Subject: TAPOL: HR courts bill welcome, but flawed

Press release 6 June 2000


The Indonesian Minister of Law and Legislation, Yusril Ihza Mahendra, this week formally submitted to the Indonesian House of Representatives (DPR) a bill to set up human rights courts to try 'gross violations of human rights'. Special ad hoc courts will have jurisdiction over past violations, including those connected with last year's murder and destruction in East Timor.

TAPOL welcomes this move to bring human rights violators to justice, but fears that the bill will face opposition in Parliament from the armed forces members and their allies intent on protecting military personnel from possible indictment.

TAPOL has submitted a detailed critique of the bill to the Minister and others in the administration. A major concern is that the bill's definition of 'gross violations' does not include a requirement that the crimes be committed pursuant to state policy, a central feature of international law on crimes against humanity. As a result, the authorities will be able to treat offences as ordinary human rights crimes and not as political or state crimes. It is likely that a familiar pattern will be followed whereby lower-ranking military officers will be targeted so that senior officers and political leaders can avoid accountability.

The bill gives the President alone, on the recommendation of the DPR, the power to set up ad hoc courts for past violations and provides for ministers and parliament to have a role in the appointment of investigators, prosecutors and judges. This invites unacceptable political interference in various stages of the judicial process, says TAPOL in its submission to the Minister.

President Wahid has already intervened by saying that he will pardon leading generals if they are found guilty. Justice will not be done and be seen to done unless appropriate punishments are administered, TAPOL points out.

A complete overhaul of the judiciary will be required before independent and impartial trials can take place according to international standards. It is widely acknowledged that very few judges are independent and untainted by judicial corruption. The Law Minister himself has admitted there is a shortage of 'capable and clean' judges. He has set out a five-year plan to revamp the legal system, but that timetable may be wildly optimistic given the immense size of the task facing him. An international tribunal remains the only viable option for the speedy trial of those responsible for the violence in East Timor, insists TAPOL.

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