Subject: AU: Sowing justice where hundreds died
The Weekend Australian
November 29, 2003 Saturday All-round Country Edition
Sowing justice where hundreds died
So numerous were the horrific killings in East Timor, war crimes prosecutors are struggling with the backlog of cases, reports Jakarta correspondent Sian Powell from Dili
THE grizzled East Timorese murderer sat staring at the panel of judges. Small and diffident, dressed in an old green sarong, T-shirt and thongs, he was the antithesis of the stereotyped marauding militias who laid waste to East Timor in 1999.
Yet subsistence farmer Miguel Mau, 55, was a member of the feared Laksaur militia in the nation's southwest. On April 23, 1999, he helped murder three independence supporters by stabbing and chopping them to death with machetes. A fourth victim was beaten bloody, then taken into the forest, never to be seen again. On this same day of frenzied violence, Mau took part in beating villagers (one with an iron pipe) and torching their houses. Arrested earlier this year while still living in his village in the Covalima district, he readily confessed to all the crimes.
In mitigation, his lead defence counsel, Englishwoman Jan Mills, on Wednesday told one of the two special panels for serious crimes that her client was elderly in East Timorese terms. She said he had recently been ill with pneumonia and dizzy spells, and that he was a compliant man who had been bullied into these crimes against humanity: murder, persecution and extermination.
Both the defence and the prosecution wanted a nine-year sentence. The panel of three judges, from Italy, East Timor and Brazil, soon agreed. Mau, who had originally been recruited as a cook, was led away to spend a long time behind bars, with the consolation of three meals a day and free medical attention. He left the Dili district court alone. He told his seven children to stay away.
The Mau case is in many ways typical of the way justice has been wrung from the mayhem that raged through East Timor in 1999. It is thought that more than 1400 Timorese were slaughtered during those bloody months of intimidation and resistance. Thousands more were beaten, raped and brutalised. Mau's was the 40th conviction by special panels for serious crimes since the trials began two years ago. Those found guilty include one-time East Timorese soldiers in the Indonesian military and militia commanders, with sentences ranging up to 33 years. Yet the 40 convictions are small beer compared with the numbers of those implicated in the violence.
Since 2000, the serious crimes unit in East Timor has indicted 367 people. Some await trial, but 280 are in Indonesia, beyond the reach of the police. Many of these are one-time East Timorese militia members who live in squalid settlements just across the border, but the list includes senior Indonesian civilian officials and army officers, right up to General Wiranto. Then the commander of the Indonesian armed forces, he is now a presidential hopeful who vigorously denies any wrongdoing.
Wiranto has been accused of crimes against humanity because of his command responsibility for Indonesian forces in East Timor. If he faces trial, he can be found guilty if he had reason to know what his troops were doing and failed to stop them or punish them. In 1999, before and after the ballot on independence, the Indonesian army funded and controlled militia gangs across the tiny half-island of 800,000 people. To begin with, the spreading violence of these marauders was intended to intimidate the ordinary East Timorese into choosing autonomy within Indonesia rather than independence. Eight in 10 East Timorese chose to rid themselves of Indonesia forever. After the ballot, the bloodshed was simply revenge.
In Mau's case, for instance, the Laksaur militia was run by East Timorese commanders Olivio Moruk (now dead), his brother Egidio Manek, and various Indonesian soldiers. On April 23, a gang of Laksaur militia thugs including Mau, commander Manek and Indonesian soldiers, including Sergeant-Major Supoyo (an Indonesian sub-district military commander), went to the hamlet of Nikir to attack villagers who supported independence. Alexio Xiemenes, Tomas Cardoso and Paulus Xiemenes were hiding in a house. Once they were brought out, Manek gave the order to kill them, and Mau and others sliced at them, chopped and cut them with machetes until they were dead. Supoyo and Manek have been indicted for these crimes. Both are at large in Indonesia and unlikely to face trial.
