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East Timor Needs Own Tribunal

Human Rights Activists Welcome Ratification Of International Criminal Court, But Say East Timor Needs Own Tribunal

April 11, 2002 - An East Timorese legislator joined the East Timor Action Network/U.S. (ETAN) in welcoming today's ratification of the International Criminal Court (ICC) Treaty. The court will be able to hear future cases of crimes against humanity, genocide and war crimes.

"We look forward to the start of the international court's operations. The court's creation makes a strong statement that the worst abuses must be prosecuted. However, the ICC comes too late for East Timorese and other victims of past systematic rights violations," said John M. Miller, spokesperson for ETAN. The court's jurisdiction is not retroactive.

"While the ICC can not hold accountable the perpetrators of the crimes against humanity inflicted in East Timor since Indonesia's 1975 invasion, it can help prevent future atrocities," said East Timorese lawyer Aderito de Jesus Soares. A member of the East Timorese legislature and the founder of the East Timor Jurist Association, Soares is currently in New York to observe this week's UN Preparatory Commission for the Establishment of the ICC.

East Timor, which becomes independent on May 20, plans to sign and ratify all international human rights treaties, including the ICC, following independence.

"We know what is like to live under a regime that systematically tortures, rapes and murders," said Soares. "Even now, Indonesia is not prosecuting the high-ranking officers and political officials who planned and directed crimes against humanity committed in East Timor."

Soares and ETAN reiterated their call for an international tribunal to be established to prosecute those most responsible for Indonesia's scorched earth campaigns in East Timor.

"An international tribunal on East Timor will ensure the prosecution of top Indonesian military and government officials, said Soares.

"The ICC is important, but serious past crimes must not be ignored. The Bush administration appears to lack the political will to call for an international tribunal for East Timor and some European government officials argue that a new tribunal will detract from ICC resources. These misguided positions imply that because of bad timing the people of East Timor do not deserve justice," said Miller.

"The severely flawed Indonesian ad hoc court now hearing cases against some mid-level Indonesian military officers and East Timorese in Jakarta is a sham. Its jurisdiction is too limited and powerful military figures sit in court to intimidate the judges. Indonesia's refusal to extradite suspects to East Timor means that many remain out of reach," said Miller.

"This is exactly the kind of national failure that the ICC is meant to redress. Support for the ICC by the international community demonstrates that such cases require international measures to achieve justice," he added.

Recently, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, citing problems with the Indonesian court, called "upon the international community to reconsider the recommendations of the [United Nations] International Commission of Inquiry on East Timor, including that concerning the establishment by the United Nations of an international human rights tribunal."

"The U.S. should ratify the ICC Treaty out of concern for human rights worldwide. Instead the Bush administration refuses to consider ratification and may try to rescind the U.S. signature, undermining global efforts for accountability and justice. The government's message is that while others can be held responsible for human rights violations, the same rules need not apply to the U.S.," said Miller.

After the people of East Timor overwhelmingly chose independence in an August 30, 1999 UN-organized referendum, the Indonesian military and its militia systematically destroyed East Timor. Up to 2000 East Timorese were killed, 70 per cent of the infrastructure destroyed and hundreds of women and girls raped. Hundreds of thousands were forced from their homes; some 60,000 of these remain in squalid militia-controlled Indonesian camps.

The East Timor Action Network/U.S. (ETAN) supports human dignity for the people of East Timor by advocating for democracy, sustainable development, social, legal, and economic justice and human rights, including women's rights. ETAN has 26 local chapters throughout the U.S. For additional information see ETAN's web site (


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