Subject: JP: Govt pooh-poohs int'l rights standards

August 15, 2003

Jakarta Post

Govt pooh-poohs int'l rights standards

Moch. N. Kurniawan, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Indonesia should not be obliged to meet international standards in prosecuting the human rights abuse cases in East Timor, because the trial of perpetrators was conducted in mostly in accordance with the local law, says a government official.

Director of human rights affairs at the Foreign Affairs Ministry I Gusti Agung Wisaka Puja said that the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Commission had never asked Indonesia to try those held responsible for the 1999 East Timor rights abuses in accordance with international standards.

"It is a loophole that benefited Indonesia. However, we must admit that our legal action in handling the East Timor cases has not been perfect because we have judges who lack experience and professionalism," Puja said at a seminar about the human rights court here on Thursday.

"But, of the utmost importance is that we have a strong commitment to bringing a number of rights abuse suspects to justice via the ad hoc trials," he added.

According to Wisaka, it is also unfair to criticize the court verdicts imposed on a number of former government and military officials in East Timor since further legal proceedings at the High Court were still under way. East Timor declared its full independence on May 20, 2002 after the 1999 vote.

"Let's wait for the final verdicts from the higher courts," he said.

The human rights court has tried 18 civilian and military leaders that were working in East Timor in 1999 in connection with the carnage carried out mostly by militia groups.

Six were found guilty, but most were given lighter sentences than the minimum stated in the law, and several others were acquitted of all charges.

Thousands of East Timorese were believed to be killed in the massive scorched earth campaign that erupted following the ballot's results, in which nearly 80 percent favored independence.

Meanwhile, human rights activist Ifdhal Kasim of the Institute for Policy Research and Advocacy (Elsam) said the only possible solution to such cases was to accept universal jurisdiction in human rights cases.

"Belgium is one example of a country that has accepted such universal jurisdiction to penalize the human rights violators even without the presence of the defendants in court," he said.

"If the defendants are found guilty they could face arrest in some countries."

He said that the option of setting up an international tribunal would not be needed at present as the world was focusing on its fight against global terror.

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