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Human rights body confirms 'use of force' in handling of Dili riot

Kompas - November 24, 1997

Dili – Marzuki Darusman, deputy chairman of the National Human Rights Commission, who is leading a team investigating an incident in the University of East Timor on 14th November, has said there were no casualties during the incident and no members of the security disturbance movement (GPK) had infiltrated into the campus as reported by various mass media outlets.

Speaking during a news conference at Hotel Turismo, Dili, East Timor on Sunday (23rd November), Darusman underscored the fact that the security apparatus continued to use force in handling cases in East Timor. "There is nothing else in handling cases in East Timor other than the use of force," Darusman said. He is accompanied by B.N. Marbun, Clementino dos Reis Amaral, and Sugiri during the investigation.

"Based on information from official and reliable sources, acts of violence, which were a violation of human rights, were found. For example, students suffered from gunshot wounds, were beaten up, and had their teeth broken, faces swollen, and legs injured and bruised due to being hit with solid objects. In addition, the glass windows of the University of East Timor were damaged, while blackboards and announcement boards were riddled with bullets," Darusman said.

He said the National Human Rights Commission team concluded that there had been no encouraging developments as far as security and the implementation of human rights in East Timor were concerned. Every case had always been handled through the use of force which has created a deep psychological trauma. The trauma has made students unsympathetic to, and less respectful of, the security apparatus.

Material damage at the University of East Timor campus can be repaired in the near future, but it will take a long time to heal the psychological wounds and erase the negative views held by students and the general public of the provincial administration and the security apparatus. Negative views and hatred have existed since violent incidents and major riots in East Timor.

According to Darusman, political activities have taken place in almost every university. Nevertheless, the apparatus has always resorted to the use of force in handling political activities in the University of East Timor. Mutual distrust and mutual vigilance between the students and the security apparatus run so deep that unrest can easily erupt. The [14th November] case at the University of East Timor was very minor, but a large number of personnel from various units of the security apparatus were suddenly mobilized to deal with it. The use of force in handling every case has tended to violate human rights and create trauma and hatred among the students. Students who cannot stand such methods have been labelled as GPK members.

The students have turned to a third party because no one else listens to them. A third party has exploited the situation by using the University of East Timor as a ground to serve its own interests. Nevertheless, not all circles have viewed cases in the University of East Timor within this context.

The incident at the University of East Timor erupted due to something and resulted in consequences. Regarding who started or caused the incident, the background of the incident should be studied. Why were members of the security apparatus beaten up when they entered the University of East Timor campus? There was nothing but excessive hatred against the security apparatus. "Of course, we cannot but believe that the use of force in handling past incidents has created distrust, hatred, and brawls," he added.

No casualties

"There were no deaths, but there were near deaths. Therefore, foreign reports that dozens and even hundreds of students had died during the incident were totally untrue. Similarly, investigators found no evidence that GPK members had infiltrated into and hidden themselves on the University of East Timor campus. Only students were on the campus. Two residents, who were passing by when shots were fired, went on the campus. The two residents have returned home," Darusman said.

According to Darusman, political channels in East Timor have not yet worked or have deliberately been rendered unworkable. The University of East Timor case, which is indicative of this, was a simple matter that degenerated into a major issue within a short period of time.

Meanwhile, Amaral, secretary of the Field Observation Subcommission of the National Commission on Human Rights, recommended that the University of East Timor campus be relocated as it is next to the camp of Infantry Battalion 744. The close proximity has further increased mutual distrust, and academic activities on the campus cannot, thus, become free.