President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s decision to award Eurico Guterres, a former pro-Indonesia militia leader who was acquitted for human rights abuse, has been met with intense criticism, with rights groups highlighting the gesture as the government’s lack of commitment to upholding human rights.
Eurico was among four people awarded with the Bintang Jasa Utama – one of the nation’s third-highest civilian honours – in a limited ceremony at the State Palace on August 12. In total, the government recognised the distinguished services of 355 people in the ceremony, including posthumously honouring 322 medical workers who lost their lives in the fight against Covid-19.
Amnesty International Indonesia deputy director Wirya Adiwena said the medal awarded to Eurico, who was allegedly involved in crimes against humanity in then-East Timor in 1999, was a gesture that contradicted the government’s previous commitment to upholding the principles of human rights in the country.
“In his speech during World Human Rights Day on December 10, 2020, President Jokowi said the government ‘would never stop to resolve past human rights violations in a dignified [manner],” Wirya said in a statement on August 13. “How can that [commitment] be realised if alleged human rights abusers are given honorary awards by the president?”
He went on to call on the government to revoke the award given to Eurico and urged it to reaffirm its commitment to resolving past and current cases of human rights abuses.
A coalition of rights groups, including the Institute for Policy Research and Advocacy (Elsam), the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (KontraS), also criticised the government’s move.
“The award to Eurico Guterres was a serious breach betrayal of humanity and morality, in addition to ignorance toward justice for the victims,” the coalition said in a statement.
Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Mahfud MD said after the ceremony on August 12 that Eurico had been selected for the award for his role in “supporting the development of then-East Timor as part of the Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia”.
Eurico was part of the Aitarak militia group and was allegedly involved in an attack on the home of Manuel Viegas Carrascalao, who was a pro-independence leader, in Dili on April 17, 1999. The attack claimed the lives of 12 people, including people who had sought refuge in Manuel’s house at the time.
The attack came amid increasing tensions between pro-independence and pro-Indonesia camps in the period leading up to the referendum vote to decide the fate of then-East Timor.
On August 30, 1999, nearly 80 per cent of East Timor residents voted to split from Indonesia, ending the latter’s 24-year occupation in the former Portuguese colony. Timor Leste, the new country that was established after the referendum, was internationally recognised as an independent country in 2002.
Eurico was found guilty of committing crimes against humanity by the Ad Hoc Human Rights Court in 2002 and was sentenced to 10 years in prison. However, following a case review petition, the Supreme Court acquitted him of all charges in April 2008.
THE JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK