Subject: Timor PM slams UN on war criminals

Asia Times May 15, 2003

Timor PM slams UN on war criminals

By Jill Jolliffe

DILI - The prime minister of the Democratic Republic of East Timor, which celebrates one year of independence next Tuesday, has said he is determined to bring to justice Indonesian officers who committed war crimes in the territory.

In an exclusive interview with Asia Times Online, Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri also accused the United Nations of trying to wash its hands of human-rights prosecutions.

"Crimes against humanity must be judged ... and the international community has primary responsibility," the prime minister said, adding: "We cannot just ignore crimes against humanity, which are the gravest of crimes, yet take petty thieves to court. It would be a travesty of justice."

His statements clarified the East Timorese government's position after a row in February over the indictment of former Indonesian defense chief General Wiranto by prosecutors from Dili's Serious Crimes Unit (SCU). He was accused of various counts of murder, deportation and persecution as crimes against humanity, with six other senior military officers and the former governor of East Timor.

The charges arose from the violence unleashed by East Timorese militia units and coordinated by the Indonesian army during the 1999 referendum on independence. An estimated 1,500 people were killed and entire villages torched, with about 250,000 people deported to West Timor.

When the indictments were announced, Wiranto stated that the SCU, which was set up by UN Security Council Resolution 1272 of 1999 and is staffed by UN personnel, was "not a representative of the UN for international tribunal affairs". He claimed it had no authority outside East Timor, a view echoed by Indonesian Foreign Minister Hassan Wirayuda.

Human-rights advocates in Dili were shocked when Kamalesh Sharma, the UN secretary general's representative, issued a statement that appeared to back this view. It said: "While indictments are prepared by international staff, they are issued under the legal authority of the Timorese prosecutor general. The United Nations does not have any legal authority to issue indictments."

Alkatiri, who is a former law lecturer, has now lashed out at this stand, saying: "We cannot accept this ... I don't know what the UN's game is, but it should assume responsibility."

He added that Sharma and other senior UN officials had discussed the charges with him shortly before they were announced. He said the SCU had been established by the Security Council and remains accountable to it, even though since independence last May the unit has also been answerable to the East Timorese government.

The issue was further complicated by separate visits to Jakarta soon after by East Timorese President Xanana Gusmao and Foreign Minister Jose Ramos Horta. Both leaders stated there that the East Timorese government did not intend to press the prosecutions, because good relations with Indonesia were overriding.

Prime Minister Alkatiri said in the interview that the statements did not represent his government's policy, but stressed that President Gusmao - who does not have executive powers - is entitled to a personal opinion.

He dealt tactfully with his foreign minister's statements. "I'm the prime minister," he said, "and I'm not contradicting him, but I think what he meant to say was that it's not the government that's accusing the generals, but the court, which is independent."

He also refused to dwell specifically on the case of General Wiranto. "I'm not going to mention names," he said, "... but all crimes must be judged. It happened in Bosnia and in all other such cases ... This is not to say we're persecuting Indonesian generals or officers."

Alkatiri said his newly independent government places the highest store on its relationship with Indonesia, as a regime that broke with the Suharto dictatorship, and that the prosecutions were "in its own interest".

Since it began work in 1999, the SCU has obtained arrest warrants for 247 individuals accused of human-rights violations, of whom 169 remain at large in Indonesia. Although the Indonesian government promised to cooperate with UN prosecutors, President Megawati Sukarnoputri's government has refused to hand over suspects for trial in Dili.

Under UN resolutions, Jakarta can also try perpetrators before its Ad Hoc Tribunal on Timor, but human-rights observers see it as having little credibility. It has freed most Indonesian officers who have appeared before it and given light sentences to others.

East Timor became a member of the international police organization Interpol last October, and has formally requested additional arrest warrants from it for accused Indonesian officers.

Government prosecutor Longuinhos Monteiro said 11 warrant requests are being processed by Interpol, involving three middle-ranking Indonesian officers and eight Timorese-born members of the Indonesian army. If granted, the accused men will be declared fugitives from international justice and police forces belonging to Interpol can arrest them if they travel outside Indonesia.

An informed source in Dili said that Siri Frigaard, who headed the SCU at the time, argued with Sharma's office over the Wiranto indictment. With Monteiro, she refused a request to take the indictment off UN letterhead.

Frigaard quit her post last month to return to Norway as deputy head of the National Crime Investigation and Intelligence Agency, after supervising an impressive range of indictments against perpetrators of some of the worst massacres of 1999.

Since her departure, Monteiro has complained of continuing attempts by the UN to put a brake on prosecutions. "I was taught by international lawyers and academics on the importance of the separation of powers. Those same people are now trying to politically influence prosecutions, as the UN did in the Wiranto indictment," he said.

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