|Subject: Landmark E. Timor rights trial
Also - JP: Uneventful start to East Timor rights trial
The Straits Times March 15, 2002
Landmark E. Timor rights trial opens
The credibility of the process could determine whether the US resumes full military relations with Indonesia
By Marianne Kearney STRAITS TIMES INDONESIA BUREAU
JAKARTA - Indonesia yesterday began a human rights trial, the credibility of which may determine whether the United States resumes full military ties with the nation.
The country's first human rights court began proceedings that will eventually try 18 high-ranking officials, including three army generals, for atrocities in East Timor in 1999.
If justice is seen to be done, the trials will help convince the US to resume full military relations with Indonesia.
The US suspended military aid and weapons sales to Indonesia in the wake of an orgy of violence after East Timor voted for independence in August 1999.
Senior military officers had not tried to block the trials because they were keen for the suspended ties to be resumed, said diplomats.
Prosecutors read out the charges against East Timor's former governor Abilio Soares in the packed courtroom yesterday.
They accused him of failing to prevent violence, allegedly carried out by officials and militiamen under him, in five separate attacks.
Soares said he could not be held responsible.
'It was just a mass brawl,' he said.
Also on the stand was East Timor's former police chief Timbul Silaen, who was charged with gross human rights violations. He denied the charges.
The police officer, who now heads the national police anti-corruption force, said: 'So far, the international opinion is that we are war criminals, but that is not the case. There will be witnesses, there will be testimony.'
Looking as confident was Eurico Guterres, who had been accused of leading two attacks on pro-independence supporters which resulted in more than a dozen deaths.
Said the Aitarak militia chief: 'They have to prove this in the court.'
He challenged the prosecutors to prove that his campaign was backed by the military, even as a report in The Sydney Morning Herald yesterday said that Australian intelligence had picked up signals which showed the involvement of senior generals in the violence.
This information, however, had not been given to either the Indonesian prosecutors or a separate United Nations investigation.
Given the relative inexperience of the judges and the prosecutors, diplomats and lawyers were doubtful if the prosecutors would be able to prove that the violence constituted a gross abuse of human rights.
'There are concerns about the level of preparedness of the jurists and the prosecution,' said one diplomat, referring to reports that the judges and prosecutors have had minimal training.
It would be also be difficult to prove the military backing at the highest levels - which was important to demonstrate to back up claims that the violence was systematic and widespread.
'Systematic violence has been difficult to prove in Yugoslavia, where you have experienced judges,' observed another diplomat.
Mr Hendardi from the Indonesian Legal Aid Association questioned the independence of the judges, who were chosen by a secret process overseen by Supreme Court judges.
At least one of the judges served as a prosecutor in East Timor during Indonesian rule, said some lawyers, which could cloud his judgment.
Others pointed out that some senior generals who allegedly directed the violent campaign were not being charged yet. Only junior military and police officers would be charged, they suspected.
Uneventful start to East Timor rights trial
Tertiani ZB Simanjuntak, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta
Indonesia began its first ever human rights trial under close public scrutiny and wariness on Thursday as the country put its international reputation on the line in the landmark cases.
While many hope the trials would free the albatross hung around the country's neck since the 1999 mayhem in East Timor, the proceedings did not resolve lingering concerns as to the extent of accountability. It even raised trepidation that charges may be dropped in less than six months due to legal technicalities.
Hundreds of people, including activists, UN and embassy staff and the curious from numerous countries, squeezed into a courtroom at the Central Jakarta District Court compound to be part of the historic, albeit uneventful, hearing.
After the two indictments against East Timor's former governor Abilio Soares and former police chief Brig. Gen. Timbul Silaen were read, the defense raised objections and the court was adjourned till March 19.
Both are charged with crimes against humanity for the events that occurred in the former Indonesian province.
The two, facing a total of 12 separate charges, are the first of 18 suspects to be brought before the court.
Five of the accused -- four middle-ranking officers and one civilian -- will appear on Tuesday.
Lawyers for Soares and Silaen separately forwarded a list of objections on Thursday, including questioning the court's judicial authority and the validity of the retroactive clause in the Human Rights Law under which they are charged.
These objections forced the court to adjourn what was already expected to be a protracted trial which must race against time to reach a verdict.
In the indictment read by general prosecutor I Ketut Murtika, Soares allegedly failed to stop subordinates from committing rights abuses and turning the perpetrators in.
If found guilty he faces between 10 to 20 years in jail. Silaen is charged with Article 9 line a, on the killing of civilians, and line h.
General prosecutor James Pardede who read Silaen's indictment noted that this crime carries a maximum sentence of death.
Both are also charged with Article 42 which holds that superiors are accountable either by giving a direct command or by omission leading to acts of rights abuses.
Soares' team of lawyers, who include P.F. Tolin, Juan Felix and Indriyanto Seno Adji, told the court that they sought a People's Consultative Assembly review of the retroactive clause in the rights tribunal law which they claim is contradictory to the second amendment of the constitution forbidding the prosecution of past crimes.
Silaen's nine-member defense team, who includes Hotma Sitompoel, Ruhut Sitompul and Tommy Sihotang, also presented an objection note which argued the Central Jakarta Human Rights Court had no authority to convene the trial since the alleged crimes took place in East Timor.
They neglected to mention however that under a presidential decree rights abuse cases fall directly under the jurisdiction of the Attorney General's Office and thus negates the domicile clause commonly adopted in regular cases.
However both panels of judges, who took turns to hear the separate cases, adjourned proceedings till March 21.
Though the trial is likely to become technical in the next few weeks, it is likely to remain in the spotlight.
Indonesia has rejected the idea of an international tribunal.
One lingering question which will likely remain unsolved, regardless of the trial's outcome, is why more senior military commanders at the time were not being tried.
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