Subject: Clemency decrees upset E Timor victims

Clemency decrees upset E Timor victims

June 30, 2008 - 4:09PM

East Timor's President Jose Ramos Horta has been accused of ignoring victims by granting clemency to militia members who killed nuns and priests during a bout of unrest in 1999.

A group of 11 East Timorese citizens - representing human rights groups, lawyers and a member of parliament - says a recent presidential decree, which handed 94 criminals partial or full pardons, is unconstitutional and wants it revoked.

Several high profile murderers have already been granted conditional release from prison since the May decree, the group says.

Among them are Team Alfa militia leader Joni Marques, who was jailed for 33 years in 2001 in the country's first trial for crimes against humanity.

His crimes included several murders, including of a group of nine people - several Roman Catholic priests and nuns and an Indonesian journalist - near the eastern town of Los Palos, in 1999.

"The worst thing I think ... is that he (the president) freed men that committed crimes against humanity, crimes that are not pardonable under the international law and crimes that Timorese people still have so much pain in their hearts (about) ..." said local MP Fernanda Borges, of the minority party PUN.

"It's a worry to us, because when I talk to victims, people ... they don't feel that the law is on their side.

"You can't undermine the judicial processes. It will have dire consequences not only to democracy but to the stability in the country as well as the region."

In granting the pardons in May, Ramos Horta said East Timor needed to foster a culture of forgiveness in order to move forward.

The group has petitioned East Timor's Provedor for Human Rights and Justice, urging him to ask the Court of Appeal to examine the constitutionality of the presidential decree.

The petition asks the court to revoke the decree on the grounds it is unconstitutional because Ramos Horta did not consult with the government, and due process was not followed.

East Timor's government recommended only 83 prisoners should have their sentences reduced by between two and six months, the group said in a statement.

"The decision of the president is a gross injustice to the victims who still suffer because they have not yet received adequate justice and reparations from our state," the statement said.

"How will the state guarantee that crimes by armed militia that occurred in 1999 and 2006 will not happen again?"

Comment was being sought from the office of the president.

The petition follows Ramos Horta's decision last week to rule himself out of contention to become the United Nations' new High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The head of state - who was elected for a five-year term just last year - said he would stay on in fragile East Timor for "the foreseeable future", fearing fresh tensions could emerge if he were to leave.

Ramos Horta, a Nobel peace prize laureate, was elevated from his role as East Timor's prime minister to the presidency in a landslide election win just a year ago.

But his tenure was thrown into doubt after he was shot and seriously wounded by rebel soldiers outside his Dili home in February.


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