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Media Release

UN Human Rights Commission Abandons Justice for East Timor; 
Pretends Sham Indonesian Trials Are Redeemable

Contact: John M. Miller, +1-718-596-7668, +1-917-690-4391

April 25 - The East Timor Action Network (ETAN) strongly criticized the UN Commission on Human Rights for turning its back on the East Timorese people and jeopardizing current and future UN missions.

"Today's statement continues the trend of ignoring Indonesia's failure to hold accountable those responsible for the massive human rights abuses in East Timor," said John M. Miller, spokesperson for ETAN.

In a chairperson's statement, the Commission expressed “disappointment” in Indonesia’s conduct of its Ad Hoc Human Rights court on East Timor and called on Indonesia to “improve the current legal processes.” Follow up is unlikely as the Commission decided to limit next year's agenda to consideration of technical cooperation with East Timor in the field of human rights.

"Indonesia's ad hoc court on East Timor is fundamentally flawed," said Miller. "The Commission, by calling for Indonesia to fix an irreparable process, is in effect saying it is willing to play along with Indonesia’s farce."

"It is clear that only an international tribunal on East Timor can achieve meaningful justice. We urge the Secretary-General and Security Council to set up such a tribunal to prosecute those who committed war crimes and crimes against humanity from 1975 on,” said Miller. "Instead of coddling Indonesia, the UN and its members should commit more resources to the existing serious crimes process in East Timor, which has issued credible indictments of top officials for the 1999 violence.”

The Commission’s statement commended the work of the Serious Crimes Unit and called on governments to cooperate with it, but does not mention Indonesia’s public refusal to extradite the nearly two-thirds of already-indicted suspects believed to reside in Indonesia.

"Whether on or off the Commission's agenda, support for the rule-of-law and basic compassion for the victims demands holding responsible the commanders and other ranking officials who oversaw and coordinated systematic violations of human rights,” said Miller. “The Indonesian military directed its scorched-earth campaign in East Timor against a UN mission; those murdered included UN personnel. Countries whose citizens staffed the 1999 UN mission should want to send the strongest possible message to others who would do likewise.”

This week, Indonesia announced it was campaigning to regain a seat on the UN Human Rights Commission.

"Indonesia must earn a place on the Commission. It can start by putting in place effective mechanisms to deal with past abuses and by ending military impunity in Papua, Aceh and elsewhere," said Miller.

The Commission's 53 member states are elected by the Economic and Social Council. While a member of the Commission from 1991 to 2002, Indonesia worked to deflect and water down criticisms of its own human rights record.

Since 1999, ETAN has joined with East Timorese civil society to urge the UN Security Council and Secretary-General Kofi Annan to establish an international tribunal. For additional information see ETAN's web site (


Following the August 30, 1999 UN-organized referendum on independence, the Indonesian military and its militia proxies systematically destroyed East Timor, murdering approximately 2000 East Timorese, destroying over 70 percent of the infrastructure and raping hundreds of women. Hundreds of thousands were forced from their homes.

A Commission of Inquiry set up by the Commission on Human Rights and three special rapporteurs recommended establishing an international tribunal for East Timor in the following months. Instead, the UN Secretary-General and Security Council decided to give Indonesia the opportunity to hold its own trials.

The UN also authorized and funded the Serious Crimes Unit (SCU) and Special Courts in East Timor to prosecute crimes against humanity. While the SCU has indicted high-ranking officials for orchestrating the violence in 1999, Indonesia has refused to extradite anyone to East Timor.

Indonesia's Ad Hoc Human Rights Court on East Timor has been characterized by poorly drawn indictments and weak prosecutions that have in effect rewritten history. Eleven of 14 Indonesian defendants have already been acquitted by the court. The sentences handed down for the five convicted (including the only two East Timorese defendants) have not been commensurate with the crimes committed: four defendants received less than the legal minimum under Indonesian law, and all remain free pending appeal. The verdicts in the last two cases before the ad hoc court are expected shortly.

In a report this year to the Human Rights Commission, Sergio de Mello, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and former UN administrator in East Timor, criticized "the limited geographical and temporal jurisdiction of the Court; the lack of experienced prosecutors and judges; the intimidating and, at times, hostile, courtroom treatment of Timorese witnesses by some judges, prosecutors and defense counsel; the causes and consequences of non-attendance of Timorese witnesses at the proceedings; and the lightness of the sentences imposed, which bear no reasonable relationship to the gravity of the offences committed."

The report also noted “the failure to put before the court evidence that portrays the killings and other human rights violations as part of a widespread or systematic pattern of violence seriously undermines the strength of the prosecution's case and jeopardizes the integrity and credibility of the trial process.”

The UN's Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers recently wrote that the prosecutions violate "the principle that prosecutions are to be undertaken in good faith."

