Subject: SMH: Asian nations set to block UN atrocities inquiry
Date: Sat, 25 Sep 1999 11:48:37 -0400

Sydney Morning Herald Saturday, September 25, 1999

Asian nations set to block inquiry

By SIMON MANN, Herald Correspondent in London, and agencies

The United Nations' main human rights body is deciding whether to set up an international inquiry into atrocities in East Timor amid vigorous opposition from Indonesia and its Asian allies.

Led by Sri Lanka, the 11 Asian members of the special UN forum - including China, Japan and India - yesterday rejected calls for a war crimes tribunal, arguing that its establishment could further destabilise the region.

They also challenged the validity of the special session of the UN Commission on Human Rights which was convened in Geneva at the request of former colonial power Portugal.

Sri Lanka's delegate said the decision to hold the session "discounted the unanimous view of an entire region". "Any act by the UN system including the commission should contribute to the stability of the situation and not exacerbate [instability]," the Sri Lankan representative said.

Indonesia's delegate also challenged the legality of holding the session, claiming it "lacked impartiality".

The 53-member forum was due to vote overnight on a European Union resolution calling on UN chief Mr Kofi Annan to go ahead with an inquiry, to be headed by international legal experts, to establish responsibility for atrocities in East Timor since the independence ballot was announced in January. To be adopted, the resolution requires a simple majority of yes votes.

However, the Asian members were expected to win support from Cuba and other developing countries, with some states likely to abstain from voting, according to diplomats.

Western countries including Portugal, Germany, and Canada, took the floor on Thursday to condemn gross violations and declare that there should be no impunity for perpetrators.

East Timor resistance leader Mr Jose Ramos Horta, who attended the special session, also accused Indonesian forces of "war crimes and genocide" and said that the Security Council should set up an international tribunal and slap economic sanctions on Indonesia.

Mr Ramos Horta said after the talks: "The evidence is increasingly strong for a war crimes tribunal. The Indonesian Army cannot be trusted or relied on to be a partner of the multinational force to ensure security in East Timor."

Yesterday, the UN's Commissioner for Human Rights, Mrs Mary Robinson, underscored the need to win co-operation from the Indonesian Government "to ensure effective protection of human rights to all the people of East Timor".

"The available information shows clearly that gross human rights violations were committed in East Timor affecting its entire population and territory," Mrs Robinson told delegates.

Mr Francisco Seixas da Costa, Portugal's secretary of state for European Affairs, denounced the "living nightmare" and "systemic pattern of terror" in East Timor. "The Commission on Human Rights has the duty to investigate," he said. "There should be no impunity for those who have perpetrated the destruction and the killings." But Asian nations threw their support behind Indonesia's ambassador, Mr Hassan Wirajuda, who challenged the legality of the session which came about after a tight vote earlier in the week.

He said that "for all the preparations, precautionary measures and resources at our disposal, the Indonesian security apparatus found themselves overwhelmed by the voracity of violent reactions from pro-integration groups who were angered by claims that the vote was marred by foul play".

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