The topic of this thesis is transitional justice in East Timor. After over two decades of brutal Indonesian occupation that culminated with a scorched earth campaign in 1999, East Timor became an independent state in 2002. Numerous gross human rights violations had taken place during the Indonesian occupation, and in the post-conflict period an important but controversial issue has been how these atrocities of the past should be addressed. A central debate in the transitional justice literature – the dilemma between justice and reconciliation – has manifested itself in East Timor. Two tribunals have been held to establish legal accountability, the Ad Hoc Court in Jakarta, and the Serious Crimes Process in East Timor (SCP). Neither of these managed to successfully bring perpetrators of the most serious crimes to justice. At the same time, the East Timorese government has opted for a reconciliatory approach to past crimes. Two truth commissions have been held, the East Timorese Commission for Reception Truth and Reconciliation (CRTR) and the joint Indonesian and East Timorese Commission for Truth and Friendship (CTF). However, the lack of justice – legal accountability, and the reconciliatory focus has been criticised by many observers.
This thesis questions the validity of this criticism, by first analysing the reasons why the East Timorese government chose this reconciliatory policy, and secondly, discussing the consequences of the lack of prosecutorial justice, and of the reconciliatory policies. Theory from the transitional justice literature is used to guide the discussion, and the theoretical assumptions are considered against the empirical findings to assess whether the theory really holds true for East Timor.
This thesis acknowledges that there have been domestic and external factors that led East Timor towards a more pragmatic reconciliatory policy. Contrary to transitional justice theory, the negative effects of the lack of justice have not been as grave as is sometimes claimed they could be. Rather, the positive consequences of following a reconciliatory course have been numerous. This thesis therefore suggests that some of the criticism towards the East Timorese’s reconciliatory approach should be reconsidered and challenges some of the theory of transitional justice.