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IFET: Letter to UN Sec-General on Tribunal

IFET: Letter to UN Sec-General on Tribunal

October 25, 2001

Honorable Secretary General, Mr. Kofi Annan,

We are writing to urge you to support the establishment by the United Nations of an international tribunal to try the war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide committed in East Timor from 1975 onward. As we wrote to you on 5 July and 30 August of last year, the International Federation for East Timor and many others around the world believe that an international tribunal is essential to punish past violence and deter future violence against the people of East Timor. We see no reason to change this conclusion.

In defiance of UN resolutions, East Timor's right to self-determination was blocked by Indonesia's brutal 1975 invasion and subsequent occupation with the acquiescence of western powers. Following political changes in 1998, Indonesia accepted a "consultation" of the people of East Timor. However, Indonesia demanded that its military alone be responsible for the territory’s security during the ballot. The acceptance of this demand led to the murder of thousands of East Timorese, the displacement of two-thirds of the population, and the thorough destruction of the country.

Reports by UN Human Rights Commission special rapporteurs and by the UN International Commission of Inquiry make clear that the crimes committed in 1999 would not have been possible without planning and action at the highest levels of the Indonesian government and military. The special rapporteurs and the commission of inquiry felt that the Indonesian courts would be unable to bring those responsible to justice and recommended the setting up of an international tribunal. However, trusting in the positive preliminary work of the Indonesian Commission of Inquiry (KPP HAM), the Security Council said it would give the Indonesian government an opportunity to conduct trials. Unfortunately, that process appears to have nearly come to a halt. There have been numerous postponements; the number of suspects and incidents being investigated has continually shrunk (even under the current governments revised decree); and only a small number of cases will be taken to Indonesia's ad hoc court on East Timor, which is only now being organised.

With fearful East Timorese witnesses unlikely to be willing to travel to Indonesia and many suspects retaining influential positions, convictions and appropriate sentences are very unlikely. The trial of the confessed murderers of the three United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees workers at Atambua in September 2000 clearly demonstrates Indonesia's inability to deliver justice. You and many others have rightly expressed outrage at the extremely light sentences given for such heinous crimes.

The extradition of suspects to current courts in East Timor is also unlikely. Despite requests from UNTAET's Serious Crimes Unit and in contravention of UNTAET's Memorandum of Understanding with Indonesia, the Indonesian government has refused to extradite any of those who have been indicted or are wanted for questioning in East Timor.

The people of East Timor are now undergoing the difficult task of reconstructing a country after 24 years of military occupation and the September 1999 destruction. According to Xanana Gusmão, this task will be accomplished only if all Timorese reconcile, including those who were members of the pro-Indonesia militia. Bishop Belo and numerous East Timorese NGOs have noted that for reconciliation to be meaningful, those most responsible must face justice. While some militia leaders have agreed to return to East Timor and face trial, many others, protected in Indonesia, remain out of reach. Reconciliation with Indonesia is similarly hampered by the failure to bring to justice the Indonesian military, political, and police leaders who planned, organized and commanded the militia and who ordered the invasion, occupation and destruction in East Timor.

In your most recent report to the Security Council on UNTAET (S/2001/983), you wrote, "It is clear, however, that the justice system of East Timor will continue to require significant international support." We agree that support for the judicial institutions must be improved and continued. But more is needed.

You also stated that "the responsibility to establish a viable state in East Timor clearly belongs to its people.” And you “urge the Security Council to ensure that these foundations are not undermined and to consolidate the remarkable contribution it has already made to this historic undertaking." One crucial way for the UN to build a solid foundation is to respond to the demand of the East Timorese people for justice by creating an international tribunal to hold Indonesia accountable for past crimes.

After more than two years of waiting for any real commitment on the part of the Indonesian government to bring those responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity to justice, we strongly urge you to implement the recommendations of the UN Commission of Inquiry and endorse the creation of an international tribunal for East Timor. This is the best and only credible way to ensure that international standards of human rights are upheld in the pursuit of justice for the people of East Timor. We further urge that the tribunal cover the period from 1975 onward, especially because the Indonesian military was responsible for the deaths of at least one-third of East Timor’s pre-invasion population within the first several years of the occupation.

An international tribunal is not only a matter of justice for the people of East Timor. A tribunal will provide an authoritative account of what actually happened in East Timor. Many Indonesians still regard the loss of their "27th province" as a UN conspiracy, aided and abetted by Australia. While such views prevail (and they persist at quite high political levels) the UN's actions in 1999 will continue to be resented, and any agreement on reconciliation will be fragile and unenduring with negative implications for East Timor's long-term security especially along its border.

We thank you for your serious consideration of these urgent matters and look forward to your response.

Yours sincerely,


John M. Miller
for IFET

cc: Foreign Ministers of Portugal and Indonesia
Ambassadors to the United Nations of the Security Council member states
International media

Member Organizations of IFET

Australia-East Timor Association
Australians for a Free East Timor
Brisbane East Timor Office (Australia)
Campaign for an Independent East Timor (South Australia)
East Timor International Support Center (Australia)
East Timor Relief Association (Australia)
Hobart East Timor Committee (Australia)
Lismore Friends of East Timor (Australia)
Canadian Action for Indonesia and East Timor
East Timor Alert Network (Canada)
Pacific Concerns Resource Centre (Fiji)
East Timor Group of Committee of 100 (Finland)
Agir Pour Timor (France)
Association Solidarité Timor-Oriental (France)
Gesellschaft fur Bedrohte Volker (Germany)
Watch Indonesia! (Germany)
Greek Support Group for East Timor
East Timor Roundtable (Hong Kong)
Indian Society for Human Rights
Forum Solidaritas Untuk Rakyat Timor Lorosae (FORTILOS, Indonesia)
East Timor Ireland Solidarity Campaign
Latin American and Mediterranean Coalition for East Timor (Italy)
Free East Timor - Japan Coalition
East Timor Information Network (Malaysia)
International Platform of Jurists for East Timor (Netherlands)
Norwegian Cooperation Council for East Timor and Indonesia
Asia-Pacific Coalition on East Timor (Philippines)
Commissão para os Direitos do Povo Maubere (Portugal)
Acção Jovem Para a Paz (Portugal)
Paz é Justica para Timor Leste (Portugal)
East Timor Scotland Support Group
Instituto de Estudios Políticos para América Latina y Africa (Spain)
Östtimor Kommitten (Sweden)
British Coalition for East Timor
East Timor Action Network (USA)
International Secretariat, Parliamentarians for East Timor

International Federation for East Timor (IFET)
Secretariat: Charles Scheiner
P.O. Box 358 Dili, East Timor via Darwin, Australia
Tel. +61-417-923273 or +670-390-325013

U.N. Representative: John M. Miller
48 Duffield St., Brooklyn, NY 11201 USA
Tel. +1-718-596-7668 fax: +1-718-222-4097

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