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E Timor Tribunal Alliance statement to UN Mission

E Timor Alliance for Int'l Tribunal statement to UN Mission

East Timor National Alliance for an International Tribunal
c/o Perkumpulan HAK, Farol, Dili, Timor Lorosa’e. Tel. +670-3313323

Statement to the Technical Assessment Mission from
United Nations Headquarters, New York

15 January 2004

The East Timor National Alliance for an International Tribunal appreciates the continuing interest of the United Nations in supporting peace, security, stability and government administration in Timor-Leste. We are, however, disillusioned by the half-hearted support for justice shown thus far, and offer some suggestions for post-UNMISET involvement by the United Nations which can help end impunity for perpetrators of crimes against our people and against humanity, between 1975 and 1999.

We are a coalition of organizations representing local and international NGOs, churches, students and victims of these crimes. Although we have been disappointed by the lukewarm interest in justice shown by East Timor’s government in recent months, we share their view that the primary responsibility lies with the international community. East Timor is a new, small and impoverished nation with a flawed judicial system. It would be unreasonable and unrealistic to expect our government alone to pursue justice.

Yet justice must be pursued, holding accountable the masterminds and commanders of atrocities committed against our people during the Suharto regime’s brutal invasion and 24-year occupation of our country. The invasion was rightly declared illegal by the United Nations General Assembly and Security Council, and many of the crimes were of universal jurisdiction, violating both the Rome Statute and UNTAET Regulation 2000/15. These were crimes against the entire world (and after May 1999 in direct violation of an agreement Indonesia had signed with the UN Secretary-General), and the entire international community shares responsibility for seeing that those who committed them are brought to justice.

In January 2000, when the International Commission of Inquiry on East Timor recommended to the Secretary-General that “The United Nations should establish an international human rights tribunal … to receive the complaints and to try and sentence those accused… of serious violations of fundamental human rights and international humanitarian law which took place in East Timor since January 1999 regardless of the nationality of the individual or where that person was when the violations were committed.”

Unfortunately, ever since then, the international community has been running away from justice. It took more than half of UNTAET’s time before the Serious Crimes Unit began to function effectively, and to date 76% of the people they have indicted, including all the Indonesians, are given sanctuary by Indonesia. The Special Panels have only adjudicated 30 cases (convicting 46 people), with eight trials currently in process.

When the SCU belatedly indicted high-level Indonesian commanders almost a year ago, both the UN and East Timor’s government distanced themselves from the process; arrest warrants have yet to be issued or circulated to Interpol for this and most other indictments.

For two years the international community stalled on effective action, using Jakarta’s fraudulent ad hoc human rights court as an excuse. A few days ago, the latest travesty occurred with Indonesia’s appellate court upholding the acquittal of General Timbul Silaen, enabling him inflict the same crimes against the people of West Papua as he did in East Timor in 1999.

This record of support for justice by the United Nations, including three UN missions in East Timor over five years, has been sharply disappointing. Nevertheless, the East Timor Alliance continues to believe that there are people and institutions within the UN system who agree with our call for accountability. We therefore suggest three options, in order of preference, for the UN to consider as you decide on the nature of the UN’s involvement after UNMISET.

1. An international criminal tribunal for East Timor, backed by the political will to compel Indonesia’s cooperation, remains the mechanism most likely to secure justice. From 1974 until today, Indonesia has been at various times responsible or complicit in human rights violations, and unwilling and/or unable to hold violators accountable. Without firm pressure from the governments of the world -- most especially those with global or regional interests or close economic or security ties with Jakarta -- this criminality will continue with impunity. Indonesia’s political and military leaders were fortunate to commit their crimes in East Timor before the establishment of the International Criminal Court, but there is no legal obstacle to holding them accountable for crimes of universal jurisdiction defined in the Rome Statute.

2. Until an international tribunal is established, extending and strengthening the current hybrid UNMISET/RDTL Serious Crimes Unit and Special Panels could secure more justice than has thus far been possible. We urge the UN, especially members of the Security Council, to strengthen the justice mandate for a post-UNMISET mission, and to back that mandate with resources and political commitment to compel on Indonesia to cooperate. This commitment has been lacking until now, but Indonesia’s continued defiance of international human rights law and civilized behavior, coupled with the ongoing calls for justice from victims of their crimes in East Timor and Indonesia, should re-awaken the governments of the world to this necessity. In this case, the Special Panels will also need to be expanded, as they do not have the capacity to try even a fraction of those who have been indicted.

3. If the UN and the governments of the world continue to be unwilling to support meaningful justice for crimes against humanity and East Timor, an unchanged continuation of the current Serious Crimes Unit and Special Panels is unwarranted. In reality, the UNMISET/UNTAET SCU and SP have accomplished three roles:

a) Investigating and developing evidence about serious crimes committed here, which sometimes leads to an indictment and press releases, occasionally to arrest warrants, and rarely to prosecution in court.

b) Bringing low-level East Timorese perpetrators of these crimes to trial and conviction.

c) Providing an excuse for East Timor’s government and the international community to avoid meaningful action for justice.

We believe that, absent a stronger political commitment, the Special Panels should be terminated when they have completed all trials begun before the UNMISET mission ends in May 2004. Task (b), which is all they have been able to do, can be performed by East Timorese judges. Serious Crimes Unit files on East Timorese defendants should be turned over to the General Prosecutor to pursue these cases in the Dili District Court (which needs strengthening and support, as does East Timor’s entire justice system).

The Serious Crimes Unit should be extended for another year, to continue task (a). Although they may not be able to issue international indictments if there is no court to try them in, that same problem would exist if the Special Panels were extended, given the case backlog and the fact they will not be extended indefinitely, as it would take many years for all those already indicted to be brought to trial. The case files developed, and press releases about those who should be indicted, can help to provide momentum and evidence for establishment and prosecution in an international criminal court.

Task (c), whether intentional or not, is a cruel charade perpetrated by those for whom justice is a weapon of realpolitik, rather than a basic human right. It would be better to do nothing than to perpetuate the lie.

Thank you very much for your concern, and we hope you are successful in crafting a follow-on UN Mission which balances the needs of the East Timorese people and government with those of the United Nations. After 23 years of UN impotence in ending Indonesia’s illegal occupation, followed by five years of intense activity, the UN has an obligation to finish what it started.

The people of East Timor continue to be patient, but we can not forget.

Dili, East Timor 15 January 2004

Board, East Timor National Alliance for an International Tribunal Rosentino Amado Hei Maria Afonso de Jesus Marito de Araújo

Attached for reference: press release issued by the Alliance on 7 December 2003, which can be read at

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John M. Miller Internet:

Media & Outreach Coordinator East Timor Action Network: 12 Years for Self-Determination & Justice

48 Duffield St., Brooklyn, NY 11201 USA Phone: (718)596-7668 Fax: (718)222-4097 Mobile phone: (917)690-4391 Web site:

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