Subject: East Timor uneasiness on troops
[Lao Hamutuk's submission to the Australian Parliament is available here - www.laohamutuk.org/Justice/08LHSubOz.pdf ]
East Timor uneasiness on troops
December 18, 2008
MANY complaints against Australian soldiers in East Timor remain unresolved because there is no formal means to deal with them, Australian MPs have been told.
In one case, the family of a Timorese man killed when his motorcycle and an Australian army truck collided in August 2007 has received no direct condolence or compensation even though UN police found the Australian driver "bore the greater responsibility for the accident as he was speeding".
The victim's family has been unable to pursue civil damages or settlement because Australian soldiers serving in the International Stabilisation Force in East Timor are not answerable to either the country's court system or the UN mission in Dili.
Human rights activists say Australian soldiers serving in East Timor effectively have immunity for any crimes they commit, both on and off duty.
In 2006, the Howard government refused requests by the government in Dili and the UN for Australians troops being sent to Dili to quell violence to be put under UN command.
Under the UN's system of accountability, national forces operating in foreign countries must answer to an outside body.
La'o Hamutuk, a Timorese non-government organisation, told the Australian Parliament's Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Trade and Defence the Australian forces in East Timor should be integrated into the UN peacekeeping force chain of command.
La'o Hamutuk told the committee's Inquiry into Human Rights Mechanisms in Asia-Pacific there needed to be a "clear, independent and transparent process for Timorese citizens to report to resolve complaints against the Australian military".
La'o Hamutuk's submission cites repeated efforts by human rights lawyer Natercia Barbosa de Deus to arrange a meeting between the ISF and the family of the dead motorcyclist, but each time the meetings were cancelled.
Ms de Deus was told the driver of the ISF vehicle was scared of meeting the family and left the country soon after the accident.
The man's death meant his wife could not meet rental payments for where she was living with five children. They now live in a shack with 20 to 30 others.
La'o Hamutuk also criticised the Australian soldiers for the way they patrol the streets.
"Carrying long arms at all times, on and off duty, even where there is a low security risk, such as speaking to small children, playing sport, shopping in supermarket, eating at a restaurant or relaxing at the beach, is inappropriate and insensitive to a population traumatised by a brutal military occupation," it said. "It makes people feel unsafe."
About 750 Australian soldiers are deployed with New Zealand troops in the ISF.