|Subject: FT: Shadows of 1999 killings cloud
Shadows of 1999 killings cloud East Timor
By Shawn Donnan
Published: June 20 2006 01:32 | Last updated: June 20 2006 01:32
To anyone who has followed East Timor’s violent birth, the prefab trailer sitting just inside the entrance of the former United Nations compound known as “Crocodile Alley” is an uneasy reminder of the stalled judicial efforts that have followed. Behind the black grating and heavy padlocks that protect its windows and doors sit filing cabinets holding thousands of hours of witness interviews, recovered documents, autopsy photos and other evidence built up over five years of work by UN prosecutors, officials say.
In the trailer sits the documentary evidence of almost 1,500 murders carried out by Indonesian soldiers and pro-Jakarta militias in the weeks surrounding an August 1999 vote for independence by the East Timorese.
Also there is the evidence that caused UN prosecutors in February 2003 to file indictments against senior Indonesian generals all of whom remain free and untried accusing them of orchestrating the campaign that led to those murders, the officials say.
Yet as the world’s newest nation seeks its way out of another crisis with UN assistance and turns to the body again to help it deal judicially with fresh atrocities the trailer is also a reminder of how that unresolved legacy continues to shadow the East Timorese and may have contributed to the latest crisis, according to rights activists and diplomats.
The past few weeks have seen the army and police either split or disintegrate, machete-swinging ethnic gangs burn down homes, and looters go to work even as peacekeepers are deployed.
“I’m sure some of the people who [have been] looting and burning houses are thinking, ‘If nothing can be done about the crimes of 1999 what can they do against me?’ ” says Joaquim Fonseca, one of East Timor’s leading human rights activists. The link has come to life most prominently through the launch of UN-backed investigations into recent atrocities, as rights groups such as Amnesty International warn that the UN needs to deliver a better result than it did for the 1999 crimes, or contribute to a cycle of impunity.
“Resolute action is now crucially required on the part of concerned parties to ensure that all perpetrators of serious crimes in [East Timor] both present and past are brought to justice,” Amnesty said last week.
Among the recent incidents being examined is the May 25 massacre by Timorese soldiers of 10 unarmed local policemen who had been persuaded to lay down their weapons by UN police advisers trying to negotiate an end to a siege of East Timor’s national police headquarters, which sits next to Crocodile Alley.
At the height of the recent violence looters also attacked the former UN complex, which now houses the offices of East Timor’s prosecutor-general, and broke into the trailer holding the evidence from 1999 for five days running.
A digital copy of all the files exists, according to diplomats, and nothing of value was lost. But the attack was a reminder of the vulnerability of confidential files filled with potentially sensitive information that had been built up by UN prosecutors only to be left behind in East Timor.
Longuinhos Monteiro, East Timor’s prosecutor-general, says 5-10 per cent of the evidence went missing during the May looting. But much has since been recovered. Files for the unit’s highest-profile case that against the former Indonesian armed forces chief Wiranto were found tossed in the corner of an adjacent trailer. Four boxes of taped witness interviews, meanwhile, were returned by a looter in exchange for amnesty and a fridge, Mr Monteiro said.
More than 1,400 people including the Financial Times correspondent, Sander Thoenes were killed in the 1999 violence, largely at the hands of the Indonesian military and pro-Jakarta militias.
In the resolutions that followed, the UN Security Council made justice a priority, establishing a special “Serious Crimes” tribunal of local and international judges and a special prosecutorial unit.
UN prosecutors eventually filed 95 indictments against 391 people more than 300 of whom are thought to be in Indonesia and won convictions against 85 defendants, most of them minor militia members.
But Indonesian resistance, East Timorese leaders’ eagerness to have good relations with Jakarta, and an international community eager not to upset a newly democratic Indonesia caused the process to stall, and the tribunal and prosecutorial unit were shut in May 2005.
In a forthcoming report critical of the UN process in East Timor, David Cohen, a war crimes expert of the University of California, Berkeley, accuses the UN of not doing enough to help leave a functioning judicial system behind. And Mr Fonseca, the rights activist, argues that the UN “failed to teach the Timorese society about the notion of legal responsibility”.
Others say the unresolved legacy of 1999 has just added to a violent culture built up through centuries of first Portuguese and then Indonesian oppression.