Subject: Indonesia's East Timor Probes: A Whitewash?

Straits Times [Singapore] May 18, 2000

Indonesia's East Timor Probes: A Whitewash?

Former Indonesian military chief General Wiranto was grilled for more than seven hours on Tuesday by the Attorney-General's Office over his allegedly complicity in the devastation of newly-free East Timor last September.

Human rights activists here and abroad say he must bear criminal responsibility because he was then the commander-in-chief and did not do enough to stop the carnage by East Timorese militiamen aided by soldiers.

And they claim the government is not serious about putting him on trial and that the official probe so far has been a sideshow to divert international attention.

Devi Asmarani of The Straits Times Indonesia Bureau looks at the progress and roadblocks ahead.

Not really, there is will but ...

President Abdurrahman Wahid is very keen to avoid the international tribunal that the United Nations Security Council has threatened to set up to try his generals.

He has stated many times his government's intention to bring perpetrators of the East Timor violence to court. But his government has been slow to put in place the laws required to prosecute people at the top of the military and civilian commands who are politically responsible for the destruction.

Progress so far

Sept 23, 1999 -- The National Commission on Human Rights, under then chairman Marzuki Darusman, establishes the Commission of Inquiry into Human Rights Violations in East Timor (KPP HAM).

Jan 31, 2000 -- KPP HAM implicates former armed forces chief Gen Wiranto and 32 other military and civilian officers in the mass killings, tortures, rapes, forced evacuations and destruction of East Timor after the announcement of the August 1999 ballot.

Feb 13, 2000 -- President Abdurrahman Wahid suspends Gen Wiranto, his Coordinating Minister for Security and Political Affairs, from the Cabinet.

April 19, 2000 -- Mr Marzuki Darusman, now Attorney-General, forms a 64-member investigation team to find evidence and name suspects: The team is focussing on five cases:

* An April 17 attack on pro-independence leader Manuel Carrascalao's house in Dili in which at least 12 people were killed;

* The Sept 6 attack on the home of Dili Bishop Carlos Felipe Ximenes Belo;

* A refugee massacre in a church in Liquica in April;

* A massacre in a church in Suai in September where at least 26 people died, and;

* The shooting of Financial Times correspondent Sander Thoenes in the East Dili area of Becora on Sept 21.

Since May 1, 2000 -- 21 civilians and military and police personnel have been summoned by the team, with General Wiranto the last person to be questioned on Tuesday. Other military officers questioned include:

* Former army deputy chief of staff Lt-Gen Johny Lumintang;

* Former armed forces intelligence chief Zacky Anwar Makarim;

* Former East Timor military commander Brig-Gen Tono Suratman;

* His immediate superior, former regional commander Maj-Gen Adam Damiri;

* Brig-Gen Tono's successor, Col Noer Muis; and

* Former East Timor Police chief Brig-Gen Timbul Silaen

Out of the 21 summoned, five failed to show up. They were former local government officials in East Timor, including governor Jose Abilio Osorio Soares.

All of them were questioned as witnesses. The A-G's team says it will look for evidence and more testimonies from witnesses in East Timor and the neighbouring province of East Nusa Tenggara before it decides on the status of each person some time this month.

No date has yet been set.

But why do critics remain skeptical?

The government does not have sufficient legal instruments to convict any high-ranking army officer found responsible for the destruction of East Timor but not directly involved in the violence.

The ongoing investigation on East Timor is made possible by the September 1999 law on human rights that stipulates that gross violations of human rights can be prosecuted once a new law sets up a Human Rights Tribunal within four years. But the law has not yet been passed.

Oct 8, 1999 -- President B.J. Habibie issues a decree in lieu of a law. March 13, 2000 -- The House of Representatives rejects the decree because it does not contain a clause that would enable past human rights crimes to be tried in court. March 2000 -- The bill on a rights tribunal undergoes another revision. The retroactive clause is scrapped, and replaced by a clause that permits the government to set up an ad-hoc tribunal to try rights violations. Another revision says "every state official, military or police officer, who allows or fails to prevent his or her subordinates from committing gross human rights violations is liable to face the same possible punishment as those who directly commit violations."

The bill varies punishment from three years to life imprisonment.

March 2000 -- The bill is submitted to Parliament for deliberation, but the House has not made it a top priority. So what's the score?

Without the human rights tribunal law, the government has no legal means to prosecute top army officers. It can apply the criminal code but that does not have provisions for collective responsibility and omission of crimes.

Human rights activists criticize the A-G 's Chambers for treating the investigation as "ordinary crimes" instead of political crimes and crimes against humanity. They suspect that A-G officials have been "bought-off" to buy the suspects time.

The A-G's Office had a three-month deadline, as of Jan 31, to build a case, but at the rate it is going -- and with the absence of a pertinent law -- it will likely only be able to prosecute middle and low-ranking officers who were immediately present at the time of the attacks.

Although Gen. Wiranto has privately indicated he is prepared to assume political responsibility, he and the other army generals may just get away with any criminal liability.

He also announced on Tuesday that he was resigning from the Cabinet post he has been suspended from since February.

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