Subject: SMH: Indon Foreign Minister fears those guilty will escape justice

Sydney Morning Herald Tuesday, August 22, 2000

Minister fears those guilty will escape justice

Indonesia's Foreign Minister, Mr Alwi Shihab, has expressed concern over a legal move that may give amnesty for past human rights abuses, especially in the light of last year's bloodshed in East Timor.

He was quoted in the Jakarta Post yesterday as saying the constitutional amendment, passed on Friday, "disturbs our efforts" to try those who committed crimes during East Timor's passage to independence.

"The Ministry of Foreign Affairs will find it very difficult to explain the article to the world in the midst of our effort to avoid an international tribunal," Mr Shihab said.

But the Attorney-General's office, investigating abuses in East Timor, yesterday repeated comments made by other government officials that the amendment should not affect the investigation.

Indonesia has rejected calls for an international tribunal to try those responsible for bloodshed after East Timor's August 30 vote to break from Jakarta's rule.

Pro-Jakarta militias backed by elements of Indonesia's military went on the rampage following the vote in the former Portuguese colony, killing hundreds of people.

The brief amendment passed by Indonesia's top legislature prevents people from being charged under any laws which did not exist when a crime took place, even if legislation specifically states it can be applied retroactively.

It appears to apply to any type of crime, but has been seized upon by human rights groups who fear it could protect those who committed atrocities during the military-backed rule of former president Soeharto, who stepped down in 1998.

Mr Yushar Yahya, spokesman for the Attorney-General's office, said those responsible for violence in East Timor could still be tried.

"To our understanding, the amendment does not mean an eradication of past abuses ... it does not affect our probe or even upset it for we are sure the perpetrators can still be brought to justice," he said.

Mr Yahya said names of defendants in the East Timor investigation would be announced soon. He declined to give more details.

Current Indonesian law makes it difficult to prosecute those giving the orders to shoot.

In an editorial, the Jakarta Post questioned how such an amendment could be so vague, and added that perpetrators of past human rights abuses were now likely to remain free.

It noted many MPs had conceded that the brief article, contained in two pages of amendments that enshrine the protection of human rights in Indonesia, had gone unnoticed.

Until Friday, Indonesia's Constitution had made only minor reference to human rights.

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