Subject: RA: Special Crimes Deputy Prosecutor admits trials flawed

Radio Australia

EAST TIMOR: Deputy Prosecutor admits trials flawed 28/06/2002 17:57:00 | Asia Pacific Programs


Siri Frigaard Deputy Prosecutor in East Timor's Serious Crimes Unit, overseeing investigations into crimes against humanity in East Timor has admitted that history may be critical of the justice dealt out to perpetrators of the bloodshed and destruction in 1999. She says the special court established under the United Nations administration to hear the cases is under-resourced and too inexperienced to ensure a fair trial in all cases.


SNOWDON: Siri Frigaard is normally the senior Public Prosecutor for Oslo. She was hired earlier this year as Dili's deputy prosecutor for 18 months to help get the struggling Serious Crimes Investigation Unit back on track.

She's just been told she has to wind up by the end of the year, six months early and knows the job wont be finished.

FRIGAARD: We will not finish to investigate and to prosecute all the events from 1999. That's impossible, its too much. So in a way we have to concentrate on the bigger cases, the most serious ones and try to finish that.

SNOWDON: Critics - and there are many.. say the Serious Crimes Unit is only catching the small fry. The Foundation for Law, Human Rights and Justice documented many crimes before Indonesian troops destroyed its office and jailed the researchers, including its head of policy, Joachim Fonseca.

FONSECA: After two years very few prosecutions have taken place and are only limited to small or low level militia. It is rather concerning that the Serious Crimes is going to be successful or not successful with the current setting especially before changes are made.

SNOWDON: Time for change is running out. While 117 indictments have been handed down ...only 23 convictions have been achieved so far, only two for crimes against humanity. To prosecute the cases the Special Panel of the Dili District Court was established. It has the help of some international judges of varying qualifications, but it will have to get through all the outstanding cases by the end of next year before it too gets wound-up.

Caitlin Reiger, the Co Director of the non-government Judicial System Monitoring Program in Dili says the whole justice system is under stress.

REIGER: Its really struggling, its struggling in all aspects of its work in terms of ordinary cases but also particularaly in the handling of the serious crimes cases which are focussing on the violence from '99.

SNOWDON: It shouldn't surprise anyone that a country left in ruins and with just one qualified lawyer and no indigenous judges should be finding it difficult to get a functioning justice system operating just a few years after the Indonesian sponsored chaos of '99.

But that's what the United Nations adminstration had hoped for when it set up a court system and the Serious Crimes Unit just a year later.

And not just any justice system - but one that could deal with crimes against humanity on the scale seen in East Timor. Caitlin Reiger.

REIGER: Its a range of problems, mainly the fact that Indonesia isn't cooperating with the prosecutions and therefore there's a limit to how much those cases that are brought here in East Timor are able to achive. And also the other major problem is the situation here in the court system that its struggling and will need significant ongoing international assistance for some time to come.

SNOWDON: So its not just a case of first catch your criminal but make sure you can put on a fair trial. Some of the problems facing East Timor's court include the lack of translators, a serious lack of qualified judges and defence lawyers, who are facing court prosecutors with experience from international tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. There's little funding to make many improvements. Its a fact Deputy Prosecutor Siri Frigaard doesn't deny.

FRIGAARD: What I am afraid of is that afterwards, some years ahead people will say that its not justice because they didn't have enough defence or they didn't have proper interpretors. That I'm afraid might happen.

Back to June menu

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