Subject: Justice must come before amnesty, says East Timor lawyer

Justice must come before amnesty, says East Timor lawyer

DILI, East Timor, Aug 29 (AFP) - Justice must come before amnesty for people guilty of human rights violations in East Timor, a lawyer working to establish a truth commission said Wednesday.

"There cannot be amnesty without truth," said Aniceto Guterres, a leading East Timorese human rights lawyer and member of the steering committee for the planned Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation.

Guterres spoke to reporters after returning from the committee's first meeting in Indonesian West Timor with leaders who voted to stay as an autonomous part of Indonesia during East Timor's referendum on independence two years ago.

"There was a good reception from the autonomy side," Guterres said, adding both sides differ on how to achieve reconciliation.

"From the pro-independence side, the reconciliation has to be based on justice, whereas the pro-autonomy (side) has asked for a traditional-based process," said Jacinto Alves, another member of the steering committee.

Details of that "traditional process" are still under discussion by autonomy leaders. But it could require an offender to confess his crime before his victim and leaders of the community, while providing some type of compensation.

The commission will investigate human rights violations between April 25, 1974, when the Portuguese empire that ruled East Timor began to collapse, and October 25, 1999, when the United Nations replaced occupying Indonesian forces.

Jakarta's forces left the territory amid a orgy by pro-Indonesian militias of murder, arson, looting and forced deportation.

East Timor's truth commission will not use community reconciliation to deal with murder, rape, and organised violence. Some of these cases are already being handled by the UN's serious crimes investigation unit which will complement the commission, Guterres said.

"The steering committee is not competent to speak about amnesty and we believe it is not relevant ... because a process that is based on justice has started," Guterres said.

The serious crimes unit, after more than one year of operation, has issued 31 indictments -- most of them against pro-Indonesian militia members who committed murders and other violations in East Timor two years ago.

A British member of the European Parliament, in East Timor to observe the first democratic elections here on Thursday, said he and other European observers have found strong resistance among people to proposals for amnesty.

"The people of East Timor say justice must be done. The crimes must be paid for," said Richard Howitt.

Members of the truth commission will be chosen after community consultations across East Timor in September, as well as among the East Timorese community across the border in Indonesia. It will have at least two years to do its work.

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