On one reading, the trajectory of transitional justice developments in East Timor can be seen as an example of how ‘pragmatism’ can override ‘principle’ when it comes to the pursuit of prosecutions of the powerful. It is apparent that the political priorities of Western states have overridden the principle of ‘universal jurisdiction’ which denotes that crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide, should be punished wherever they occur. Despite multiple attempts at truth seeking, criminal prosecution and reconciliation, no Indonesian official has successfully been prosecuted for any crime committed in 1999, and, at this point in time, it seems highly unlikely that the UN Security Council will revisit the option of an international criminal tribunal. Conscious of its geopolitical constraints as a poor nation with limited influence on the international stage, and with its own internal nation-building dilemmas, the East Timorese leadership’s emerging narrative of reconciliation is an understandable response.
Yet, this chapter has suggested that this is not the whole story. Beyond the issue of prosecutions, transitional justice mechanisms - in particular the final reports of the CAVR and CTF - have helped to foster some new and unforeseen possibilities. It is too early to say what bilateral negotiations between East Timorese and Indonesian political leaders in the wake of the CTF and parliamentary discussions of the CAVR and CTF reports will achieve, but suffice it to say, a space for ongoing political dialogue about these issues has been created. These reports have also helped to broaden the justice priorities of civil society groups and have been embraced by activists as useful lobbying tools. As the voices of a more diverse group of victims become heard in the justice debate, and engaged in practices of memorialisation, story-telling, commemoration and advocacy the trajectory of transitional justice developments may further be reshaped.
Transitional justice is often conceptualised as a time-bound process that is confined to a specific transitional period. Underpinned by a notion of ‘breaking with the past’, transitional justice discourse implies a definitive sense of ‘now’ and ‘then’. East Timor’s experiences suggest that it is important to take an open-ended, and altogether more political, view of transitional justice. What the ongoing discussions amongst the East Timorese and Indonesian political elite, and the activities of civil society and victims groups, suggest, is that there has been no ‘rupture’ with the past as such and that the process of remembering and responding to the past continues, grounded in past relationships and experiences, and present realities. ‘Dealing with the past’, that is, is a dynamic, fluid and ongoing process, without a predetermined outcome. This process continues to be fundamentally shaped and constrained by East Timor’s geopolitical constraints and the new nation’s unequal position within the international community. It is also being shaped by an array of different actors, among them, members of the UN Security Council, East Timorese political leaders and opposition party members, NGOs, and local victims groups. Although these actors have vastly different levels of political power and agency, there is, nonetheless, the potential for these interactions to both progress and deepen the transitional justice conversation.