Subject: AFR: Timor trials set to downplay role of Indonesian military

Australian Financial Review May 8, 2002

Timor trials set to downplay role of Indonesian military

Rowan Callick, Asia-Pacific Editor

The human rights trials under way in Jakarta over the events in East Timor in 1999 are reinforcing the near-universal image in Indonesia of the conflict as a civil war between equally matched Timorese factions, with Indonesian security forces as bystanders.

That is the conclusion of a new report from the International Crisis Group, whose president is former Australian foreign minister Gareth Evans.

"Within Indonesia, the trials have generated little interest, nothing approaching the attention given to the prosecution of Tommy Soeharto, the former president's son," the report said.

The ICG said the problem was not with the way the cases were being judicially conducted: "Inexperienced as they are, the judges have thus far exceeded expectations, rejecting military arguments and demonstrating a willingness to use international human rights law in a way that defies a common perception of them as incompetents or political hacks."

The problem, rather, was with "the limited mandate of the ad hoc court and the very weak way in which the indictments have been drawn up and presented by the prosecution".

The military was presented as failing to prevent violence rather than actively orchestrating it. Thus, "the indictments suggest little more than criminal negligence on the part of the accused".

"Had the indictments been better prepared, they not only might have helped illuminate the political dynamics in East Timor in 1999, but might have led to more effective policies in Aceh and Papua."

The ICG said that through the trials, the United Nations would continue to be seen as "a biased and manipulative actor, further reducing the already slim chance that it could be an acceptable mediator in future conflicts".

Efforts to curb human rights violations in areas of separatist conflict would be portrayed as anti-nationalist. And the Indonesian army's role in creating, equipping, training and funding militias in Timor would remain unexamined.

The failure of the trials to constitute a genuine domestic remedy for the 1999 crimes would generate fresh calls for an international tribunal, said the ICG. But the chances of this happening "are close to nil".

see ICG report: The Implications of Timor Trials

see also ETAN's Human Rights and Justice page

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