|Subject: USET: Letter to Secretary Rice on
E Timor justice
March 1, 2006
The Honorable Doctor Condoleezza Rice Secretary of State
Dear Madame Secretary:
The United States-East Timor Society is a non-profit, non-governmental organization whose principal purpose is the expansion of mutually beneficial ties between the United States and East Timor (Timor Leste). The organization comprises academicians, human rights advocates and retired U.S. Foreign Service Officers.
The Society wishes respectfully to express its strong concern that the United States Government has failed to develop a coherent strategy to promote justice in the matter of the crimes against humanity committed by the Indonesian military and its militias in East Timor in 1999. More specifically, the Society is deeply concerned by the U.S. government’s support for the fatally flawed “Commission of Truth and Friendship,” recently established to look into the crimes of 1999, and by its concomitant failure to embrace the more meaningful measures proposed by a variety of credible investigative and advisory bodies.
As you know, Indonesia’s own judicial mechanisms have failed utterly in achieving justice or truth in the matter of the crimes committed in 1999. Not a single Indonesian official has been successfully prosecuted by the Indonesian Ad-Hoc Human Rights Court. Rather, a number of persons indicted as key perpetrators, including some operating at command level, have since been promoted or assumed major new command positions, such as in West Papua, where their subsequent conduct has raised additional human rights concerns.
This outcome is a stark violation of a United Nations resolution (Oct 1999 UNSC 1272) related to the 1999 violence, now over six years old, which demanded that "all those responsible for such violence be brought to justice." Regrettably, the Indonesian Government has also refused all cooperation with East Timor’s Special Panels for Serious Crimes, established by the United Nations (UN) to try the crimes against humanity committed in 1999. Specifically, the government has refused to recognize that court or to extradite over 300 Indonesian officials indicted by East Timor’s General Prosecutor. The UN Commission of Experts, created to review progress toward achieving justice in the matter, noted in its May 26, 2005 report "Indonesian intransigence in the face of international legal and bilateral obligations."
The above Commission of Experts also recommended that if the Government of Indonesia were not to comprehensively review evidence and prosecutions to date and take the necessary action, an international criminal tribunal should be established for the prosecution of high level perpetrators. That recommendation was in line with those already made by two UN investigating bodies in late 1999 and 2000, by Indonesia’s own Human Rights Commission in 2000, by an independent expert commissioned by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in 2004, and by East Timor’s Commission on Return, Truth and Reconciliation (CAVR) in 2005.
Unfortunately, rather than pursue the unanimous recommendations of these credible investigating bodies, the UN, with the support of the United States has viewed with equanimity the evolution of a fundamentally flawed alternative process, the joint Indonesia-East Timor “Commission of Truth and Friendship” which by its form and mandate precludes the possibility of achieving justice.
The Commission's power to recommend amnesties for even the most high level perpetrators of serious human rights violations directly contravene international normative standards and the rule of law, as set forth in the UN Secretary-General’s Report on the Rule of Law and Transitional Justice in Conflict and Post-Conflict Societies, issued in August 2004. That document argues strongly against any UN engagement with transitional justice processes that offer amnesties for crimes against humanity or gross violations of human rights (S/2004/616, paragraphs 10 and 64(c).
While opening the door to amnesty for the perpetrators of crimes against humanity in East Timor, the Commission of Truth and Friendship offers no meaningful remedy for the victims of those crimes. Indeed, the Commission’s mandate blatantly precludes the possibility that "any of its findings [will] lead to prosecutions." Nor may the Commission, according to its mandate, propose rehabilitation of or reparations to victims of abuse. Disturbingly, the Commission is also granted unfettered access to the records of the Serious Crimes Unit and the CAVR and therefore poses a grave threat to the thousands of victims and witnesses who provided confidential testimony to those bodies.
The glaring inadequacy of the Commission of Truth and Friendship as a mechanism for ensuring justice in the matter of 1999 crimes against humanity in East Timor has made it the subject of broad criticism by civil society in both East Timor and Indonesia. A United States-East Timor Society Board member who recently visited East Timor found near universal rejection of the Commission within civil society and among the people who viewed it as neither credible nor legitimate.
This continuing pattern of impunity carries dangerous implications for the international community and constitutes a most unwelcome precedent. Geopolitical concerns must not be allowed to derail the international quest for justice in cases of crimes against humanity.
For these reasons, the United States-East Timor Society calls on the United States Government not to lend its financial or diplomatic support to the Indonesia-East Timor Commission of Truth and Friendship. It urges the government instead to work diligently through the UN to encourage implementation of the recommendations made by the UN’s own Commission of Experts.
Dr. Geoffrey Robinson For the Board of Directors, United States East Timor Society
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