Subject: SMH: And justice for all: Dili backs international war crimes tribunal

Sydney Morning Herald June 22, 2001

And justice for all: Dili backs international war crimes tribunal

By Mark Dodd, Herald Correspondent in Dili

East Timor's de facto government, the National Council, has backed the formation of an international war crimes tribunal to prosecute leaders of anti-independence militias and their Indonesian army supporters.

The council voted overwhelmingly in support of the tribunal and also endorsed legislation to establish a South African-style Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The moves were initiated by council member, Mr Aniceto Guterres, East Timor's best known lawyer, who also heads the country's Yayasan-HAK human rights foundation.

While it is expected a truth and reconciliation commission could be successful in East Timor, diplomats and human rights lawyers said they anticipate efforts to establish an international court would run into serious international opposition.

A truth commission could see militiamen involved in less serious crimes facing a community-based system of justice, rather than a court of law.

"This is in no way a move away from providing justice to those most heavily implicated in the crimes of 1999, but a means of providing a workable mechanism to bring communities together to deal with tens of thousands of minor offences that took place," said Mr Patrick Burgess, the United Nations head of human rights in East Timor.

Those who appeared before the commission would be required to undertake community service, pay restitution and make a public apology. "This commission will have the power to look into and hear testimony about human rights abuses dating back to 1974," Mr Burgess said.

It could deal with crimes which included involvement in the destruction of private property or low-level intimidation but not serious crimes of murder, rape, torture and organised violence. Those are being investigated by a Serious Crimes Unit, he said.

Human rights groups claim up to 1,500 East Timorese independence supporters were murdered in a reign of terror that followed the UN-brokered referendum held on August 30, 1999. Indonesia has promised an ad hoc tribunal of its own to try those responsible but its terms of reference are restricted to violence which occurred after the ballot and does not include a series of bloody massacres committed in the lead-up to the vote.

The UN warned it reserves the right to establish an international tribunal if Jakarta fails to bring those responsible for the violence to justice but increasingly that looks like a hollow threat.

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