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Indonesia: President, establish rights tribunals

Indonesia: President must establish rights tribunals

Human Rights Watch
New York, March 23, 2001

Human Rights Watch today urged Indonesian
President Abdurrahman Wahid to issue a presidential decree establishing
special human rights courts.

On March 21, Indonesia's parliament formally approved special courts to
prosecute the 1999 crimes in East Timor, as well as cases stemming from
a massacre by security forces of Muslim protesters in Tanjung Priok, the
port area of Jakarta, in 1984. Under Indonesian law,
establishment of the courts now awaits only action by the
president.

"The parliament's action removes a huge obstacle to justice, but the
real question is when we will see actual trials begin," said Sidney
Jones, Asia director of Human Rights Watch. "Not only do we need the
President to issue a decree, but we also need the Attorney-General to
issue indictments and the Supreme Court to appoint judges for the new
courts. Unless all of that happens quickly, skepticism about Indonesia's
will to confront the military about human rights abuse is just going to
grow deeper."

Indonesian justice groups have long demanded a tribunal for the crimes
committed in East Timor after the independence referendum there on
August 30, 1999. In January 2000, separate international and Indonesian
commissions of inquiry concluded that systematic rights abuses had taken
place, and that Indonesian military officials and the militia leaders
they organized and trained were responsible for the crimes. The
international inquiry team, set up at the request of United Nations
Secretary-General Kofi Annan and under the auspices of the U.N. High
Commissioner for Human Rights, called for an international tribunal to
be set up to try the crimes.

The international community ultimately did not push for immediate
establishment of such a tribunal, deferring instead to Indonesia's
assertion that it would see that justice be done in Indonesian courts.
Indonesia's failure until now to take meaningful steps toward
prosecution of the crimes has led to renewed calls for an international
tribunal, a demand likely to be echoed in coming weeks at the annual
meeting of the U.N. Commission for Human Rights in Geneva.

The Tanjung Priok incident, in which troops opened fire on Muslim
protestors in 1984, has long been a symbol in Indonesia of the alleged
second-class status and political powerlessness of Muslim groups.
Although the overwhelming majority of Indonesia's citizens are Muslim
and the country is today led by a moderate Muslim cleric, Muslim
political forces were marginalized during the first two decades of
Soeharto's rule. Since the ouster of Soeharto in May 1998, pressure has
mounted for justice for the Tanjung Priok crimes.

A copy of the letter to Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid can be
found at http://www.hrw.org/press/2001/03/indo0323.htm#letter

For more information on Indonesia, please see:

Indonesia: Transition and Regional Conflict (HRW Focus Page) at
http://www.hrw.org/campaigns/indonesia/index.htm

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