International Tribunal Urged for War Crimes in East Timor

August 7th, 2003 - by admin

by East Timor Action Network –

Indonesian Court’s Final East Timor Sentence a “Joke”

(August 5, 2003) — Calling the three-year sentence of an Indonesia general accused of fostering crimes against humanity “a joke,” the East Timor Action Network (ETAN) today urged the United States and United Nations to guarantee real justice for East Timor by establishing an international tribunal.

“An international tribunal is needed if the many victims of war crimes and crimes against humanity in East Timor are to see genuine justice. The East Timorese deserve no less than Iraqis, Rwandans, and Bosnians. The Bush administration must work to create an international tribunal for East Timor,” says John M. Miller, spokesperson for ETAN.

Indonesia’s Ad Hoc Human Rights Court for East Timor convicted Major General Adam Damiri and sentenced him to three years in prison for failing to control his troops in 1999, when he was commander of the region which included East Timor. The prosecutors, who had consistently presented weak and misleading cases, last month urged that charges against Damiri be dropped. Damiri missed several court appearances, saying that he was busy with preparations for the current military (TNI) assault on Aceh, the largest operation since the 1975 invasion of East Timor.

In late February, the joint UN-East Timor Serious Crimes Unit indicted Damiri for crimes against humanity for murder, deportation and persecution. He and other Indonesian officers are accused of funding, arming, training and directing the militia in the systematic campaign of violence in 1999.

Indonesia set up the court to deflect calls in early 2000 for an international tribunal. The United Nations said at the time that the Indonesian judicial process must be credible and that it would revisit the question of justice at the end of the Jakarta trials.

ETAN works with civil society in East Timor and Indonesia in calling for an international tribunal to prosecute crimes against humanity that took place in East Timor since 1975.

Background: 29 Years of Occupation and Atrocities
Of the 18 people tried by the ad hoc court, all but 6 were acquitted. All but one of those convicted received less than the legal minimum sentence, and all remain free pending appeal.

During its illegal occupation of the island nation from 1975 to 1999, the Indonesian military was responsible for the deaths of more than one-third of the population (200,000 people). After the East Timorese people voted for independence in 1999, the Indonesian military retaliated by killing more than one thousand people, raping hundreds of women and girls and destroying most of the country’s infrastructure. In the months following 1999’s devastation, two UN bodies called for the establishment of an international tribunal. Instead, Indonesia promised to try its own and eventually established the Ad Hoc Human Rights Court for East Timor.

The Indonesian court has been criticized for its limited mandate, with jurisdiction over only three of East Timor’s 13 districts during just two months (April and September 1999) of a 24-year military occupation. Indonesia will not try anyone for the many atrocities that occurred outside of these very narrow time periods and locations.

The defendants were primarily accused of failing to prevent the actions of others rather than for acts they may have directly committed. The prosecution repeatedly described the violence in 1999 as the result of conflict among East Timorese factions and portrayed the UN administration of the referendum as biased and anti-Indonesian.

None of the top-ranking officers and officials named by Indonesia’s own human rights commission in January 2000 was seriously investigated, much less indicted. Powerful military officers routinely attended the court in an effort to intimidate. Fearing for their safety, most East Timorese witnesses called to testify refused. Those who did were harassed. The prosecution failed to make use of vast amounts of UN documentation available to them as evidence.

The joint UN-East Timor Serious Crimes Unit has indicted a number of high-ranking Indonesian officials, including General Wiranto, the commander-in-chief and defense minister in 1999. However, Indonesia refuses to extradite anyone to East Timor.

Earlier this year, former Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid called the Indonesian court “corrupt.” He said it “has no rigor or influence. Everything can be bought and while things are like this it will not be possible to achieve justice for Timor.”

In legislation passed last month, the US House of Representatives said Indonesia’s ad hoc court had “inadequately brought to justice the perpetrators” of crimes in 1999 and called on the State Department “to push for a comprehensive United Nations review” of the ad hoc court on East Timor and “to consider alternative mechanisms of justice for East Timor, including the establishment of an ad hoc international tribunal.”

In late June, 14 US Senators said that “the international community has a responsibility to ensure justice” for East Timor. They wrote Secretary of State Colin Powell to urge “the administration to work towards the establishment of an international tribunal…” The letter stated that the United States “should not abrogate international responsibility to the just-born East Timorese government, with its limited political, economic, and human resources… [and] should clearly communicate to East Timor’s government and the UN Secretary-General that it supports justice and opposes immunity in these cases” dating back to 1975.

In late May, 90 US-based religious leaders and organizations issued a similar call.

John M. Miller, Media & Outreach Coordinator ( East Timor Action Network: 48 Duffield St., Brooklyn, NY 11201 USA, (718) 596-7668 Fax: (718) 222-4097,