Reps Write: Ensure Justice for East Timor
July 1, 2004
The Honorable Kofi Annan
Dear Secretary General Annan,
We are writing out of concern for the people of East Timor. As Members of Congress who have long been interested in securing East Timor's future, we are determined to ensure that the international community holds responsible those who committed crimes against humanity and war crimes in East Timor.
After East Timor's popular consultation and the resulting devastation, the Security Council expressed concern "at reports indicating that systematic, widespread and flagrant violations of international humanitarian and human rights law have been committed in East Timor." The Council further stressed "that persons committing such violations bear individual responsibility," and called on "all parties to cooperate with investigations into these reports." As you know, all parties have not cooperated, and we believe the United Nations has a responsibility to ensure that those who committed crimes against humanity in East Timor before, during, and after the popular consultation do not escape with impunity.
In early 2000, the U.N. Security Council decided to give Indonesia a chance to conduct its own prosecutions of those responsible. As three High Commissioners for Human Rights, the U.S. government and numerous other observers have reported, the Indonesian Ad Hoc Human Rights Court on East Timor was deeply flawed. This makes the continued existence of the U.N. East Timor Serious Crimes Unit (SCU), and its continued focus on investigations, as well as trials and appeals, essential. We urge you to reconsider the recommendation, made in your April 29, 2004, report on the U.N. Mission of Support in East Timor (UNMISET), that the SCU alter its focus in the short term and end its mission entirely by May, 2005. Ending SCU investigations at that point could leave an estimated 700 murder victims and thousands of victims of rape, torture, and other crimes against humanity in 1999 alone without justice
We understand that you are also considering appointing a commission of experts to examine existing justice processes in East Timor and Indonesia and to make recommendations for further steps. Although we believe it does not substitute for an international tribunal, we support such a commission and would urge it to carefully consider recommending an international tribunal on East Timor if it finds that current processes have not achieved justice. In doing so, we concur with similar recommendations of the Joint Mission of Special Rapporteurs and the U.N. International Commission of Inquiry.
Any mechanism created as a result of the expert commission's or your own findings must establish the truth of what happened, how it happened and who is responsible. In addition, this mechanism must actually hold perpetrators legally accountable. International political will must be strong and sufficient U.N. resources must be made available in order for this to occur. Proposals such as the establishment of an International Truth Commission, recently suggested in the Security Council by the United States, should be viewed as, at best, interim steps toward achieving such accountability.
The United Nations must keep its promise of justice for East Timor. East Timor's political leaders have repeatedly urged the international community to take the lead on this issue, and East Timorese civil society continues to seek international support for achieving meaningful justice. On February 17, 2000, while standing in a churchyard in Liquica, the site of one of the most notorious 1999 massacres in East Timor, you called for "justice to prevail over impunity." We urge you to do all within your power to ensure this occurs.
Rep. Nita Lowey (D-18 NY)
Back to Media Release
THE SECRETARY GENERAL
22 July 2004
Dear Congresswoman Lowey,
Thank you very much for the letter of 28 June sent by yourself and fellow members of Congress, regarding the issue of serious crimes committed in East Timor in 1999.
The perpetrators of these crimes must be brought to justice, and I am fully committed to doing all in my power to ensure that this happens. I would like to assure you that the issue is very dose to my heart. The United Nations itself was attacked in East and West Timor, and a number of its staff were killed. Relevant departments within the Organization have been working on ways for the United Nations to move the serious crimes process forward and bring about a resolution of the issue. A Commission of Experts, which you have touched upon in your letter, is one of the options that are under serious consideration. I shall of course seek the support of the Security Council when I decide on the appropriate action to be taken to address this issue.
I recently met with His Excellency Dr. Ramos-Horta, Foreign Minister. of Timor-Leste, in Bangkok and discussed with him various issues of mutual interest and concern, including the issue of justice. Dr. Ramos-Horta stated that he was prepared to discuss this issue with you during his next visit to Washington, D.C.
I would greatly appreciate it if you would share this letter with all the other signatories of your letter.
Kofi A. Annan
Original letter soliciting signatures
We are writing to urge you to join us in sending the attached letter to U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, asking that he take specific action to ensure that those responsible for committing crimes against humanity and war crimes in East Timor are brought to justice.
As you may know, in early 2000, the U.N. Security Council decided to give Indonesia a chance to conduct its own prosecutions of those responsible for the atrocities committed around the time of East Timor's 1999 independence referendum. In response, Indonesia established the Ad Hoc Human Rights Court on East Timor, a body which has failed to take seriously its obligation to hold the responsible parties accountable for their heinous actions. This fact makes the continued existence of the U.N.'s East Timor Serious Crimes Unit (SCU), which conducts investigations, trials and, appeals on these cases, essential. In a report issued on April 29, 2004, Secretary General Annan recommended that the SCU end its focus on investigations in the short term and end its mission entirely by May, 2005. Ending SCU investigations at that point could leave an estimated 700 murder victims and thousands of victims of rape, torture, and other crimes against humanity in 1999 alone without justice.
Secretary General Annan is also reportedly considering the appointment of a commission to review existing justice processes in East Timor and Indonesia and make recommendations for further steps. While we support this idea in theory, we would urge such a commission to recommend the establishment of an international tribunal with the power to hold perpetrators of atrocities legally accountable. We invite you to join us in communicating this to the Secretary General
If you would like more information, or would like to sign on, please contact Beth Tritter (Rep. Lowey) at 5-6506 or Samantha Stockman (Rep. Wolf) at 5-5136. The deadline for signing on is close-of-business Friday, June 25th.
Nita M. Lowey Member of Congress