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East Timor Commentary - Neither Truth Nor Justice

16 August 2002: commentary

Indonesia: East Timor Trials Deliver Neither Truth Nor Justice

In January 2000 an Indonesian government inquiry team reported that crimes against humanity had been committed in East Timor in 1999 and publicly named 33 individuals, including members of the Indonesia military and police, civilian officials and militia members, which it alleged to be responsible.

An "International Human Rights Tribunal should be ready as a backstop if Indonesian measures proved to be inadequate" said NZ Foreign Minister Phil Goff at the time.

Well, the first trials of East Timor cases in newly-established Indonesian human rights courts have shown that the international scepticism that the Indonesian Government could be trusted to hold the perpetrators of human rights violations to account was well-placed.

After the results of the ballot were announced on 4 September 1999 it is estimated that around 2,000 people were unlawfully killed by militia and the Indonesian security forces. Others were subjected to torture, including rape. Over a quarter of a million people fled or were forcibly expelled to Indonesia. Thousands of others sought safety in the hills while infrastructure and property was looted and destroyed.

The former Governor of East Timor, Abilio Jose Osorio Soares was found guilty this week of committing crimes against humanity by failing to control subordinates. He was sentenced to three years' imprisonment.

The former Regional Police Commander, Brigadier General Timbul Silaen, who was responsible for security around the 1999 ballot on independence, was acquitted.

Five Indonesian military, police and government officials who are accused of failing to prevent a massacre in Suai on 6 September 1999, were also found not guilty.

Monitoring the trials, Amnesty International and the East Timor-based Judicial System Monitoring Programme (JSMP), were not surprised: the indictments presented by the prosecutor did not correspond to allegations about the conduct of the accused in East Timor before and after the 1999 autonomy ballot.

Ignoring evidence collected by Indonesia's own Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights Violations in East Timor (KPP-HAM), the United Nations (UN) International Commission of Inquiry and in investigations carried out by the UN Serious Crimes Unit in East Timor, the indictments failed to address: · the role of the Indonesian security forces in setting up and supporting militia in East Timor. · key evidence regarding the direct involvement of the Indonesian security forces in committing serious crimes.

The indictments were sloppily drafted and questions and cross-examinations failed to address the evidence effectively, reflecting a lack of experience among key officials, including judges and prosecutors.

Victims and witnesses summoned to testify at the trials were not provided with adequate protection. Several witnesses from East Timor refused to appear before the court because they were not confident that their security could be guaranteed.

The trials of 16 other suspects, including several senior military officials, are still in progress. The indictments issued and initial proceedings in these cases are similarly flawed.

A succession of decisions by the Indonesian authorities undermined at an early stage the prospect of a credible or effective justice process -- including a decision by President Megawati Sukarnoputri to limit the jurisdiction of the court such that it can only hear a handful out of the many hundreds of cases of serious crimes that were committed in East Timor during 1999.

If Indonesia is to fulfil its international obligation to provide a credible remedy for the torture and killings committed in East Timor both the weaknesses of Indonesia's judicial system and political resistance to holding perpetrators of human rights violations to account must be simultaneously tackled.

Despite stated commitments to collaborate, the Indonesian authorities have failed to cooperate with trial processes currently taking place in East Timor. So far 114 people have been charged with committing serious crimes, including crimes against humanity, by East Timor's Deputy Prosecutor General. Many are living in Indonesia. Indonesia has so far refused to transfer any of them to East Timor for trial by the UN established Special Panel for Serious Crimes, and has also taken no steps to bring most of them to justice in its own courts.

Next Wednesday Phil Goff will be participating in a panel discussion on Indonesia following the Pacific Islands Forum in Fiji.

He should ask the Indonesian officials present whether, in the light of the Indonesian war crimes trials that have taken place so far, it isn't time to once again look at the establishment of an International Human Rights Tribunal.

Ced Simpson is the Executive Director of Amnesty International Aotearoa New Zealand

Background notes:

Amnesty International (AI), the global human rights movement, campaigned against political imprisonment, torture and killings in East Timor from 1975 to 1999. AI is monitoring human rights trials in Indonesia and East Timor, and continues to campaign for human rights in both countries.

Ced Simpson, 46 years old, has been the Executive Director of the New Zealand section of Amnesty International since March 1997. He became a member of Amnesty International in Australia in 1980, and was National President 1986-88. During 1988-93 Mr Simpson worked in Amnesty's International Secretariat in London. During his time as head of the movement's global development program Amnesty International campaigning groups were formed in 39 new countries, including the emerging democracies in Asia, Africa, Latin America and Eastern Europe. He returned to manage Amnesty International's campaigning and membership programs in Australia before being appointed to his current position. As Executive Director Mr Simpson is responsible for managing the development and coordination of the efforts of the 5,500 people in New Zealand who contribute to the work of the Amnesty International movement; he is AI's key representative working with NZ government and the media. He visited East Timor in July 2002.


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