Subject: SMH editorial: Wiranto's war crimes indictment

Sydney Morning Herald March 6, 2003


Wiranto's war crimes indictment

The formal indictment of Indonesia's former armed forces chief, retired General Wiranto, and seven of his senior military officers for war crimes in East Timor is no watershed in the quest for justice in the former Indonesian-controlled territory. Rather, the filing of charges against more than 40 Indonesian officials is a symbolic condemnation of Indonesia's Human Rights Court for its failure so far to identify or punish those responsible for the atrocities of 1999.

The indictments were issued last week by the UN-assisted Serious Crimes Unit in East Timor in respect of killings which marked the end of Indonesian rule there. They were not, as first reported, issued by the UN under international war crimes jurisdiction. The charges were laid by East Timor, which is being assisted in the establishment of its national institutions, including the judiciary, by the United Nations. Under international law, sovereign nations must be given the opportunity to deal with such heinous crimes against humanity through their own legal systems, before cases can be referred to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague.

After the 1999 violence in East Timor, the Indonesian Government managed to deflect international demands for accountability by promising to exact justice. So far, its Human Rights Court has failed to punish a single Indonesian military officer. However, while East Timor has demonstrated the political will to prosecute, it does not have the means. Technically, Interpol may now arrest those indicted. However, there are no extradition treaties in place to deliver them into the dock in Dili. Should a future case be filed in the ICC, on the valid grounds that the Indonesian and East Timorese legal processes have failed, Jakarta is expected to refuse to surrender its nationals to the court.

At the weekend, East Timor's President, Xanana Gusmao, said his poor young nation could not afford to divert its energy into such uncertain legal proceedings, nor further strain ties with Jakarta. This is a hard truth, but not one easily accepted. Almost a quarter of East Timor's people died under Indonesian rule, and the desire for justice - and revenge - remains strong.

More positively, however, the indictments of Wiranto and others should serve to embarrass the Indonesian Government internationally in a potentially constructive way. The indictments point to a wider issue. It is that the same politicised, corrupt and incompetent Indonesian legal system which is failing the East Timorese is also routinely failing the Indonesian people.

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