Subject: IPS/East Timor: Pressure for International Tribunal Grows

RIGHTS-EAST TIMOR: Pressure for International Tribunal Grows

By Sonny Inbaraj

DARWIN, Australia, Jan 26 (IPS) - While Indonesia wants the United Nations and the United States to give it a chance to complete its own inquiry into the atrocities in East Timor, a British human rights group warns that Jakarta could protect its own army generals from being brought to justice for crimes against humanity.

On Wednesday, the rights group launched a worldwide campaign for the creation of an international tribunal on East Timor, in accordance with the powers of the newly established International Criminal Court.

''A draft law shortly to be submitted to Indonesia's parliament on the creation of a human rights court has been deliberately framed so as to protect Indonesian generals from being brought to justice for the horrific crimes against humanity committed during the last few months of Indonesia's occupation of East Timor,'' Tapol said in a statement.

Indonesian military-supported militias terrorised East Timor after the Aug 30, UN-supported independence referendum, killing an untold number and sending hundreds of thousands of people to neighbouring West Timor. Militia members continue to intimidate the refugees, using scare tactics to prevent them from returning to East Timor, UN officials say.

In mid-September, then Indonesian President Bacharuddin Jusuf Habibie hastily proclaimed a presidential decree for the creation of a human rights court to pre-empt any move by the UN to set up an international tribunal.

The decree also mandated Indonesia's National Commission on Human Rights to set up the Commission to Investigate Human Rights Violations in East Timor (KPP-HAM). Two teams have visited East Timor and West Timor, collecting evidence to try six Indonesian army generals and other military and police personnel in connection with the systematic campaign of destruction and violence in East Timor.

But Tapol argues that the work of KPP-HAM, over the past four months, could be ''swept under the carpet'' if the new Wahid government enacts fresh legislation, expected to be soon, in parliament for the creation of a human rights court, thus rejecting Habibie's decree.

''The (Wahid) government's draft law for the creation of a human rights court is drafted in such a way as to make it impossible for all grave human rights violations committed in East Timor to be taken to such a court because it will not be retroactive,'' said Tapol's director Carmel Budiardjo.

In contention is Article 32 of the draft law which stipulates that ''cases of grave human rights violations that were created prior to the creation of the Human Rights Court shall be handled by a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).''

''Nothing is yet known about the terms of reference of the TRC, as intended by the government, but for those seeking accountability and justice, a truth commission cannot be accepted as an alternative to a properly constituted court of law,'' said Budiardjo.

''What will happen with cases where the TRC is dissatisfied with the explanations it hears from a human rights violator?'' asked Budiardjo.

The legal dilemma, explained the Tapol director, is that while the TRC has retroactive powers the human rights court, on the other hand, does not.

''The TRC will not be able to pass cases on to the human rights court because the latter will lack retroactive powers. This will mean the TRC will lack teeth; whatever people say there, they will be safe in the knowledge that they cannot be referred to a court for trial,'' explained Budiardjo.

''All the commitment and hard work of the KPP-HAM will be swept under the carpet if those suspected of crimes against humanity in East Timor are not brought before the appropriate court with adequate powers to pass verdicts,'' he added.

Because of this, Tapol launched an international campaign on Wednesday to press for an international tribunal on East Timor, in accordance with the 1998 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, to try suspected perpetrators.

''In the absence of any sign that the Indonesian government is willing to create a national human rights court with the necessary powers to try recent grave violations in East Timor and elsewhere, the international community should press for this international tribunal to be set up -- with or without the consent of the Indonesian government,'' he argued.

On Jan 19, Indonesian Foreign Minister Alwi Shihab met UN secretary-general Kofi Annan and explained Indonesia's opposition to an international tribunal on East Timor.

He told Annan that the KPP-HAM must be given the authority with no interference from any institutions, ''including the UN'', to handle the question of accountability for the crimes committed in East Timor.

At the United Nations, Shihab also met with several members of the Security Council and UN representatives of some 20 members, including China, Russia, Portugal, Middle East and Asian countries.

According to Indonesia's official news agency Antara, Shihab, however, admitted he could not be ''a hundred percent optimistic'' that Annan will back Indonesia up on the question of the international tribunal.

''Annan is likely not to have the authority to decide the issue by himself. However I believe Annan will consider my clarification as well as the opinion of some 20 UN's representative members,'' he said.

Later that day in a speech at Washington's School of Advanced International Studies -- after meeting US State Secretary Madeleine Albright -- Shihab said his government wanted the KPP-HAM to take the lead in dealing with abuses in East Timor.

Shihab said: ''An international tribunal could be counterproductive because then it would trigger xenophobia or an excessive spirit of nationalism that could only allow those who violated human rights to wrap their bodies in flags.''

But a US State Department official says the United States wants to see accountability. He added: ''We do not endorse a particular mechanism for accountability but continue to support a mechanism that is thorough, credible and transparent.''

In a report made public in New York in December, following their visit to East Timor, three UN special rapporteurs urged the Security Council to consider the setting up of an international criminal court for the territory.

''This should preferably be done with the consent of the government (Indonesia), but such consent should not be a prerequisite. Such a tribunal should have jurisdiction over all crimes under international law committed by any party in the territory since the departure of the colonial power (Portugal in 1975, when the Indonesian armed forces invaded East Timor),'' said the report. (END/IPS/ap-ip-hd/si/js/00)

Sonny Inbaraj and Ilana Eldridge 20 Camphor Street, Nightcliff Darwin 0810, NT, Australia

Tel/fax: +61-8-89485333

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