Subject: East Timorese Still at Risk, UN Warned

The Australian

May 30, 2005

East Timorese Still at Risk, UN Warned

By Mark Dodd

FEARS have been raised for the safety of scores of witnesses to the atrocities committed against East Timor's final struggle for independence in 1999 as the UN unit responsible for investigating human rights abuses wraps up its work.

In a letter to the senior UN administrator in Dili, Sukehiro Hasegawa, the Serious Crimes Unit warns of the consequences of handing over its intelligence archives to the East Timor Government.

The SCU, which is due to wind up next month, fears the documents could fall into the hands of vengeful Indonesians after the establishment of a controversial Commission of Truth and Friendship between the two countries.

"When gathering the evidence and conducting investigations, many of the victims and witnesses to the violence, which included serious sexual assaults, were afraid and extremely reluctant to give testimony," the letter says.

"This was due to the fear they have of retribution from the perpetrators, including former militias, Indonesian police, TNI (army) and senior members of the Indonesian armed forces and former civil administration."

The Australian has received a copy of the May 2 letter, signed by the SCU's former UN deputy prosecutor-general, police chief and head of investigations.

Its authors say failure to properly secure five years of forensic evidence would be a "gross breach of trust" that the victims had placed in the panel.

"With the closure of the SCU there will be no witness management unit, let alone a witness protection asset. The PNTL (East Timor police) are not yet ready to perform that role," they say.

The SCU was set up to investigate human rights abuses linked to 1500 murders in 1999. It was created by the UN body ordered to determine responsibility for the bloodshed. Its murder investigations work ceased almost a year ago and it has been finalising its reports since then.

The warnings in the letter come as the outgoing head of the SCU, Dave Savage, said he was saddened by the lack of international support to prosecute those responsible for the 1999 atrocities.

"I think it was always all of our hopes that investigation would become an international process and we would get access to the main perpetrators the same as in Rwanda and Yugoslavia," Mr Savage said yesterday.

The SCU investigated about half the murders, charging 391 suspects and issuing 327 arrest warrants, including one for former Indonesian presidential candidate and armed forces chief General Wiranto. 

But Indonesia refused to accept the jurisdiction of the SCU, and no Indonesian suspects were ever handed over to face justice. Of the 84 convictions for war crimes and human rights abuses, most involved low- to middle-ranking former Timorese militia. A UN commission of experts will now recommend what further action needs to be taken to deliver justice to East Timorese victims.

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