Subject: SMH: A New Style of Justice to Try Militia Abuses in E. Timor

Sydney Morning Herald April 21, 2000

A new style of justice to try militia abuses

By NICOLE WINFIELD at the United Nations

The first militia leaders accused of serious crimes in East Timor are expected to be brought to trial before international and East Timorese judges by June or July, a senior UN official said.

The trials will be among the first for East Timor's nascent judiciary, created by the UN administration as one of the cornerstones of its transition to independence.

East Timorese courts are handling prosecutions independently of Indonesian investigations into abuses committed by the Indonesian armed forces following the independence vote on August 30.

The UN administration guiding East Timor to independence had so far appointed 23 East Timorese judges and prosecutors and a pool of defence lawyers to handle cases, said the deputy legal adviser to the UN administration, Mr Hansjoerg Strohmeyer.

So far about 65 people had been detained. About 20 were militia members who would come before a special panel of two international judges and one East Timorese judge hearing cases alleging genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, torture, sexual offences and murder, he said.

An appeals court with similar international participation, sitting in the capital Dili, would hear challenges to the lower court's ruling.

Indonesia recently agreed to transfer suspects to the East Timorese courts, but the agreement is believed to cover only militia members - not senior military officials who might be brought before an Indonesian tribunal.

Mr Strohmeyer noted that all the judges, prosecutors and defence lawyers appointed so far were of East Timorese origin. They had had no prosecutorial or judicial experience because Indonesia only appointed Indonesian officials to those posts during its 25-year occupation of the former Portuguese colony.

All had law degrees, but, "except for very few exceptions, none of them has even set foot in a courthouse, so that places a major burden on the issue of training and education".

As a result the UN administration has hired experienced prosecutors and judges from other countries to advise Timorese officials.

Asked how such an inexperienced judiciary could carry out fair and credible trials, Mr Strohmeyer pointed to the international participation and special support for the prosecutors.

In addition, the UN peacekeeping force had gathered so much evidence that "some of the cases are, one would say, almost watertight. They don't need long or lengthy investigations", he said.

The Indonesian Attorney-General's office would next week summon former East Timor governor Mr Abilio Soares, former local military commander Brigadier-General Tono Suratman, and former East Timor police chief Brigadier-General Timbul Silaen in connection with alleged human rights violations, the Indonesian Observer reported.

"Our probe in the East Timor question is now in the investigation stage, so we want as much information as possible from those officials as a cross-check," said an office source.

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