Given the failure of Indonesia to jail anyone for crimes in East Timor, there are those who advocate an international tribunal. Certainly East Timor's Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri thinks the pursuit of justice for these absconders should be an international responsibility rather than a drag on the Timorese. He understands the political difficulties of establishing an international tribunal, but refuses to allow the international community an easy get-out. "It doesn't mean you should transfer the burden to the East Timorese," he says. "We have to survive in this area. It means we have to have good relations with our neighbours."
When the indictments for Wiranto and a list of other high-profile Indonesians were released, President Xanana Gusmao was publicly upset. He has always given priority to maintaining the delicate balance of bilateral relations with East Timor's Brobdingnagian neighbour Indonesia -- a nation with a population more than 200 times larger than East Timor's.
Yet East Timor's prosecutor-general refuses to back away from the contentious indictments. "We are totally independent and with our knowledge we do what we think is the right thing to do," says Longuinhos Monteiro in his office in the serious crimes unit in Dili. "We are sworn in to prosecute anyone who commits crimes in East Timor. In this office, we don't discriminate against anyone."
Sukehiro Hasegawa, deputy UN chief in East Timor (more formally known as the Deputy Special Representative to the Secretary-General) concedes there is little chance of an international tribunal starting up. He says there's not even much chance the backlog of investigations and trials in East Timor will be finished. There's simply not enough time until the UN pulls out next May, and probably not enough time even if the serious crimes unit and the special panels are given a year's extension, until mid-2005, which by all accounts is the most likely scenario.
Primarily responsible for security and justice, Hasegawa says that compared with the former Yugloslavia, where a handful of trials are finished each year, East Timor is a judicial powerhouse -- and cheap. In the former Yugoslavia, war crimes justice is costing about $US100 million ($139million) a year. In East Timor the price tag is about $US6.9 million a year. This funds a team of 116, with investigators and prosecutors compiling the cases and pushing them through the courts. Plea bargaining means sentences tend towards the lenient, but it is a practical choice for a unit pressed for time and funds. In any other nation, Mau, for instance, might not have got away with a nine-year sentence for culpability in three murders, a disappearance, grave assaults and property damage. Yet in East Timor, the alternative to plea bargaining would mean many more of the guilty dodging any punishment at all, with potentially ruinous consequences for the national psyche.
THEIR crimes need to be aired, and paid for. The indictments are gruesome reading. Fingernails pulled out. A head severed and carried in a bag to a village where it was chucked out. A woman repeatedly raped in the presence of her son. One bullet passing through a mother and her child, killing the mother, wounding the two-year-old. Independence supporters beaten to death, stabbed, sliced, shot. A man beaten so badly he was considered dead and turfed off the back of a truck. A woman shown severed ears and genitals, and told they once belonged to her husband. A woman stabbed to death as she wept over the body of her recently murdered son, then the corpses of the mother and son tied together and thrown over a cliff.
Justice has to be served, and a complex structure of desk work, interviews, examinations, interrogations and sheer hard slog has made it happen.
In the autopsy suite at the serious crimes unit, exhumed bodies are examined and logged, bones delicately laid out to reveal the cause of death, the age and sex of the victim, and the way the corpse may have been disposed of. When the Interfet forces arrived in East Timor, bodies were noted, photographed and buried in body bags. Many other corpses were buried by the East Timorese. All have to be exhumed and examined to assist in compiling a complete picture of the violence that ripped through so many lives.
On Thursday in the autopsy suite, several skeletons were arrayed on trestles. David McAuliffe, the forensic unit chief, had just come back from the district of Oecussi where he returned several examined bodies to their families. He exhumed another and brought it back to Dili by helicopter for examination.
He says the examinations have found that nearly half the examined victims were cut up, like the three independence supporters Mau helped to kill. Sometimes McAuliffe and his colleagues find multiple marks on the bones, indicating a frenzied attack of many strikes.
Given East Timor's other pressing preoccupations, how essential is it to log the minutiae of these deaths, to compile a complete picture of what happened?
"Everybody's life is important," says McAuliffe. "These deceased individuals need a witness to what happened."