. They are
the statistics that will ultimately be presented to appease the conscience
of the world.
While not for an instant belittling their charges or dishonouring the
victims, instead I seek to question why, outside this gaol and across the
water to Jakarta, the true authors of atrocities evade international
justice and perpetuate the exemption from punishment enjoyed by agents of
state, who have for a quarter of a century flagrantly violated the human
rights of indigenous Timorese.
Let me digress briefly, to highlight recent disturbing international
developments that undermine confidence and lend an Orwellian flavour to
the pursuit of international justice in East Timor.
Of late, Jakarta's Human Rights Court has proved nothing less than a
theatre for show trials dispensing a litany of manifestly inadequate
sentences and outright acquittals - as commitment to pursue TNI military
commanders for the 1999 bloodbath weakens. Indonesia, it now appears, has
a special friend in the Bush Administration who now seek to woo the TNI
for their own "war on terrorism" in South East Asia. Pragmatism
inevitably claims justice as the first casualty in any deal brokered
between strange bedfellows.