Subject: CNS: Church groups call for international tribunal in East Timor


Church groups call for international tribunal in East Timor

By Paulinus Barnes Catholic News Service

MANCHESTER, England (CNS) -- Church groups have called for increased pressure on Indonesia to fully investigate human rights abuses committed in East Timor before its independence.

If Indonesia fails in its responsibility to investigate the abuses, which occurred during the 1999 U.N.-sponsored election, then an international tribunal for crimes against humanity should be put in place, the groups said.

Issuing the Jan. 15 statement were CAFOD, the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development, official aid agency of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales; the Dutch bishops' justice and peace commission; the London-based Catholic Institute for International Relations; Caritas Australia; Caritas New Zealand; and Pax Christi International. The statement also was supported by groups from Sweden, Germany and France.

East Timor descended into violence and anarchy following the announcement in early September 1999 that the Timorese had rejected Indonesian rule.

Nearly 2,000 people were killed when armed militias, which included elements of the Indonesian military, attacked independence supporters, burned villages and destroyed most of the country's infrastructure.

A 90-page report by the Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights Violations in East Timor, published in January 2000, referred to almost 4,000 pages of documentary evidence of human rights abuses and named more than 20 senior Indonesian military and security personnel.

Catherine Scott, Asia program manager for the Catholic Institute for International Relations, told Catholic News Service that an international tribunal would send a signal to the Indonesian military that it no longer could act with impunity.

"It is an oft-quoted fact that East Timor lost one-third of its population under Indonesian occupation. The tribunal that we are calling for would only deal with the abuses committed in 1999, but it would at least be an attempt to deal with the apparent immunity with which the Indonesian forces have acted -- this goes beyond events in East Timor," she said.

"We recognize that this is not going to be won easily," Scott said. "But people would never have imagined that Slobodan Milosevic would have been handed over to the international court in the Hague. That is a lesson for us."

The church organizations said those responsible for "crimes against humanity" in Timor in 1999 should be brought to "speedy justice."

"More than two years later, we regret to see that only a few, lesser criminals have been successfully prosecuted, while the principal ringleaders responsible for the crimes have been protected by the Indonesian authorities," the statement said.

The church groups noted that Indonesia had been solely responsible for investigating and prosecuting those responsible for the violence in East Timor.

But, church groups said, the Indonesian administration had "proved unwilling to deal with the impunity enjoyed by both corrupt politicians and its armed forces."

"For any human rights violation, in particular when a crime against humanity has been committed, the state concerned or the international community has the legal obligation to investigate, prosecute, try and sentence the perpetrators and decide on compensation," the statement said.

The church groups said that the U.N. should now set a clear deadline for the Indonesian government to take action; otherwise an international tribunal should be established to investigate allegations.

They also called for assistance to be provided to the East Timorese courts.

"As the judicial processes undertaken thus far have only succeeded in dealing with minor criminals, we now strongly endorse Bishop Carlos Belo when he stated recently that 'Justice implies an international duty to prosecute the perpetrators of gross violations of human rights through an international tribunal,'" the statement said.

The statement called for the Indonesian government to compensate East Timor and individual citizens for all damage and loss of life inflicted by its armed forces and proxies since 1999.

The coalition also welcomed news that East Timor would establish a truth and reconciliation commission, designed to help Timorese deal with the trauma of the fledgling nation's violent past.

Commissioners were to be sworn in Jan. 21.

More than 200,000 Timorese were killed or died of famine or disease during Indonesia's 24-year occupation. Indonesia invaded East Timor, a former Portuguese colony, in 1975 and annexed it the following year in a move never recognized by the United Nations or the Vatican.

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