Selected postings from east-timor (reg.easttimor)

Subject: SCMP: Justice for East Timor victims? Not in Indonesia

INSIGHT A11 SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST

TUESDAY , SEPTEMBER 2 , 2 0 0 3

WAR CRIMES

ADERITO SOARES

Justice for East Timor victims? Not in Indonesia

Acar bomb exploded at the Marriott Hotel in Jakarta on August 5, killing 12 people. That same day, across town, a man responsible for many more deaths received a slap on the wrist as Indonesia's ad hoc human rights court ended its judicial charade. Major-General Adam Damiri received three years in jail for his involvement in the 1999 devastation in East Timor. He remains free pending his appeal, and is unlikely to spend a day in a cell.

The Jakarta court, which acquitted 12 of the 18 East Timor suspects brought to trial, is clearly a sham, despite its verdict on Damiri. The trials have been flawed, unfair and unprofessional. The situation is worsened by the powerlessness of the Special Panel Court established by the UN in East Timor, to bring the "big fish" in Jakarta to trial.

Now there is no alternative, if justice is to be upheld, to establishing an international tribunal into the atrocities that took place in East Timor. This would serve the interests of both East Timor and Indonesia.

The enforcement of justice would help East Timorese victims build a future for their new state and uphold their dignity as a nation. As for Indonesia, holding criminals accountable would deter others, helping to prevent similar atrocities in Aceh, West Papua and elsewhere in the archipelago. It could also spark reform in the Indonesian judiciary and help propel the country towards real democracy.

Since the UN-sponsored referendum on independence in August 1999, East Timorese leaders have worked hard to strengthen ties with Indonesia at the cost of justice. Two years ago, Timorese President Xanana Gusmao gave a warm hug to the notorious Army Special Forces Lieutenant-General Prabowo Subianto, son-in-law of former president Suharto. Human rights advocates were deeply disappointed by Mr Xanana's warmth towards the general, who has been accused of serious human rights violations in both Indonesia and East Timor.

The East Timorese government has acted pragmatically in establishing its relationship with the Indonesian government, for several reasons. The tiny country still faces the possibility of retaliation by Jakarta, as well as subversive activities by rogue military elements and militias. Also, East Timor has strong economic ties to Indonesia.

East Timor's president and foreign minister have consistently advocated this pragmatic position, especially when it comes to prosecuting Indonesian officials over human rights violations in East Timor.

Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri's stance was different in the beginning, when he described the human rights court in Jakarta as seriously flawed and called for an international tribunal. Unfortunately, on his recent visit to Jakarta, the prime minister softened his position by declaring that his government would not push for an international tribunal. To avoid offending Indonesia, Timorese leaders now say the international community bears the chief responsibility to advocate and establish an international tribunal.

Examples of gross human rights violations that fall under the categories of crimes against humanity and war crimes, during Indonesia's occupation, are legion. Indeed, the UN Independent Commission of Inquiry specifically called for an international tribunal to try those who committed such crimes in East Timor during the post-referendum massacre. However, despite the fact that nine East Timorese UN employees were murdered after the 1999 ballot, the UN put the recommendation on hold while it gave the Indonesian government a chance to try the alleged perpetrators through its own judicial system.

Last week, the security council called for an end to impunity for those who attack UN and humanitarian missions. Responding to the bombing of UN headquarters in Baghdad, the council expressed its "determination to take appropriate steps in order to ensure the safety and security" of its personnel. If the security council is serious, it should begin by establishing an international court to prosecute the many crimes against humanity committed in East Timor.

Aderito Soares is a human rights lawyer from East Timor


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