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NGOs: Urgent Steps Needed to Establish Justice

Contact: e-mail: Fax: + 670 390 313324 24 October 2001

TO: The Members of the Security Council of the United Nations
United Nations Headquarters, New York.

Re: Urgent Steps to Establish Justice for Crimes Against Humanity in East Timor

Dear Members of the Security Council,

We are writing to you in relation to the serious plight of the entire justice process surrounding the prosecution of those responsible for the gross and systematic violation of international humanitarian law in East Timor.

After the conclusion of the national election process in East Timor, many refugees, as predicted, are returning to East Timorese soil. Present amongst those returning are known and recognized militia members. The East Timorese stand ready and willing to enter the process of reconciliation with one another, to join arms to face the difficult task of building their new nation together. As ready as the East Timor are to embark on this process of nation building and reconciliation, they acutely aware that any such process is built on a rule of law, and is founded in justice.

The East Timorese belief in justice and the rule of law, however, has not been meet by the measures taken thus far, both under UNTAET in the form of the Serious Crimes Unit and the process in Indonesia itself.

The Serious Crimes Unit, firstly, lacks jurisdiction over those perpetrators who remain outside its territorial reach, particularly those with higher command responsibility for the planned execution of the widespread murder, rape, displacement of population, destruction of infrastructure and property. Notwithstanding the limitation the Serious Crimes Unit faces in terms of territorial jurisdiction, it has failed to prosecute even those within its jurisdiction who were widely known to hold command positions, and has actively pursued only those lower ranking individuals. This has created the anomalous result of those lower-ranking individuals pleading guilty on the basis that they were instructed to carry out the crime by their militia commanders, while those very commanders, walk freely back into communities, often into positions of influence, without charge. The East Timorese people's patience and expectation with this avenue of justice is understandably wearing thin. Meanwhile, the rule of law seems as hard to find at this stage of the process, as it was under colonial rule.

Where the Serious Crimes Unit lacked jurisdiction to prosecute those Indonesia military and government officials implicated in the serious violation of humanitarian law occurring in East Timor, faith was placed by the international community in the justice process within Indonesia itself. At this point, we all must face the reality that, likewise, this process is not capable of holding those responsible to account. After initial glimmers of hope, subsequent political turmoil and instability, and ensuing continual revisions to the mandate and scope of any Ad Hoc Tribunal which is to be establish, has clearly demonstrated that Indonesia is incapable and unwilling to take responsibility for prosecuting those culpable for the crimes against humanity in East Timor.

In the face of this dire situation, East Timorese NGOs came together on the 16 October 2001, and unanimously concluded that an international mechanism of accountability for those responsible for the death, violence and humiliation in East Timor must be urgently established. The same conclusion was reached by the International Commission of Inquiry on East Timor established by the United Nations in January 2000. However, with 2002 close at hand, neither process has brought us nearer to realizing this objective. The situation is made even more critical by the coming end of the UNTAET mission. Under the stewardship of UNTAET was the time when the impunity of the past was needed to be replaced by the rule of law and justice, necessary for the nation building process of and reconciliation for East Timor. Instead, we are facing the dark reality of such impunity characterizing our future.

We urge the United Nations not to leave East Timor alone with the consequences of the crimes so terrible that they are characterized as against all humanity. It is time to take immediate steps to establish an International Tribunal for East Timor. This is the only mechanism that could address the current need for justice, the missing element so far, in the process of nation building for East Timor and worldwide respect for human dignity.

Thank you for your considerations of our concerns.

Sincerely yours,

Yayasan HAK
Lao Hamutuk
Bishop Belo's Center for Peace and Development
Kdadalak Sulimutu Institute (KSI)
Working Group for Electoral Education (KKPP)
Judicial System Monitoring Project (JSMP)
East Timor Student Solidarity Council (ETSC)
Student Solidarity Council of Oe-Cusse
Yayasan Timor Nabilan
Nove-Nove Survivers Group (Maliana)
NGO Forum

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