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Rotten Present for Millennium's First New Country

UN Human Rights Commission Abandons Justice For East Timor

ETAN Calls Statement a Rotten Present for Millennium's First New Country

April 22 - The East Timor Action Network (ETAN) described Friday's UN Commission on Human Rights statement on East Timor as "a rotten birthday present for the soon-to-be independent nation."

The Chairperson's Statement on the Situation in Human Rights in East Timor was issued in Geneva today.

"The statement essentially abandons any pretense that those most responsible for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide committed in East Timor should be brought to justice," said John M. Miller, spokesperson for ETAN.

"The statement ignores flaws identified by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Indonesia's ad hoc human rights courts on East Timor," said Miller. "Any reference to the ridiculously limited mandate of the court two months out of a 24-year military occupation and only three of East Timor's 13 districts has been removed. Those sitting on the Human Rights Commission cannot expect anyone to take this statement seriously if it does not even mention this most basic jurisdictional flaw."

The ad hoc court is now hearing cases against some mid-level Indonesian officers and pro-Indonesian East Timorese.

In her report to the Commission, High Commissioner Mary Robinson, said the "limited jurisdiction conferred upon the Court does not address the actual situation as reported to various United Nations officials, independent experts and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) who investigated the 1999 violence." The report 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."

Since 1999, ETAN has joined with East Timorese civil society to urge the U.S. and UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to work to establish an international tribunal.

"An international tribunal is essential to ensure that those at the highest levels of the Indonesian military and government responsible for the violence against the people of East Timor are brought to justice," said Miller.

"We are also concerned about the statement's singling out of the murder of journalist Sander Thoenes. He and his family certainly deserve to have the perpetrators of this vicious crime brought to justice, but by focusing on this case, the commission has indicated a lack of concern for the thousands of other victims killed in 1999, as well as their loved ones and the hundreds of thousands murdered, tortured, raped and imprisoned in the 23 previous years of Indonesia's military occupation," said Miller.

Miller also said that while the commission statement "'welcomes the agreement of UNTAET/East Timorese authorities and the Government of Indonesia to strengthen ongoing co-operation on judicial matters,' the statement fails to recognize Indonesia's disregard for the existing Memorandum of Understanding between the parties, including Indonesia's refusal to extradite any suspects for prosecution or questioning to East Timor.

"The Chairperson's Statement glosses over the ongoing refugee crisis and ignores the failure to disarm and arrest hard-line militia which threaten East Timor's long-term security," said Miller. "Nor is there any mention of the estimated 1600 children still separated from their parents through force or coercion since 1999, some 160 of whom remain in orphanages throughout Indonesia," added Miller.

"Tragically, no Human Rights Commission Statement has even touched on the terrible human rights record of the Indonesian security forces and the ongoing atrocities committed against civilians. They are killing women, children, and men in Aceh and terrorizing the people of West Papua," added Miller.

Following the August 30, 1999 UN-organized referendum, the Indonesian military and its militia proxies systematically destroyed East Timor, murdering at least 2000 East Timorese, destroying over 70 percent of the infrastructure and raping hundreds of women. Hundreds of thousands were forced from their homes. Resistance leader Xanana Gusmao was just declared the winner of the first presidential election in East Timor.The country will gain full independence on May 20. Gusmao has urged the international community to take prime responsibility for bringing perpetrators of atrocities to justice while he focuses on reconciliation.

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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