London, New York, Berlin – TAPOL, ETAN and Watch Indonesia! strongly condemn President Joko Widodo's decision to grant 'Bintang Jasa Utama', one the highest national awards, to Eurico Guterres on Thursday, 12 August 2021.
Guterres, an anti-independence militia leader in Timor-Leste, was one of the key figures who led and participated in a series of massacres and destruction in his homeland prior to and in the aftermath of the 1999 referendum, in which the vast majority of Timorese voted for independence from Indonesia. In close collaboration the militias and the Indonesian military committed multiple atrocities, killing over 1,400 civilians and leaving a trail of destruction in an attempt to subvert the referendum. For many years afterwards, Guterres encouraged the continuation of the humanitarian crisis of Timorese refugees in Indonesia.
In 2002 he and ten others were indicted for crimes against humanity by the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET). He was one of only two people convicted of crimes against humanity by the Indonesian Ad-Hoc Human Rights Tribunal, although the conviction was overturned due to political pressure from the Jakarta elite. Two decades later Guterres and the Indonesian military officials ultimately responsible for the atrocities he committed, such as Wiranto and Prabowo Subianto, continue to enjoy impunity while holding positions of political power. Guterres' "career" as a militia leader continued in 2003 when he established 'Laskar Merah Putih', an Indonesian militia group to counter self-determination movements in West Papua and Aceh.
Honouring a perpetrator of crimes against humanity with one of the highest national awards affirms the impunity of state-backed crimes. "With Guterres on such a pedestal, President Joko Widodo's hollow promises to pursue accountability for past human rights violations vanish even quicker. However, we shall not forget that Indonesia was and has been enabled by Western governments with their support to the occupations in East Timor and West Papua," says Steve Alston of TAPOL.
John Miller of the East Timor and Indonesia Action Network (ETAN) also emphasizes, "Impunity remains not just for Eurico Guterres but so many others, including those who have gone on to commit crimes in West Papua. This is an affront to the victims in Timor-Leste and across the Indonesian archipelago, and yet another setback in Indonesia's efforts to democratise."
"Rewarding Guterres not only symbolises the legitimisation of state- cum military-backed human rights crimes of the past and endows the perpetrators with impunity. Given the political weight of notorious military agents and the recent escalation in West Papua, it also conveys the chilling message that current and future perpetrators will enjoy government protection as well," states Christine Holike from Watch Indonesia! "It is our responsibility to remind our respective governments to stop enabling human rights violations," she adds.