Subject: WP: Timor Trials Seen Compromised ["a despicable whitewash"]

Excerpt: "This is a disgrace," said one senior Western diplomat here. "It is a despicable whitewash."

The Washington Post Wednesday, April 11, 2001

Timor Trials Seen Compromised

Indonesian Prosecutors Miss Key Deadline in Cases of '99 Violence, Experts Say

By Rajiv Chandrasekaran Washington Post Foreign Service

JAKARTA, Indonesia, April 10 -- The 22 people suspected by the Indonesian government of orchestrating the wave of violence after East Timor voted for independence could escape conviction for crimes against humanity because the attorney general's office has missed a legal deadline for bringing the cases to trial, according to several Indonesian legal specialists and Western diplomats.

The failure to meet the deadline raises the possibility that nobody in Indonesia will be held accountable for the rampage by the military and government-supported militias in 1999 that left hundreds of people dead and resulted in the destruction of more than 85 percent of the buildings in the territory.

In a related case that also has troubled diplomats and activists, prosecutors recently dropped manslaughter charges against three militiamen accused of participating in the killings of three international aid workers on the Indonesian half of Timor island in September. Although the militiamen admitted to stabbing the aid workers, prosecutors have requested that the three, along with three other suspects, be charged with the lesser crime of "mob violence" and be given prison sentences of no more than three years.

"This is a disgrace," said one senior Western diplomat here. "It is a despicable whitewash."

Western diplomats and officials with the United Nations, which is administering East Timor until elections are held later this year, contend that Indonesia has become increasingly uncooperative in addressing issues of justice concerning East Timor. U.N. investigators have been unable to question the 22 suspects despite Indonesian promises to cooperate on legal issues.

Indonesian police also have not arrested any members of a mob that attempted to blow up a car belonging to East Timor's diplomatic representative in front of the national parliament building in Jakarta, even though pictures of the mob have been published in newspapers and the group was led by a popular local singer.

In an effort to fend off an international tribunal to address the East Timor violence, the Indonesian government has repeatedly promised that it would investigate and prosecute soldiers and civilians suspected of crimes. If prosecutors do not obtain convictions, though, human rights activists and diplomats, who already have criticized prosecutors for not naming senior army generals and militia leaders as suspects, said they plan to renew calls for an international tribunal -- a potentially serious embarrassment for Indonesia.

Indonesian officials said they are ready to charge 12 of the 22 suspects, but the legal experts and diplomats believe that judges will throw out those cases because the attorney general's office has not commenced prosecutions within a legally mandated 310-day window after beginning the investigations.

"It is very likely these cases will be dismissed," said Harkristuti Harkrisnowo, a law professor at the University of Indonesia in Jakarta. Prosecutors, she said, "have exceeded the time limits in the law . . . and now they have a big problem."

Under a human rights law enacted last fall, the attorney general's office has 240 days to investigate cases of genocide or crimes against humanity. The office then has 70 days to begin prosecutions.

The 70-day period, legal experts said, expired on Feb. 23.

Attorney General Marzuki Darusman denied in an interview today that prosecutions would be affected by the delay, saying the worries of diplomats and legal specialists were based on "a complete misperception."

Before any charges are filed in connection with the Timor violence, a special ad hoc human rights court must be formed. The creation of such a court was not approved by the parliament until last month, and the legislation still has not been signed by President Abdurrahman Wahid.

Marzuki argued that the 70-day clock does not begin until the special court is formed and charges are filed. "We are wholly on track here," he said. "At the moment the ad hoc court is established, we will immediately submit the files."

The legal experts and diplomats have accused Marzuki and other Indonesian political leaders, including Wahid, of failing to push the parliament to approve creation of the court before the deadline. "It's very clear to us they're setting up a system that has a very high chance of falling apart on its own legs for procedural and evidentiary reasons," said one diplomat. "This is not a mistake. We believe it is clearly designed. They do not want convictions."

A U.N. official in Jakarta said the Indonesian government, despite its previous promises, now "no longer has the political will to see these people in jail."

Although Wahid has said he is committed to bringing perpetrators of the Timor violence to justice, he has encountered stiff opposition from the military, which fears that several senior officers could be implicated. Some political analysts contend that Wahid, who is facing an impeachment process in parliament, has quietly given in to the military in exchange for an agreement they will not actively support the effort to remove him from office.

"He's lost his political capital to bargain with the military," said Jusuf Wanandi, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Jakarta.

Western diplomats and U.N. officials are particularly galled by the decision to downgrade the manslaughter charges in the killings of the three international aid workers, who were from the United States, Croatia and Ethiopia. The three, who worked for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, were stabbed repeatedly by a group of militiamen who had surrounded the U.N. compound in the town of Atambua. After the killings, the mob burned the bodies so badly that it took U.N. officials a week to identify the remains.

Three of the six suspects admitted to police that they participated in the stabbing. Nevertheless, prosecutors told the judge hearing the case that they were dropping the manslaughter charges because they did not have enough evidence.

Marzuki argued that under Indonesian law, participation in mob violence qualifies only as assault and battery. Legal experts have disputed that contention, arguing there is ample evidence in the case to support manslaughter charges.

U.N. officials and diplomats who have been following the trial said prosecutors failed to gather and present basic evidence. They did not request a copy of the autopsy report from the United Nations and failed to interview other U.N. workers who were in the compound in Atambua.

"The prosecution seems to have done the absolute minimum they could do without doing nothing," a U.N. official said.

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