Subject: USGOV: Amb.-at-Large for War Crimes Issues Speech


David J. Scheffer Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues

The Global Challenge of Establishing Accountability for Crimes Against Humanity

Remarks, Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria Pretoria, South Africa, August 22, 2000

Indonesia/East Timor In another part of the world, Indonesia, there are also elements of domestic and international justice at work. Late last year, the UN Human Rights Commission convened a special session on the situation in East Timor. In addition to condemning the violence that ravaged East Timor following the referendum there 1 year ago, the UN called for an international commission of inquiry.

It also called on the Government of Indonesia to investigate and prosecute those responsible for the atrocities associated with last year's referendum in East Timor.

The fact that the international community has given Indonesia the opportunity to fulfill these obligations has been a major test of Indonesia's own ability to investigate and prosecute its own.

The government-appointed commission of inquiry into violence in East Timor produced a well-documented report, which has become the basis for criminal investigations. The Indonesian Attorney General appointed a 64-member team to pursue criminal investigations with a view to issuing indictments. The team wasted no time in bringing in several top generals for questioning.

We are concerned about the implications of the recent adoption by the Indonesian People's Consultative Assembly of a constitutional amendment that includes the right of protection from prosecution for any act which was not a crime when committed. We recognize that the universal concept of ex post facto is an important due process right. But neither that principle nor this amendment should prevent the anticipated Human Rights Court in Indonesia from trying violations of international humanitarian law embodied in treaties and customary law to which Indonesia is unquestionably bound. We hope that Indonesian prosecutors will be able to bring military commanders to account for the East Timor atrocities and for egregious crimes against civilians committed elsewhere in Indonesia, as the Indonesian authorities have indicated they are prepared to do. We all must carefully scrutinize the next steps in Indonesia to achieve justice for the victims of unwarranted military and militia violence.

Hardliners, of course, will continue to do all they can to obstruct a credible accountability process. In the event they are successful and domestic accountability is no longer a viable option, the international community must be prepared to exert its prerogative to see that the principal perpetrators are brought to justice. We recognize the importance of what the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, has said on this subject recently. If the Indonesians do not address this challenge, then the pressure will grow to create an international tribunal to do the job.

That being said, the UN Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) is doing its part in documenting what transpired in the East Timor violence. We hope that the legal authorities in East Timor and Jakarta will continue to cooperate in this venture. UNTAET and the Government of Indonesia have already signed a memorandum of understanding that provides a framework for the sharing of information and might even allow for joint investigations. There is certainly enough work to go around to avoid unnecessary duplication of effort and competition for suspects and resources. And the courts established by UNTAET may, in light of the recent developments in Jakarta, have to become the most immediate and primary vehicle for justice for East Timor. We will spare no effort in strengthening the rule of law in East Timor and in Indonesia, where criminal violence against large numbers of civilians in the Moluccas, in Aceh, and in Irian Jaya must not go unanswered.

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