Subject: IHT/Dili: Listen to the Voices of E. Timor's Victims [+HRW Opinion]

International Herald Tribune Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Op-Ed Contributor

Listen to the Voices of East Timor's Victims

By Adeito de Jesus Soares

DILI, East Timor The victims of Indonesia's atrocities in East Timor six years ago are, once again, hoping that action by the United Nations will bring to justice those responsible for their suffering. But unless the Security Council acts on the report of the secretary general's commission of experts, our hopes may, once again, be crushed.

Before and after East Timor's independence referendum in 1999, the Indonesian military and its proxy militias unleashed a wave of violence that killed at least 1,450 people and left 300,000 homeless. Since then, various organizations, including the United Nations, have thoroughly investigated what happened. All reached the same conclusion - that the violence in 1999 amounted to crimes against humanity. Most of the investigations urged that the perpetrators be tried by an international tribunal.

So far, these recommendations have been set aside and the major perpetrators remain at liberty. Worse, many of those accused of leading the deadly campaign in 1999 are supervising similar atrocities in Indonesia, especially Aceh and West Papua.

Initially, the United Nations agreed to give Indonesia a chance to try its own. However, the UN commission of experts concluded that Jakarta's ad-hoc human rights court on East Timor was deeply flawed. Its trials resulted in the acquittal of most of the defendants; the most senior suspects were never even indicted. The commission recommended an internationally supervised six-month timetable for the Indonesian government to re-open the trials based on new evidence that would try or retry senior perpetrators.

This face-saving measure would give Indonesia one more chance to show that it can credibly try its generals. Should Jakarta fail again, the commission reaffirmed previous recommendations urging that the United Nations establish an international tribunal.

The commission of experts also criticizes the Commission on Truth and Friendship set up recently by the East Timor and Indonesian governments, arguing that its terms contradict well-established international legal principles, because of its "apparent exclusion of further justice processes," and hence of real accountability for serious crimes committed in East Timor. The UN commission appealed to the international community not to financially support the Commission on Truth and Friendship unless its terms of reference are substantially revised.

The Security Council can set an example in combating impunity worldwide by endorsing the commission of experts' recommendations for substantive justice.

The United Nations must pressure both the Indonesian and East Timor governments to cooperate in a credible international process to try those responsible for these crimes. The Indonesian government has been reluctant to submit to its international obligations on this issue. The ad-hoc human rights court was part of a strategy by the Indonesian government to whitewash the many crimes against humanity committed by its military during the occupation of East Timor and remove them from the international agenda.

More disappointing is East Timor's position on this issue. The government's pragmatic stance on crimes against humanity has drawn a great deal of criticism from civil society both within East Timor and internationally. The creation of the joint Commission on Truth and Friendship is a direct result of this approach.

The East Timorese government has been cautious not to offend its giant neighbor and former colonizer. Foreign Minister José Ramos-Horta has publicly rejected the recommendations of the commission of experts in a joint declaration with Indonesia. Instead, both governments have said that the Commission on Truth and Friendship, which held its first meeting last week, is meant to bring "definitive closure" to the events of 1999.

No one doubts that reconciliation between Indonesia and East Timor is extremely important. However, justice is indispensable to the success of true reconciliation. The United Nations, through the Security Council, must listen to the voices of East Timor's victims.

Aderito de Jesus Soares is a human rights lawyer and a former member of East Timor's Parliament.

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