Subject: IPS: ECOSOC Endorses Probe into Timor Rights Violations

RIGHTS-EAST TIMOR: ECOSOC Endorses Probe into Human Rights Violations By Jim Wurst

UNITED NATIONS, Nov 18 (IPS) - The UN's Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), in a highly divisive vote, has endorsed the decision of the UN Human Rights Commission to send a team to East Timor to investigate human rights violations.

With this last bureaucratic matter settled, the team, headed by Sonia Picado of Costa Rica, is scheduled to leave for East Timor this weekend.

The decision was immediately welcomed here by Timorese leader Jose Ramos-Horta, who declared: "There has to be an assignment of responsibility to the military people who destroyed our country."

The ECOSOC vote was 27-10 with 11 abstentions. Indonesia and all its Asian neighbors on the 53-member ECOSOC voted against the decision.

The vote was to endorse the creation of an international commission to investigate abuses which might "constitute breaches of international humanitarian law."

The debate on the issue this week was dominated by complaints of procedural irregularities. Indonesia's ambassador Makarim Wibisono said the original Human Rights Commission meeting that called for the inquiry was "legally defective."

Ramos-Horta said, "The important thing now is not the tone, but that the mission goes ahead." He was at the United Nations headquarters to accept an award from the Hague Appeal for Peace, the international NGO coalition.

The team's mandate is to investigate the period from Jan. 1999, when it was decided to hold a referendum on the future of East Timor, through to the voting on Aug. 30 and subsequent attacks on civilians by Indonesian army-backed militias, after voters opted for independence.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, called for a commission of inquiry at a special session of the Human Rights Commission in September.

She said at the time there was "overwhelming evidence that East Timor has seen a deliberate, vicious and systematic campaign of gross violations of human rights [and] an international commission of inquiry into the violations must be established so that those responsible are brought to justice."

The UN estimates that 500,000 of Timor's population of 890,000 were effected by the violence.

The UN mission, however, will not visit West Timor, the Indonesian province, where up to 200,000 East Timorese refugees were forced to flee.

Last week, three UN human rights officials characterized as "devastating" the evidence that wide-spread acts of murder, rape, torture and other violations had occurred in East Timor.

Ramos-Horta, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1996 with Bishop Carlos Bello, was clear in distinguishing between the political and military leadership of Indonesia.

He called the newly-elected president of Indonesia, Wahid, "the most decent human being in Indonesia today."

On the other hand, "the military is responsible and must be held accountable for the sake of East Timor but also for the sake of democracy in Indonesia," he added.

Xanana Gusmao, the leader of the Timorese resistance, and Ramos- Horta will meet Wahid in Jakarta on Nov. 30.

The UN's new representative in East Timor, Under-Secretary General Sergio Vieira de Mello, arrived in Dili Tuesday.

He will head the UN Mission in East Timor - UNAMET - which the Security Council established on October 25. UNAMET, Like the UN authority in Namibia in the early 1990s, will have military, police, governance and humanitarian components.

The UN's Office for Humanitarian Affairs , meanwhile, has issued an appeal for 199 million dollars through June 2000 to meet urgent humanitarian needs.

Shepard Forman, a conflict resolution specialist at New York University, said there are three urgent humanitarian issues:

."First, Indonesia needs to be convinced of the wisdom of cooperating, allowing the East Timorese in West Timor and elsewhere in Indonesia to freely exercise their right of return and to open safe land corridors between the refugee camps in West Timor and East Timorese sanctuaries...

"Secondly, the Indonesian authorities and their surrogates need to be held accountable, individual by individual, for those who have disappeared. President Wahid has promised his cooperation. We need to make certain that promise is fulfilled.

"Finally," Forman told an audience at Yale Divinity School, "there is a very real risk that the good will the humanitarians have built up will quickly be squandered if the situation on the ground does not improve rapidly for the East Timorese." (END/IPS/jw/mk/99)

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