Subject: IPS: Indonesia Rejects Int'l Probe into Abuses

Inter Press Service January 31, 2000, Monday

Indonesia Rejects Int'l Probe Into Abuses



Two panels looking into human rights abuses in East Timor -- one commissioned by the U.N. and one by the Indonesian government -- both blame the Indonesian army for much of the violence that swept the area after an August vote in favor of independence.

The U.N. commission also proposed the establishment of an international human rights tribunal to conduct "further systematic investigations of the human rights violations and violations of international humanitarian law in East Timor. "

Indonesia promptly rejected that proposal, saying only its national laws are applicable in this matter.

The commission "concluded that there were patterns of gross violations of human rights and breaches of humanitarian law which...took the form of systematic and widespread intimidation, humiliation and terror, destruction of property, violence against women and displacement of people."

The report says "patterns were also found" implicating the Indonesian army in the violence.

Mary Robinson, the UN's high commissioner for human rights, said the commission has sent a message that East Timor is not forgotten. "It is my hope that efforts to hold those responsible for the atrocities in East Timor accountable will go on so that there is no impunity," she said.

Following the issuance of the national report, President Abdurrahman Wahid of Indonesia said he was requesting the resignation of the security minister, Gen. Wiranto, who headed the armed forces at the time.

"He will be examined by an Indonesian court," Wahid said. The report said Wiranto and more than 30 other Indonesian officials should be investigated for human rights violations. The head of the commission, Albert Hasibuan, said Wiranto "knew what happened, but did not take effective measures to handle or prevent the violence."

The five-person U.N. commission was chaired by Sonia Picado of Costa Rica. The team's mandate was to investigate human rights abuses in East Timor since January 1999, when it was decided to hold a referendum on the future of East Timor, through to the voting on Aug. 30 and the subsequent attacks on civilians by Indonesian army-backed militias.

The U.N. estimated that 500,000 of East Timor's 890,000 people were affected by the violence. In November, the team visited East Timor and Jakarta, but not the Indonesian province of West Timor, where there are more than 100,000 refugees, according to the U.N. and other agencies.

In transmitting the report to the Security Council, Secretary-General Kofi Annan wrote that "there is a need for conducting further systematic investigations of the violations that took place in East Timor, " but was non-committal about the possibility of a tribunal.

Annan merely said the recommendations "merit careful consideration."

John Mills, the U.N.'s deputy spokesman, said that "the ball is now in two courts" -- meaning the inter-governmental bodies of the Council, the General Assembly, and the Human Rights Commission (which requested the inquiry) on the one side, and the Indonesian government on the other.

It is by no means certain that the Council will act on the tribunal proposal. Veto-wielding China, for one, opposes attempts to place international authority over what it views as domestic matters, if the subject nation opposes U.N. involvement.

Indonesia, which opposed the original vote in the Human Rights Commission, immediately rejected the report and the possibility of an international tribunal.

"The report seems to consist of sweeping, uncorroborated allegations and is one-sided and selective in approach," Foreign Minister Alwi Shihab wrote to Annan.

Shihab maintains that Indonesia's armed forces tried to stop the violence that swept East Timor following the August vote in favor of independence, and had no ties with the militias. He says it is therefore "unfair" to accuse the army of being responsible for the violence.

Since East Timor was a part of Indonesia when the violence occurred, he wrote, "Indonesian laws are the only laws applicable to those violations and the Indonesian judicial mechanism is the exclusive mechanism for bringing the perpetrators of the violations of human rights to justice."

U.S. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke said the Indonesian government should be given the opportunity to handle the matter itself. However, he added, if "it is unable to do so, they should expect the increase continually and dramatically. But the United States government is not at the point yet of taking a position on this important report."

Non-governmental supporters of East Timorese independence have doubts that Jakarta can follow through on the recommendations of the national report.

That charges were made against the military "shows real progress," said John M. Miller, the spokesperson for East Timor Action Network, but "national law at this point is unclear."

"They are in the process of establishing a human rights court" but it will not deal with past abuses. The Indonesian judiciary "is not yet independent...There are questions of independence and fairness," he said.

"If justice is delayed long enough, it is justice denied for East Timor, " Miller said.

In addition, Miller argued that this is not only an Indonesian matter, but an international one since the violence was "an attempt to overturn an internationally supervised referendum."

In East Timor itself, an autonomous judiciary was only established last week. But there are reports that the first indictment of a militia leader will be handed down shortly.

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