UN Human Rights Commission Abandons Justice for East Timor;
Pretends Sham Indonesian Trials Are Redeemable
Contact: John M. Miller,
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
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
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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COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS
Fifty-ninth session Agenda item 9
QUESTION OF THE VIOLATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS AND FUNDAMENTAL FREEDOMS IN
ANY PART OF THE WORLD
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
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.
ETAN: Recommendations for U.S. Delegation to UN
Commission on Human Rights, 59th Session
Rights & Justice pages