Subject: Indon human rights tribunal fails to uphold justice

The Jakarta Post January 29, 2003

Human rights tribunal fails to uphold justice

M. Taufiqurrahman, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

A human rights watchdog on Tuesday denounced the government for poorly handling the ad hoc tribunal for human rights violations in East Timor, saying that the trials were a complete failure.

The executive director of the Institute for Policy Research and Advocacy (ELSAM), Ifdhal Kasim, said that the tribunal was defective from the outset, hence it came as no surprise that it failed to bring the perpetrators of crimes against humanity to justice.

He also proposed that the government amend Law No. 26/2000 on the human rights court and provide the law with a separate criminal code procedure, to ensure that human rights violations would not take place in the future.

"The presidential decree on the establishment of the tribunal stipulates that the court try only human rights violations that took place in Liquica, Dili and Suai from April to September 1999. This means that human rights violations in other areas were untouched," Ifdhal said.

He also said that during the trial, the presiding judges and prosecutors did not make any serious effort to ensure that justice was upheld and meted out.

"The judges and prosecutors do not have enough understanding on the concept of human rights, as many of them came from administrative and civil law backgrounds," he explained during a discussion evaluating the human rights tribunal.

The tribunal has thus far handed down verdicts to 15 defendants for human rights abuses committed after the people of East Timor voted for independence from Indonesia in a UN-sponsored ballot in 1999.

Most of the 15 were either acquitted or remained free.

"The court's decision to let them free sets a bad precedent for the recurrence of future human rights violations," Ifdhal remarked.

Asmara Nababan, formerly a member of the now defunct Commission of Inquiry into Human Rights Violations (KPP-HAM) in East Timor, said that the lack of political will from the government had contributed to the poor performance of the human rights tribunal.

"The fact that the convicts are not yet behind bars is a strong indication that the government has no intention to punish the human rights violators," he emphasized.

Asmara feared that if the government did not take the human rights tribunal seriously, the international community, as well as the families of the East Timorese victims, could bring the cases to the International Court of Justice at The Hague.

Aware of the fact that most cases of violations in East Timor were committed by military personnel, the watchdog body urged the government to provide protection for all judges and prosecutors involved in the trials, in addition to improving their knowledge and capabilities in dealing with human rights issues.

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