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East Timor Leaders Must Not Interfere with Justice

East Timorese Political Leaders Must Not Interfere with Justice

The East Timor Alliance for an International Tribunal is shocked to learn of a secret meeting between high officials from East Timor and an accused perpetrator of crimes against humanity. This meeting compounds the many problems East Timorese face in obtaining justice, and raises uncomfortable questions about the rule of law, independence of the judiciary and whether the government hears the victims’ cry for justice.

We recognize that East Timor’s judicial processes have many problems, including lack of resources, lack of international political support, inexperience, and obstruction by the Indonesian government. But the leaders of East Timor should be trying to solve these problems, and not adding to them.

The Alliance has received reliable information that on 31 January or 1 February 2004, President Xanana Gusmão, Foreign Minister José Ramos-Horta and General Prosecutor Longuinhos Monteiro held secret talks with Indonesian former general Wiranto at the luxury Oberoi Hotel in Seminyak, Bali. Partial reports of the meeting have appeared in Australian, Portuguese and U.S. newspapers, but it has not been reported in East Timor. According to the New York-based Wall Street Journal, this is the second time Xanana and Wiranto have met “to discuss reconciliation.”

On 24 February 2003, the Serious Crimes Unit (SCU) in Dili indicted Gen. Wiranto and seven others for Crimes Against Humanity: Murder, Deportation and Persecution. These eight suspects are at large in Indonesia, where Wiranto is running for president. Last November, the Special Panel court issued a warrant for the arrest of Lt. Col. Yayat Sudrajat, but no warrants have been issued for the other seven: Wiranto, Zacky Anwar Makarim, Kiki Syahnakri, Adam Damiri, Tono Suratman, Mohammad Noer Muis and Abilio Osorio Soares. International circulation of warrants is done by Interpol, and General Prosecutor is East Timor’s contact point. The Sudrajat warrant is not yet listed by Interpol.

On 27 January 2004, East Timor’s Deputy General Prosecutor asked the Dili Special Panel to hold a public hearing about whether the warrants for Wiranto et al should be issued, with testimony from victims and from Wiranto. During the Bali meeting the following weekend, Wiranto agreed to testify by video-link, although we believe that was neither the reason for the meeting nor the main topic discussed. The Panel has not yet decided whether to hold such a hearing.

The East Timor Alliance for an International Tribunal is concerned about the secret Bali meeting. Although we do not know exactly what was discussed, we believe that presidential candidate Wiranto asked the East Timorese authorities to cancel the indictment hanging over his head. Although the ex-general may defend himself in a warrant hearing by video conference, we do not believe that this is an adequate mechanism for trying the serious crimes which he is credibly alleged to have committed.

We question the appropriateness and the legality of East Timor’s political leadership meeting with an indicted criminal for secret discussions, and fear for its impact on the independence of East Timor’s judicial system. According to Article 119 of East Timor’s Constitution, “Courts are independent and subject only to the Constitution and the law.” Although the President has the Constitutional authority to issue a public pardon for Wiranto (or anyone else), he has no authority for behind-the-scenes interference in the process of justice.

We believe that Wiranto offered to provide evidence and testimony about the involvement of lower-ranking Indonesian officers in crimes committed in East Timor, in return for dropping the indictment against him. But if his subordinates have committed crimes, especially with his knowledge (or consent), he is also guilty. Plea-bargaining is a valid technique to encourage lower-level criminals to testify against their commanders, not the other way around.

From 2000 through 2003, the Serious Crimes Unit has indicted 369 persons, 281 of whom remain at large, presumably in Indonesia. These include 41 Indonesian military and police officers, as well as Indonesian and East Timorese soldiers, militia members and civilians. To date, only 78 warrants, including 13 Indonesians, have been circulated by Interpol. It is unclear whether most warrants are delayed due to inaction by the judges or the General Prosecutor.

When the SCU indicted former General Wiranto (he was fired by Abdurrahman Wahid in February 2000) et al a year ago, President Gusmão and Foreign Minister Ramos-Horta hastened to reassure the Indonesian government that they personally opposed criminal proceedings against the former Defense Minister. But both leaders reaffirmed the independence of East Timor’s judicial system, saying that they could do nothing to interfere with the legal process of justice. At the time, President Gusmão told the Jakarta Post “I regret (the indictment) but I could not simply ask prosecutors to drop their charges as the General Prosecutors Office is an independent institution.”

Although a UN investigating team recommended establishment of an international tribunal to try crimes against humanity committed in East Timor through 1999, the international community has failed to exhibit the political will to establish its own process or to effectively encourage Indonesia to provide or comply with meaningful justice. Jakarta’s ad hoc court, widely criticized as a sham, did not even indict Wiranto, who was both Defense Minister and Chief of the Military Forces during 1999 when troops under his command, helped by Indonesian-supported militias, ravaged and terrorized East Timor.

The Alliance is a civil society coalition including victims, NGOs, church leaders, students and others. We are not journalists or investigators, but we encourage East Timor’s media to look into this further and verify the facts. And if high East Timorese officials have transgressed the law, we hope that appropriate action is taken.

But most of all, we continue to demand that all responsible for crimes against our people be held accountable, and that all East Timorese government officials, as well as those in other nations, support the process of justice.

© Scoop Media

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