Subject: UN Rapporteurs Likely to Recommend an Int'l Tribunal

East Timor situation devastating, human rights envoys say

DILI, East Timor, Nov 8 (AFP) - UN-appointed rapporteurs investigating human rights abuses in East Timor Monday described the situation as devastating and are likely to recommend an international tribunal.

"We have had testimonies from eyewitnesses of people being killed in front of them and we have seen the sites where people have been buried," said Asma Jahangir, special rapporteur responsible for investigating summary executions.

"What we see is devastating," she said, adding fresh evidence was being uncovered daily as more refugees return to East Timor to provide testimony.

"Two to three dead bodies are being identified per day," she said, adding there was a long term need for a permanent commission.

To date, the International Force for East Timor (Interfet) and civilian forensic experts have recovered at least 108 remains of victims who were violently killed in East Timor, which is widely considered the tip of the iceberg.

Mass graves are still being uncovered and returning refugees are recounting stories of torture and death from every area of the territory.

Nigel Rodley, the special rapporteur responsible for investigating cases of tortures, said: "One has to be here to see for oneself the destruction in order to grasp the horror of what happened."

Rodley said one of the tragedies in the course of his inquiry here was there were so few torture victims who survived their ordeal. "The ones we have met were not supposed to survive," he told a media briefing.

Radhika Coomaraswamy, investigating violence against women, said rape and sexual slavery as well as other human rights violations occured long before the violence by pro-Jakarta militia unleashed by the August 30 independence referendum.

"The pattern appeared to have existed before, but it has accelerated," she said.

The rapporteurs will spend about one week listening to testimonies and will make their findings available to a special UN commission of inquiry led by Costa Rican jurist Sonia Picardo due to arrive in Dili later this month.

The commission on crimes against humanity and war crimes will then report to the UN General Assembly which has the authority to establish an international war crimes tribunal.

It will investigate allegations by refugees and claims that the Indonesian army organized the militias which waged a campaign of violence and mass destruction following the August 30 independence vote.

However there is widespread concern that forensic evidence is deteriorating and the effectiveness of the commission is jeopardized by the delay of the inquiry's arrival.

"We are not here to preserve physical evidence, that is the question of getting forensic people on the ground and I am not in position to anser the question of why it took so long for them to get here," Rodley said.

Coomaraswamy said the international community always responded slowly to human rights abuses "until things get to epic proportion."

"I feel this time around, the international community is more ready to act."

The rapporteurs have been frustrated by Jakarta's refusal to give them access to West Timor, where more than 200,000 East Timorese are staying in refugee camps.

"We are hearing cases of sexual slavery in West Timor" based on testimony from refugees returning from the camps, Coomaraswamy said.

However, she was unable to determine the extent of sexual violence against women, in East Timor or in West Timor, saying only "it seems to be widespread."

It was too soon to determine what role the Indonesian military played in the wave of violence that engulfed East Timor until the arrival of international troops on September 20, the team said.

"We are hearing all sorts of allegations, that the militia were the military in certain areas, that the militia worked with the military, that the military funded the militia," Rodley said.

But he said regardless of who perpetrated the crimes "impunity has been and continues to be a problem, and we are bound to make a recommendation aiming at the problem of impunity."

The rapporteurs will conclude their visit later this week and may submit their report to the United Nations by November 25.

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