Subject: UN warcrimes commission to investigate in East Timor

UN warcrimes commission to investigate in East Timor

GENEVA, Nov 16 (AFP) - A UN commission to investigate human rights abuses will travel to East Timor at the end of the week, a UN spokesman said Tuesday.

The UN's economic and social council (ECOSOC) gave the commission of inquiry a go-ahead late Monday, spokesan Jose Diaz said, several weeks later than when it was initially expected.

Diaz added that the five-member team was preparing for deployment at the headquarters of the Geneva-based Commission on Human Rights, which voted to set up the probe in September despite the opposition of key Asian governments.

Indonesia, which invaded the Portuguese colony of East Timor in 1975 and annexed it the following year, opposed an international inquiry, arguing it would conduct its own investigation.

The task of the commission of inquiry is to substantiate claims of atrocities made by refugees to special UN rapporteurs.

Led by Costa Rican jurist Sonia Picado, the team is expected to submit its recommendation to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan by December 31 on whether the United Nations should set up an international war crimes tribunal.

The other probe members are Judith Sefi Attah, a former government minister in Nigeria, A.M. Ahmadi, a former chief justice of India's supreme court, Mari Kapa, vice president of Papua New Guinea's supreme court, and Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, a former German government minister.

They will investigate allegations by refugees and claims that the Indonesian army organized militias that waged a campaign of violence and mass destruction in the territory following an August 30 independence vote.

They will then report to the UN General Assembly which has the authority to establish an international war crimes tribunal.

Sydney Jones of Human Rights Watch Asia told AFP earlier this month there are concerns that Indonesia's human rights commission might demand equal access to evidence from the probe, which could deter many witnesses from coming forward for fear of retaliation.

------ Associated Press November 15, 1999

Despite Objections, UN Group Backs Timor Rights Inquiry

UNITED NATIONS (AP)--Despite objections from Indonesia and nine other countries, the U.N. Economic and Social Council on Monday endorsed the call for an international commission to gather information on possible human rights violations in East Timor.

The commission of inquiry, which could be the first step toward establishment of a U.N. war crimes tribunal for East Timor, is supported by U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson and was approved in September by the U.N. Human Rights Commission.

In Monday's roll-call vote in the Economic and Social Council, 27 countries backed the Human Rights Commission's call for an international inquiry, 10 opposed it and 11 abstained. The opponents included China, India, Indonesia, Oman, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka, Syria and Vietnam.

The 54-member council, an organ of the General Assembly, coordinates U.N. economic and social work including the promotion of respect for human rights.

The European Union insisted at the Human Rights Commission that an investigation should be internationally led with Indonesian participation. But Indonesia opposed an international inquiry and supported a national fact-finding mission - a position it maintained on Monday.

Details of the investigation must be worked out by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

The Economic and Social Council condemned "the widespread, systematic and gross violations of human rights and international humanitarian law in East Timor" and "the activities of the militias in terrorizing the population."

It endorsed the call on the secretary-general to establish an international commission of inquiry "with adequate representation of Asian experts" to cooperate with the Indonesian National Commission on Human Rights and U.N. investigators to gather information on possible violations.

The council also supported the commission's call to provide the secretary-general with the international commission's conclusions "with a view to enabling him to make recommendations on future actions."

During Monday's debate, Indonesia's U.N. Ambassador Makarim Wibisono reiterated his country's rejection of an international inquiry and questioned the legality of the Human Rights Commission's September meeting and Robinson's impartiality.

He stressed that following East Timor's overwhelming vote for independence on Aug. 30, Indonesia transferred authority for the territory to the United Nations and began a national fact-finding mission to investigate human rights violations.

Since Indonesia voted against an international inquiry again on Monday, Wibisono said it was not legally bound by the council's decision. However, he said his government remained committed to fully cooperate with U.N. human rights mechanisms and to holding those responsible for human rights abuses accountable.

Portugal's U.N. Ambassador Antonio Monteiro said Indonesia's cooperation was essential and could open a new era in the region.

He expressed hope that in the future the Human Rights Commission could work with the full cooperation of democratic Indonesia, saying an international inquiry would allow for reconciliation in East Timor.

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