“I don’t understand what justice is, as I was taken to Indonesia, moved around, sent to another family, as if nobody wanted me.”
Dili, Timor-Leste, 21 November 2023 – Asia Justice and Rights (AJAR) and a working group of organisations from Indonesia and Timor-Leste will facilitate the civil society-led reunion for ‘stolen children’ again this year. Held for the ninth time, this reunion will mark more than 100 survivors that we have reunited with their families since 2013 – a culmination of relentless work by survivor communities and civil society organisations in searching for these stolen children’s whereabouts.
Five stolen children will be reunited this November after being separated from their families for almost 45 years. Coming from East Java and South Sulawesi in Indonesia, they will be coming home to Ainaro, Viqueque, and Manatuto in Timor-Leste. The youngest survivor was born in 1984, and the oldest in 1969 (taken from East Timor in 1979).
The reunion process has encompassed three days of preparation and will continue with a week-long visit to Timor-Leste today. As many of the survivors have suffered serious trauma and almost none have had any opportunity for psycho-social assistance, the three days leading up to their return to Timor-Leste were spent at AJAR’s human rights training centre in Bali to help them reacquaint themselves with each other and prepare emotionally for the reunion. Some survivors have forgotten their native tongue, Tetun, but it begins to return during the sessions and as they spend time together.
Two separate truth commissions, Comissāo Acolhimento Verdade e Reconciliacāo or CAVR in 2002-2005 and the bilateral Commission for Truth and Friendship or CTF in 2005-2008, concluded that thousands of children were taken from Timor-Leste by the Government of Indonesia, military or related personnel or institutions between 1975 and 1999. Additionally, Indonesia issued Presidential Decree 72/2011 in response to the CTF’s recommendations, although there has been limited progress in establishing mechanisms to locate the disappeared and separated children.
Civil society organisations in Indonesia and Timor-Leste have been tracking labarik lakon or “stolen children” and their families since 2013. Until November 2023, the working group documented a total of 176 survivors, with 101 of them participating in the reunion process in Timor-Leste.
These reunions are just a first step to rebuilding lives torn by trauma and loss. The survivors’ personal struggle is intertwined with the challenge for the two nations, who must forge a way to reconcile a difficult past. A fact that we continue to remind the government of Indonesia and Timor0-Leste, as Centro Nacional Chega!, a follow-up institution charged with ensuring that recommendations of the two truth commissions are implemented, and Indonesia’s National Human Rights Commission provided official support to this civil society-led initiative.
After these five stolen children returned home, and still finding a way to make up for lost time, thousands others are waiting to be found, documented, and reunited.
To learn more about the situation of stolen children in Timor-Leste and other reparations initiatives between Indonesia and Timor-Leste, please visit our website at asia-ajar.org and chegareport.net and follow the hashtag #ReuniteTimorLesteFamilies on social media.
For further information please contact: AJAR Indonesia Program & Communication Officer: Raisa Widiastari | firstname.lastname@example.org AJAR Timor-Leste Program Officer : Inocencio Xavier | email@example.com