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East Timor's - Immunity to U.S. Troops Disturbing

Rights Group "Deeply Disturbed" by East Timor's Grant of Immunity to U.S. Troops

U.S. Activists Say Agreement Undermines International Criminal Court & Universal Justice

August 27, 2002 -- The East Timor Action Network/U.S. (ETAN) said today that it was "deeply disturbed" by East Timor's decision to give U.S. troops in the new nation immunity from prosecution by the International Criminal Court (ICC).

"We are deeply disturbed and angered that the U.S. government pressured East Timor to exempt U.S. troops from the ICC. The East Timorese suffered greatly during the U.S.-supported illegal occupation of their homeland when the Indonesian military committed the very crimes that the ICC is designed to discourage," said John M. Miller, spokesperson for ETAN.

East Timor's parliament ratified the Treaty of Rome establishing a permanent ICC on August 12. East Timor is the third country to sign an Article 98 agreement with the U.S. granting immunity. The others are Romania and Israel. The ICC can hear cases of genocide and crimes against humanity committed after July 1, 2002.

"When joining the court, East Timor affirmed its commitment to human rights and universal justice. Now, with the stroke of a pen, the East Timorese government has undermined these principles," said Miller.

Recently, the U.S. has used the UN peacekeeping mission in East Timor as a bargaining chip in its campaign to undermine the ICC. Last May, the Security Council rejected a U.S. proposal to exempt from ICC jurisdiction peacekeepers with the post-independence UN Mission in East Timor (UNMISET). Although the U.S. voted to establish the mission, it refused to replace three unarmed military observers assigned to UNMISET, apparently to send a warning during the contentious debate over renewal of the peacekeeping mission in Bosnia.

ETAN also urged East Timor not to sign additional agreements renouncing jurisdiction over U.S. soldiers. "There are reports the U.S. government has proposed that East Timor sign a Status of Forces Agreement with the U.S. which would exempt U.S. military personnel in East Timor from any criminal prosecution. Although such agreements have provided exemptions for U.S. personnel in the past, many now allow host countries to retain the right of jurisdiction in cases of overriding national interest or of widespread public concern," said Miller.

"The history of East Timor demonstrates why a single standard of justice and strong enforcement mechanisms are vital. The ICC is designed to deter and prosecute war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide of the nature committed during decades of Indonesian occupation. We are concerned that East Timor, which struggled so valiantly for many years to achieve independence and rule-of-law, is being asked to abandon these principles," said Miller.

"Recent acquittals by the Indonesian ad hoc court on East Timor of Indonesian security officers accused of crimes against humanity have strengthened calls for genuine justice for East Timor. This dramatically illustrates the need for international mechanisms to address serious crimes including an ad hoc international tribunal for past crimes in East Timor and an uncompromised permanent international court for current and future crimes," he added.

The East Timor Action Network/U.S. (ETAN) supports human dignity for the people of East Timor by advocating for democracy, sustainable development, social, legal, and economic justice and human rights, including women's rights. For additional information, see ETAN's web site (

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