Subject: Indonesia Rights Abuse Cases 'Could Take Years'

Sydney Morning Herald Tuesday, February 22, 2000

Rights abuse cases 'could take years'

By LINDSAY MURDOCH, Herald Correspondent in Jakarta

Indonesia's judicial system would clog up if a large number of human rights abuse cases were tried individually, the Defence Minister, Dr Juwono Sudarsono, says.

Dr Juwono said Indonesia was moving quickly to set up a South African-style truth and reconciliation commission to examine decades of atrocities and human rights abuses, many of them committed by the country's armed forces.

He has sent a preliminary submission to President Abdurrahman Wahid, and full recommendations would be put to Cabinet within weeks, he said. A law giving the commission wide powers is also being drafted by the Law and Legislation Ministry.

Dr Juwono said there were so many cases of alleged human rights abuses that it would take "hundreds of years" to have them investigated individually and the guilty brought to justice.

The prosecution of soldiers and police over gross human rights violations should go ahead as part of a package that included the commission.

"For instance the Acehnese claim there have been 6,000 human rights violations committed in Aceh in the last 10 years," he said. "It is logistically, financially and legally impossible to go into that whole process. But I want to see some agreement among the community, among the victims, the families, the perpetrators, the Government and non-government organisations to reach a degree of compromise."

Before taking power in October, Mr Wahid publicly supported the idea of a truth commission, saying there could be no reconciliation of warring groups unless the truth was known.

Dr Juwono, Indonesia's first civilian defence minister, said a truth commission would bring justice and also help the healing process, but that it would take up to 10 years because so many groups were involved.

Military analysts say establishing a truth commission could antagonise hardline elements of the country's powerful armed forces that have committed human rights violations with impunity for decades, especially in provinces such as Aceh, Papua and East Timor.

Relations between Mr Wahid's administration and the armed forces are already strained over the reshuffling of key commanders favouring those trusted by the President and the sacking last week of the co-ordinating minister for political and security affairs, General Wiranto.

Dr Juwono said the abuses that needed to be reconciled had not only been committed by soldiers and the police but involved religious, ethnic and communal disputes.

The former executive secretary of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Mr Paul Van Zyl, told a recent seminar in Jakarta that hearings to establish the truth and courts prosecuting offenders "must complement each other rather than contradict each other".

Mr Wahid recently ordered the reopening of investigations into alleged corruption or misuse of public funds by former president Soeharto, whose family and cronies amassed one of the world's biggest fortunes during his 32-year rule. The Attorney-General's office had ruled last year there was no evidence to proceed against the 79-year-old Mr Soeharto. Mr Wahid has made it clear that he would pardon Mr Soeharto and General Wiranto if they were to be found guilty by an Indonesian court.

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