An International Tribunal Must Be Established for East Timor
A Statement from U.S. Religious Leaders and Organizations
As religious leaders and organizations from the United States of America, we join the global call for the timely establishment of an international tribunal for East Timor.
We remember the tragedies endured by the people of East Timor and have heard their cries for justice. We agree that an international tribunal is necessary to hold accountable those most responsible for the war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide committed throughout the 24 years of brutal Indonesian military occupation.
The initial years of Indonesia's illegal occupation saw the deaths of more than one-third of East Timor's pre-1975 population. The occupation ended in 1999 amid a wave of terror and violence unleashed upon civilians countrywide. The Indonesian military committed countless atrocities in East Timor, including torture, rape, forced sterilization, disappearance and murder. Justice for such egregious crimes cannot be denied without serious repercussions. Indeed, peace in East Timor and the rule-of-law in Indonesia have already been seriously compromised.
During the occupation, Bishop Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo was among the courageous East Timorese who risked their lives to speak out against violence and work for freedom. Bishop Belo was a messenger to the world, who together with the Catholic Church protested countless human rights abuses to the United Nations and called for self-determination for the people of East Timor. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1996 in recognition of his efforts.
The Catholic Church was both a source of strength for the East Timorese people and a frequent target of Indonesian military violence during the occupation. In October 1991, student activist Sebasti‚o Gomes was killed during a raid on the Motael Church in Dili. His funeral procession turned into a peaceful protest, which the Indonesian military viciously repressed in what became known as the Santa Cruz massacre. The largest massacre of 1999 occurred at the Ave Maria Church in Suai, where thousands of refugees sought sanctuary. On September 6, Indonesian military and militia members stormed the Suai churchyard, killing hundreds of people, including three priests. On the same day in Dili, military and militias viciously attacked Bishop Belo's residence, forcing him to flee his country. On September 25, a Church group was attacked at Lautem Junction. Nine people were killed, including two nuns and three priests, and their bodies dumped in a river.
Nearly two years after these attacks, Bishop Belo issued an eloquent call for justice. "While we believe in and promote reconciliation, the people of East Timor are crying out for justice against the perpetrators of horrendous crimes committed during the Indonesian occupation. Without justice, the brokenness continues," he said.
In January 2000, a UN commission concluded, "Ultimately the Indonesian Army was responsible for the intimidation, terror, killings, and other acts of violence," and recommended establishing an international tribunal for East Timor. Instead, Indonesia was granted the opportunity to hold its own trials. But the Indonesian court has proven to be a sham.
Last August, the Indonesian court acquitted all five defendants in the Suai Church massacre case. Bishop Belo responded, "With the recent acquittals in an Indonesian court of military and police officials charged with allowing the mass slaughter of parishioners and priests at a church in the town of Suai in September 1999, [justice] has not happened. The Security Council must look for credible alternatives to achieve justice, and this should include an international tribunal." Ian Martin, who headed the UN mission in East Timor in 1999, called the Suai acquittals "particularly disturbing, saying, "The evidence was very clear and very available." The Protestant Church of East Timor has also called for the establishment of an international tribunal.
As the Indonesian court announces its final verdicts, the U.S. and other governments must not pretend the Indonesian judicial process is in any way acceptable. We call on the U.S. mission to the UN to actively work with its Security Council colleagues to pass a resolution establishing an international tribunal for East Timor. The world's powers must not again turn a blind eye to East Timor's suffering.
The universality of human rights is at stake. If the international community does not step up to prosecute the war crimes and crimes against humanity committed against the people of East Timor and the institution of the UN, tyrants need not fear international law. In order to work for world peace, it is crucial that we insist on justice. Otherwise, atrocities will multiply and more victims will be crying out for justice.
May 27, 2003
see media release
see also ETAN's A Matter of Faith pages
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