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UN HR Commission Abandons Justice for E Timor

For Immediate Release Contact: John M. Miller, 718-596-7668; 917-690-4391

UN Human Rights Commission Abandons Justice for East Timor; Pretends Sham Indonesian Trials Are Redeemable

April 25 - The East Timor Action Network (ETAN) strongly criticized the UN Commission on Human Rights for turning its back on the East Timorese people and jeopardizing current and future UN missions.

"Today's statement continues the trend of ignoring Indonesia's failure to hold accountable those responsible for the massive human rights abuses in East Timor," said John M. Miller, spokesperson for ETAN.

In a chairperson's statement, the Commission expressed "disappointment" in Indonesia's conduct of its Ad Hoc Human Rights court on East Timor and called on Indonesia to "improve the current legal processes." Follow up is unlikely as the Commission decided to limit next year's agenda to consideration of technical cooperation with East Timor in the field of human rights.

"Indonesia's ad hoc court on East Timor is fundamentally flawed," said Miller. "The Commission, by calling for Indonesia to fix an irreparable process, is in effect saying it is willing to play along with Indonesia's farce."

"It is clear that only an international tribunal on East Timor can achieve meaningful justice. We urge the Secretary-General and Security Council to set up such a tribunal to prosecute those who committed war crimes and crimes against humanity from 1975 on," said Miller. "Instead of coddling Indonesia, the UN and its members should commit more resources to the existing serious crimes process in East Timor, which has issued credible indictments of top officials for the 1999 violence."

The Commission's statement commended the work of the Serious Crimes Unit and called on governments to cooperate with it, but does not mention Indonesia's public refusal to extradite the nearly two-thirds of already-indicted suspects believed to reside in Indonesia.

"Whether on or off the Commission's agenda, support for the rule-of-law and basic compassion for the victims demands holding responsible the commanders and other ranking officials who oversaw and coordinated systematic violations of human rights," said Miller. "The Indonesian military directed its scorched-earth campaign in East Timor against a UN mission; those murdered included UN personnel. Countries whose citizens staffed the 1999 UN mission should want to send the strongest possible message to others who would do likewise."

This week, Indonesia announced it was campaigning to regain a seat on the UN Human Rights Commission.

"Indonesia must earn a place on the Commission. It can start by putting in place effective mechanisms to deal with past abuses and by ending military impunity in Papua, Aceh and elsewhere," said Miller.

The Commission's 53 member states are elected by the Economic and Social Council. While a member of the Commission from 1991 to 2002, Indonesia worked to deflect and water down criticisms of its own human rights record.

Since 1999, ETAN has joined with East Timorese civil society to urge the UN Security Council and Secretary-General Kofi Annan to establish an international tribunal. For additional information see ETAN's web site (


Following the August 30, 1999 UN-organized referendum on independence, the Indonesian military and its militia proxies systematically destroyed East Timor, murdering approximately 2000 East Timorese, destroying over 70 percent of the infrastructure and raping hundreds of women. Hundreds of thousands were forced from their homes.

A Commission of Inquiry set up by the Commission on Human Rights and three special rapporteurs recommended establishing an international tribunal for East Timor in the following months. Instead, the UN Secretary-General and Security Council decided to give Indonesia the opportunity to hold its own trials.

The UN also authorized and funded the Serious Crimes Unit (SCU) and Special Courts in East Timor to prosecute crimes against humanity. While the SCU has indicted high-ranking officials for orchestrating the violence in 1999, Indonesia has refused to extradite anyone to East Timor.

Indonesia's ad hoc Human Rights Court on East Timor has been characterized by poorly drawn indictments and weak prosecutions that have in effect rewrote history. Eleven of 14 Indonesian defendants have already been acquitted by the court. The sentences handed down for the five convicted (including the only two East Timorese defendants) have not been commensurate with the crimes committed: four defendants received less than the legal minimum under Indonesian law, and all remain free pending appeal. The verdicts in the last two cases before the ad hoc court are expected shortly.

In a report this year to the Human Rights Commission, Sergio de Mello, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and former UN administrator in East Timor, criticized "the limited geographical and temporal jurisdiction of the Court; the lack of experienced prosecutors and judges; the intimidating and, at times, hostile, courtroom treatment of Timorese witnesses by some judges, prosecutors and defense counsel; the causes and consequences of non-attendance of Timorese witnesses at the proceedings; and the lightness of the sentences imposed, which bear no reasonable relationship to the gravity of the offences committed."

The report also noted "the failure to put before the court evidence that portrays the killings and other human rights violations as part of a widespread or systematic pattern of violence seriously undermines the strength of the prosecution's case and jeopardizes the integrity and credibility of the trial process."

The UN's Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers recently wrote that the prosecutions violate "the principle that prosecutions are to be undertaken in good faith."

The defendants were primarily accused of failing to prevent the actions of others rather than for acts they may have directly committed. The prosecution repeatedly described the violence in 1999 as the result of conflict among East Timorese factions and portrayed the UN administration of the referendum as biased and anti-Indonesian.

-- 30 --

John M. Miller Internet:

Media & Outreach Coordinator
East Timor Action Network: 12 Years for Self-Determination & Justice

48 Duffield St., Brooklyn, NY 11201 USA
Phone: (718)596-7668 Fax: (718)222-4097
Mobile phone: (917)690-4391
Web site:

Support ETAN, make a secure financial contribution:

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how to learn more about East Timor on the Internet

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