Subject: Reuters: 80 Rights Organizations Seek U.N. Tribunal in E. Timor

see also IFET's press release and letter

Rights campaigners seek U.N. tribunal in E. Timor.

By John O'Callaghan

LONDON, July 5 (Reuters) - An international group of human rights campaigners called on U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Wednesday to set up a tribunal to try Indonesian soldiers who terrorised civilians in East Timor.

The British-based Indonesia Human Rights Campaign (TAPOL) said the 80 signatories to the letter argued that the Indonesian justice system fell far short of the international standards needed to probe "war crimes and crimes against humanity".

"We are writing to urge you to recommend to the Security Council that it takes immediate steps to establish an international tribunal for East Timor," said the letter to Annan signed by a variety of groups in Europe, Asia and North America.

"Speedy justice is essential for peace, reconciliation and stability in East Timor - and for democracy and stability in Indonesia."

The United Nations was mandated to oversee East Timor during its transition to independence after the territory's residents voted overwhelmingly last year to cut ties with Indonesia, which invaded in 1975 after Portugal withdrew from its colony.

In protest, armed gangs backed by the Indonesian army waged a campaign of death and destruction that left much of East Timor in ruins and thousands of people displaced.

An Australian-led force repelled the attackers but there has been sporadic violence against peacekeepers and refugees.

In the letter to Annan, the rights campaigners said they were "concerned that problems may arise from the obstructive tactics of certain factions of the military/police legislators and their allies within parliament and the bureaucracy".

TAPOL said the letter identified "flaws in Indonesia's draft legislation on human rights courts and the poor calibre of judicial personnel as the main obstacles to justice".

"The proposed definitions of human rights crimes are flawed and could result in lower-ranking military officers being targeted so that higher-ranking officers and political leaders can avoid accountability," it said in a statement.

"The letter also draws attention to the problems of ingrained judicial corruption and the lack of prosecutors and investigators able to act professionally and impartially."

Independence leader Xanana Gusmao, on his first official visit to New Zealand, said on Wednesday that contrition and reconciliation would form the basis for peace in East Timor.

"One may ask if such a scenario is feasible given the degree of human and physical devastation and destruction that the Indonesian military intelligence services orchestrated and carried out with the complicity of some East Timorese," he said.

"We do believe that it is possible if those who participated in such operations are ready to face the people and ask for their forgiveness."

Gusmao said a commission would soon be appointed to draft a constitution for the ravaged territory.

The United Nations has said elections and possibly final independence from Indonesia could take place by the end of 2001.


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