The defendants were primarily accused of failing to prevent the actions of others rather than for acts they may have directly committed. The prosecution repeatedly described the violence in 1999 as the result of conflict among East Timorese factions and portrayed the UN administration of the referendum as biased and anti-Indonesian.

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Fifty-ninth session Agenda item 9


Chairperson’s statement Situation of human rights in Timor-Leste

The Commission recalls the Chairperson’s statements on the situation in Timor-Leste made at previous sessions, which were the result of constructive discussions, in particular the statement at its fifty-eighth session (E/2002/23-E/CN.4/2002/200, para. 258), and takes note of the report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the situation of human rights in Timor-Leste submitted to the Commission at its fifty-ninth session (E/CN.4/2003/37), the report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to the General Assembly, the reports of the Secretary-General to the Security Council (S/2002/432 and Add.1 and S/2002/1223) and the statement by the President of the Security Council (S/PRST/2002/13).

The Commission acknowledges relevant Security Council and other United Nations resolutions on the situation in Timor-Leste.

The Commission warmly welcomes the attainment of independence by Timor-Leste on 20 May 2002 and its admission to membership in the United Nations on 27 September 2002 as the 191st Member State.

The Commission expresses its appreciation to the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Timor-Leste and to the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) for all the work carried out in the transition to independence. It welcomes the United Nations Mission of Support in East Timor (UNMISET) as the new United Nations mission to Timor-Leste and expresses its hope that cooperation between the Mission and the Government of Timor-Leste will be fruitful and successful.

The Commission commends the significant efforts undertaken by the Governments of Timor-Leste and Indonesia to further promote and enhance the overall relationship between the two countries. It encourages in this regard efforts by both Governments to solve the outstanding issue of the East Timorese who still remain in West Timor, which will be conducive to fostering good relations between the two countries and to enhancing the security situation in Timor-Leste. The Commission expresses its hope that the fate of separated children both in Indonesia and in Timor-Leste will be resolved soon. The Commission acknowledges the efforts undertaken so far by the Government of Timor-Leste and its achievements in the field of human rights. It acknowledges in this regard the fact that the Government of Timor-Leste has ratified the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and welcomes the approval for accession to core international human rights instruments, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment and Punishment, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the two Optional Protocols to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the two Optional Protocols to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Commission further welcomes the establishment of an Ombudsman Office and expects that it will become operational in the near future.

The Commission encourages the Government of Timor-Leste to continue to build on its human rights achievements and to ensure that all legislation adopted is consistent with the democratic Constitution and international human rights standards.

In particular, the Commission welcomes the nomination of the President of the Court of Appeal and calls upon the Government of Timor-Leste to take the remaining necessary steps for the Court of Appeal to start fulfilling its vital role within the country’s judicial system, taking also into account the Judicial Magistrates Statutes that have recently been adopted. Failure to enhance the functioning of the judicial system can hamper the full protection of human rights, which is a key factor for social and political stability in the country. In this regard, the Commission reiterates the need for continuing international assistance for strengthening the justice system in Timor-Leste.

The Commission commends the establishment and the work of the Timor-Leste Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation, which has the task of inquiring into and establishing the truth about human rights violations committed in Timor-Leste between 1975 and 1999, as well as of assisting the process of reconciliation and of easing the burden on the formal judicial system.

The Commission welcomes the establishment and commends the work to date of the Serious Crimes Unit, now integrated into the Office of the General Prosecutor of Timor-Leste, and stresses its fundamental role concerning the indictment of suspects accused of crimes against humanity and other serious crimes committed in Timor-Leste between 1 January and 25 October 1999. In this regard, the Commission appeals to all relevant Government to cooperate with the Serious Crimes Unit.

The Commission recalls the commitment of the Government of Indonesia to bring to justice, in the context of respect of international standards of justice and fairness, those responsible for violations of human rights and humanitarian law in Timor-Leste in the period leading up to and immediately following the popular consultation held in August 1999. The Commission notes the important steps taken by the Government of Indonesia to bring perpetrators of those violations before the ad hoc Human Rights Tribunal for adjudication of their cases and recognizes that the legal processes are still in progress. The Commission expresses its disappointment at the way in which the trials are being carried out and encourages the Government of Indonesia to take the necessary steps to improve the current legal processes in a transparent way, in order to ensure that justice will be done. The Commission recalls its previous Chairperson’s statement in relation to the murder of journalist Sander Thoenes and notes that efforts, in cooperation with other Governments concerned, will continue in order to bring the perpetrators to justice.

The Commission requests the High Commissioner for Human Rights to develop and implement with the Government of Timor-Leste a programme of technical cooperation in the field of human rights and to report to the Commission at its sixtieth session on this question under the item on technical cooperation and advisory services.

see also ETAN: Recommendations for U.S. Delegation to UN Commission on Human Rights, 59th Session

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