Subject: SMH: Belo seeks war crimes justice for East Timor

also: To forge a future, Timor needs justice for the past

Sydney Morning Herald August 28, 2001

Belo seeks war crimes justice for East Timor

Photo: Bishop Belo ... officers in his sights. Robert Pearce

By Lindsay Murdoch, Herald Correspondent in Dili

Nobel Peace Prize-winner Bishop Carlos Belo has made a new appeal to the international community to establish a war crimes tribunal to punish Indonesian military officers and militia leaders who presided over an orgy of killings and destruction in East Timor in 1999.

Bishop Belo said the future of East Timor depends on justice for the survivors of the "scorched earth" withdrawal of Indonesian troops from East Timor when up to 3,000 people were killed.

"Justice for the people of East Timor requires that the perpetrators of the most serious crimes be identified and prosecuted in the same manner as a common criminal," Bishop Belo said. "This means that a legal process is needed."

Bishop Belo's appeal comes as other East Timorese leaders consider granting an amnesty for all crimes committed in East Timor over more than 20 years, except genocide.

Former guerilla leader Mr Xanana Gusmao made it clear last weekend, when he declared that he would accept nomination to be East Timor's first president, that an amnesty, national reconciliation and good relations with Indonesia would be his priorities.

But all 16 political parties contesting East Timor's first democratic elections on Thursday have pledged to seek an international crimes tribunal, despite the certainty that Indonesia would refuse to co-operate.

The United Nations Secretary-General, Mr Kofi Annan, has warned repeatedly that the UN would consider setting up an international tribunal if Indonesia fails to punish those responsible for the atrocities.

But UN observers say it is unlikely UN Security Council members China and Russia would approve setting up a special East Timor tribunal, leaving UN-established courts in East Timor as the only forum to pursue prosecutions outside Indonesia.

Indonesia has promised to set up a special court to try East Timor cases, but observers doubt that any Indonesian court would convict high-ranking officers such as former armed forces chief, General Wiranto, who has not even been included on a list of 22 suspects by Indonesian prosecutors.

East Timor's Foreign Minister, Mr Jose Ramos Horta, told the Herald yesterday that most of his country's leaders favoured granting an amnesty that would clear the jails on the day it gains independence next year.

"But it is my personal view that in the case of genocide or crimes against humanity those found guilty should serve at least part of their sentences," he said.

Bishop Belo warned that unless the large numbers of Indonesian military officers directly engaged in crimes against humanity in East Timor were brought to account they would continue to perpetrate crimes.

He urged the international community to provide adequate resources and expertise to East Timor's legal system for it to deal with hundreds of militia members who remain in the country.

Bishop Belo said he also favoured a truth, reception and reconciliation commission to enable Timorese to overcome the legacy of the past and move down the path to independence.

Sydney Morning Herald August 28, 2001

Opinion

To forge a future, Timor needs justice for the past

The people of East Timor are entitled to have the perpetrators of the violence against them prosecuted, writes Carlos Belo.

This week marks the second anniversary of the referendum in which we, the people of East Timor, voted for independence. It is the second anniversary of the violence that affected all our lives. At this time we remember all those who have suffered during our transition to independence.

This week we also take the next step in the path towards full independence. On Thursday we elect a constituent assembly which will write our constitution.

It is a proud moment for a new country.

As we move towards independence, we must remain vigilant in pursuing justice for those whose lives were scarred by violence. The inner life of the people of East Timor continues to be clouded by the events of 1999, as well as by doubts about the future.

The path to independence is not only a material phenomenon. It has a spiritual dimension. It is as much a product of ideas as of things. It is our dream that we can build a society founded on the values enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. These are the values that guided and inspired our struggle for independence.

Democracy needs openness and trust. It requires an ability to place our immediate needs behind the common good, to open our minds to those who might represent a larger community than our own family or selves. It requires our minds to look forward rather than backwards.

To do that we need to overcome the legacy of the past. The international community should remain conscious of the legacy of 24 years of Indonesian occupation. In particular, it is important to remember the "scorched earth" withdrawal of Indonesian troops from East Timor during September and October 1999. Up to 3,000 died in 1999, untold numbers of women were raped and 500,000 persons displaced - 100,000 are yet to return.

Those events live on in the minds of Timorese despite the apparent material progress of the past two years.

The survivors of crimes require more than material progress. They need justice, and only justice will lead to reconciliation.

Justice cannot be provided simply or easily. One thing is certain, however, and that is that the future of East Timor depends on it. Only through overcoming the pain and loss of the past 24 years of repression can our country truly walk the path to independence.

Justice for the people of East Timor requires that the perpetrators of the most serious crimes be identified and prosecuted in the same manner as a common criminal. This means that a legal process is needed.

The crimes of 1999 alone are so extensive that it is not possible to deal with them all in a court of law. Nonetheless our people demand an accounting and they are entitled to have the guilt of the authors of the most serious crimes demonstrated.

To date there is no definitive account of the crimes committed by the Indonesian army (TNI) and the militias during 1999. The UN investigations have not even been resourced sufficiently to be able to report on a few of the most serious incidents. As long as this continues the perpetrators remain free and able to pursue their military careers unhindered.

Prosecuting the crimes of 1999 is essential for East Timor, but also for Indonesia. Democracy there is fragile and the military continues to intrude on both government and civil society.

Much remains to be done. We call on the international community for the following:

To push for an international legal process for the generals and top militia leaders whose crimes are not only against the people of East Timor but against the international community for breaches of international criminal law. This requires the international community to call them to account before an international criminal tribunal.

Ensure that a genuine Indonesian legal process that conforms with modern legal standards brings to account the large numbers of TNI officers directly engaged in crimes against humanity in East Timor and in Indonesia. These officers will continue to perpetrate crimes until and unless they are exposed.

Provide adequate resources and expertise to East Timor's legal process to deal with the hundreds of militia who remain in the country.

Support the recently established Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation in East Timor to enable people to overcome the legacy of the past and move forward on the path to independence.

Genuine development in East Timor should not merely concentrate on material progress. Human development requires addressing the trauma and injustice experienced by almost all East Timorese.

Long-term development is just as unlikely to occur in East Timor as in the other post-colonial nations of Africa and Asia without a comprehensive process which enables people to heal and overcome the past.

The path to independence follows the road of justice and reconciliation.

Bishop Carlos Belo is the apostolic administrator of Dili, East Timor. His book, The Road to Freedom, will be published by Caritas Australia next month.


August Menu
July
World Leaders Contact List
Human Rights Violations in East Timor
Main Postings Menu

Note: For those who would like to fax "the powers that be" - CallCenter is a Native 32-bit Voice Telephony software application integrated with fax and data communications... and it's free of charge! Download from http://www.v3inc.com/