Subject: Indon legal activist fears safety of East Timor carnage witnesses

Indonesian Observer July 21, 2000

Lubis fears safety of East Timor carnage witnesses

JAKARTA (IO) - A respected legal aid activist says the government must guarantee the security of witnesses who are scheduled to testify later this year on atrocities conducted by pro-Jakarta militias and the Indonesian Defense Forces in East Timor last year.

A joint team of police and military officials and staff from the Attorney General's Office is currently in East Timor to question those who witnessed the carnage which erupted before and after the territory on August 30, 1999, voted overwhelmingly to secede from Indonesia.

Reports issued in January by the United Nations and an Indonesian investigation team said several high-ranking TNI officials were responsible for much of the unrest.

Human rights lawyer Todung Mulya Lubis yesterday expressed concern that witnesses of the destruction and murders may be threatened if they testify at a trial of the officers, which is tentatively scheduled to take place in Indonesia at a date yet to be determined.

He said the joint team may find it difficult to persuade the East Timorese witnesses to come to Jakarta.

"The problem is whether the team will be able to present all of the witnesses in Indonesia to testify at the trial. At this point, I suggest the government should make it a policy to ensure their safety, so they will be free from fear and can return to East Timor soon after testifying."

Lubis was speaking at a seminar entitled 'Following Up the Investigation of the Crimes Against Humanity in East Timor'.

He said the government should instruct police to guarantee the safety of witnesses.

Lubis was a member of the Commission of Inquiry into Human Rights Abuses in East Timor (KPP HAM), which was formed by the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) last year to investigate the post-ballot violence.

The lawyer said it would be understandable if the wheels of justice take a long time to roll forward, as the government is still facing a lot of problems in various regions, such as the sectarian clashes in the Malukus, and separatism in Aceh and West Papua.

The joint team following up KPP HAM's report is led by M.A. Rachman, who is head of the general crimes department at the Attorney General's Office.

Members of the team arrived in the East Timor capital of Dili on Wednesday to seek evidence and witnesses. They were welcomed and heavily guarded by staff from the United Nations Temporary Administration in East Timor.

The team will spend a week investigating five major cases that featured prominently in KPP HAM's report. They are: the April 6 massacre at a church in Liquisa, the April 17 attack on Manuel Carrascalao's residence, the September 5 attack on the Dili diocese, the September 6 massacre at Suai Church, and the September 25 murder of Dutch reporter Sanders Thoenes.

Lubis said the trials of the errant military officials and militia thugs don't necessarily have to be held in special human rights courts.

Some activists have expressed concern that when Indonesia establishes special human rights courts later this year, they will not be able to examine cases of the past.

But Lubis said the defendants can be put on trial anywhere. "It's easy. The trials could even be conducted in a regular Indonesian court. We don't need to defend the principle of past cases when considering how to sentence those who committed human rights abuses. We already have our own Criminal Code which can be applied to sentence them."

Lubis expressed concern that the joint team may be biased in favor of the rogue generals. He said the team must investigate evidence that military officials committed crimes, rather than just concentrate on reports that some officials were guilty of failing to put a stop to the unrest.

"The question is whether the joint team is willing to study and investigate the violations that were categorized as criminal actions, rather than criminal negligence. That's what the investigation is supposed to do."

Lubis said the team has been making very sluggish progress because it contains police and military officials.

"I have serious doubts concerning the team's independent stance as long as there are TNI and police members in it. If they still go forward with that composition, it will be impossible to avoid bias."

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