|Subject: IHT & WP: In Indonesia,
Safeguards for Military Over Rights Abuses
International Herald Tribune
In Indonesia, Safeguards for Military Over Rights Abuses
DILI, East Timor - Indonesia's top legislative body voted overwhelmingly Friday to amend the nation's constitution to prevent any new human rights laws from applying to military abuses committed in the past, effectively providing an amnesty to the country's disgraced armed forces for its brutal tactics in the former Indonesian province of East Timor and other parts of the strife-torn archipelago. The amendment is expected to scuttle large portions of a new human rights law that currently is making its way through Parliament.
That groundbreaking law would have created special courts to try human rights cases, bypassing Indonesia's notoriously corrupt judiciary. It also would have criminalized an officer's failure to stop abuses being committed by soldiers under his command.
Both provisions were aimed at prosecuting senior military leaders for their role in the East Timor violence, including the armed forces commander at the time, General Wiranto. Human rights investigators have accused General Wiranto of failing to prevent his soldiers from engaging in the near-total destruction of East Timor after the territory voted for independence last August.
The Indonesian Legal Aid and Human Rights Association called the amendment ''disturbing.''
''They are saying that past violations will not be tried and will be neglected,'' said Handardi, the group's executive director, who like many Indonesians uses only one name.
The amendment ironically was part of Indonesia's first-ever bill of rights, which attempts to guarantee civil rights in the emerging democracy. The amendment also provides Indonesians with freedom of speech and it outlaws torture and discrimination. The provision at issue protects people from being charged under a law that was not in effect when a crime was committed. Although legislators pointed out that such a provision is a universal legal principle, human rights activists contend an exception should have been made to deal with the country's history of violent military behavior.
The vote by the People's Consultative Assembly in Jakarta likely will intensify calls for an international human rights tribunal for East Timor, akin to those for war crimes committed in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia. Indonesian leaders have long objected to such a tribunal, insisting they would be able to bring perpetrators to justice under domestic laws.
''How can you talk about democracy and civil rights without bringing the perpetrators of all the crimes in East Timor to justice?'' asked Aderito de Jeses Soares, a human rights activist in Dili who is a member of the East Timor Jurists Association. ''Bringing the military to justice should be the starting point for democracy.''
Legislators contend that the amendment will not foil human rights prosecutions. They argued that crimes such as murder, rape and arson always have been illegal in Indonesia. ''This regulation is not an obstacle to prosecuting past cases,'' said Yakob Tobing, head of the assembly commission that drafted the amendment.
But human rights lawyers argue that without new courts and provisions that hold officers responsible for failing to rein in their troops, senior military leaders cannot be brought to justice.
Some legal specialists suggested Friday that the amendment might spark new interest in creating a South African-style truth commission that would grant limited immunity to perpetrators in exchange for their full and truthful testimony.
In a separate decision that represents another key victory for the military, the assembly passed a decree that allows the armed forces to retain their 38 seats in the 700-member legislative body until 2009. Government reformers had hoped to military would be removed from the assembly this year.
The assembly also voted to provide greater autonomy to Indonesia's provinces, many of which have complained they get a disproportionately small share of tax revenue generated in their territories. The government is hoping the move will help quell separatist rebellions in the far northern province of Aceh and the far eastern province of Irian Jaya.
JAKARTA, Aug 19 (AFP) - Human Rights Watch on Saturday slammed Indonesia's MPs for passing a law that could let former president Suharto and senior military officers escape punishment for gross human rights abuses, including those in East Timor.
In a statement received here, the global rights body said the ruling "makes it far less likely that former president Suharto or any army officer could be charged with crimes against humanity."
The constititional amendment passed by the 700-member People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) on Friday would also protect Suharto and the officers from prosecution for "any atrocities committed by Indonesian troops from 1965," it said
The amendment invokes the principle of non-retroactivity -- "meaning that no one could be charged with a crime that did not constitute an offence in law at the time it was committed," Human Rights Watch said.
The statement, entitled: "Lawmakers let perpetrators off the hook", said that as Indonesia did not yet have a human rights law "the most serious charge that anyone involved in the scorched-earth campaign in East Timor or the atrocities in Aceh could face is murder."
"Crimes against humanity are so serious that non-retroactivity doesn't usually apply to them," the organization quoted Rights Watch Asia director Sidney Jones as saying.
"This is the prevailing trend and Indonesian judges should go along with it."
The new constitutional amendment -- Amendment 28 (I) -- could mean that the "masterminds of the 1999 violence in East Timor will be judged less harshly than rank and file militia members," it said.
East Timor was devastated by Indonesian military-backed militia in retaliation for its vote for independence from Indonesia on August 30 last year, prompting the United Nations to dispatch an international force to quell the violence.
In Jakarta on Friday Indonesia's Attorney General Marzuki Darusman told the press that the trials of those suspected of masterminding the Timor violence would go ahead anyway.
"It can be guaranteed that current investigations into human rights violations in East Timor and several other cases will be exempt from the amended article 28 in relation to its clause on retroactivity," Darusman told journalists.
Darusman said his guarantee that prosecutions could go ahead was based on information from the leader of the assembly commission which debated the constitutional amendments.
"(The commission leader) said that the people who put forward that amendment had no intention of erasing anything to do with the planned human rights tribunal (for East Timor)," Darusman said.
"So in principle the human rights tribunal on East Timor can still take place."
Former Indonesian armed forces chief General Wiranto (eds: one name) is among those named by a preliminary Indonesian probe into the East Timor violence, which left at least 600 dead, whole towns razed and more than 200,0000 people forced out of the territory.
But Rights Watch said that "if and when" Darusman succeeds in bringing any senior officers to trial, they would be tried "for the common crime of murder" -- in short under the existing criminal code.
Rights Watch urged the MPR in its next annual session to uphold the right of the judiciary to set up ad hoc courts which would not be bound by the retroactive principle to try gross human rights abuses.
UN Human Rights Commissioner Mary Robinson, speaking after a meeting with Darusman here last week, warned again that the UN would unilaterally call an international war crimes tribunal if Jakarta failed to bring the perpetrators of the Timor violence to trial.
Note: For those who would like to fax "the powers that be" - CallCenter V3.5.8, is a Native 32-bit Voice Telephony software application integrated with fax and data communications... and it's free of charge! Download from http://www.v3inc.com/