Bali, Indonesia, 23 November 2022 — Asia Justice and Rights (AJAR) and a working group of organisations from Indonesia and Timor-Leste have been searching for thousands of children who has been forcibly taken to Indonesia during its 24-year occupation of East Timor. Working closely with survivors since 2013, the working group was able to trace these “stolen children”s whereabouts. Until now, a total of 171 people have been found and documented, with 80 of them having attended reunion visits with their families in Timor-Leste.
This year, after a 2-year delay due to the pandemic, with significant support from the Government of Timor-Leste through Centro Nacional Chega! (CNC), AJAR and the working group will hold the week-long eighth reunion from 23 November – 2 December 2022 with 16 more stolen children, who now live in the islands of Sulawesi, Kalimantan, North Maluku, Papua, and Java of Indonesia, back to their home in Timor-Leste.
From a sliver of their memory about their place of origin, the working group then tries to locate their family members in Timor-Leste. The 16 stolen children, or labarik lakon in the Timor Leste’s language of Tetun, are found in various places in Indonesia, sometimes in remote corners of Indonesia, and other times hidden in plain sight in major cities. The youngest to be reunited this year was born in 1986 (taken in 1999), and the oldest was born in 1966 and departed East Timor in 1976. After decades apart, they are now looking forward to meeting their families, finally located in the districts of Bobonaro, Ermera, Ainaro, Aileu, Manufahi, Baucau, Viqueque, and down to the easternmost one, Lautém.
Timor-Leste’s truth commission (Comissāo Acolhimento Verdade e Reconciliacāo or CAVR, 2002-2005) gathered and analysed over 8,000 statements relating to the conflict period 1975–1999. The CAVR concluded that thousands of children, the stolen children, were taken during the conflict. Under the title “Truth as the basis for the relationship,” the Commission called on the Indonesian government to provide “the names and details of all East Timorese children removed from Timor-Leste by the Government of Indonesia, military or related personnel or institutions between 1975 and 1999.”
From 2005-2008, following the CAVR, the governments of Indonesia and Timor-Leste jointly established the Commission for Truth and Friendship (CTF) with commissioners and staff from both countries. The CTF report (2008) reaffirmed the CAVR’s recommendation on separated children, urging the two governments to establish a joint ministerial commission on the disappeared with a mandate that includes finding the children. Furthermore, Indonesia has issued the Presidential Decree 72/2011 to follow up on the CTF’s recommendations, however there has been little progress on the establishment of mechanisms to find the disappeared and separated children.
Over seven times of similar reunions, AJAR facilitated a network of like-minded organisations committed to continue striving for the cause, responding to the unmet promises and the lack of initiative from the two governments. These reunions are just a first step to rebuilding lives torn by trauma and loss. Similarly, the two nations must forge a way to reconcile a difficult past. There are thousands more who need to be found, their stories documented and their families traced. Reuniting families is only a small part of a longer journey for truth and justice for them.
Members of the Labarik Lakon (Tetun: “stolen children”) working group include AJAR, IKOHI, KontraS, KontraS Surabaya, KontraS Sulawesi, LBH Bandung, SKP-HAM Central Sulawesi, HAK, ACbit, CVTL, Asosiasaun Vitima, and ICRC-TL.
To learn more about the situation of the stolen children of Timor-Leste and other reparation initiatives between Indonesia and Timor-Leste, please visit our website at www.asia-ajar.org and www.chegareport.org.
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