Subject: WT: Timor tribunal faces big odds

Timor tribunal faces big odds By Ian Timberlake

THE WASHINGTON TIMES

JAKARTA, Indonesia — A deadline plagued by delays has finally been met, but there are doubts that members of the Indonesian military, who might soon face trial for crimes in East Timor at a new human rights courthouse, will be brought to justice.

More than two years after the last Indonesian forces ended their 24-year occupation of the territory with an orgy of arson, looting and murder, a human rights tribunal promised by the government was only sworn in Thursday.

The tribunal focuses fresh attention on President Megawati Sukarnoputri's close relationship with the military, which backed her rise to power in July. It also has longer-term implications for U.S. military ties with the world's largest Muslim nation — ties that were essentially suspended in late 1999 because of the violence in East Timor.

"The military is still powerful here, so it's difficult for the government to take the military to court. I think that is the political problem in Indonesia," said Hendardi, who chairs the Indonesian Legal Aid and Human Rights Association in Jakarta. "They've already been buying time for two years."

Hendardi, who has only one name, and other observers are glad the tribunal has seen the light of day, but doubt whether it will truly achieve justice.

"The only reason for them having it is to meet the demands made by the international community. So it's more like a show trial," said Hilmar Farid, 34, a human rights activist who has worked extensively in East Timor. "It's not a question of bringing justice, but of who to blame."

The attorney general's office has named 19 suspects including police, military and civilian militia members. The highest-ranking suspect is Maj. Gen. Adam Damiri, former head of the regional military command that included East Timor. Other senior military suspects include Col. Tono Suratman, who was the top soldier in East Timor, and Col. Timbul Silaen, who headed the East Timor police. Both Col. Suratman and Col. Silaen were promoted to brigadier general after the ravaging of East Timor.

One Western diplomat, who doesn't want to be identified, doubts these senior officers will actually be called to account. "I personally don't believe they will be tried," he said. "I hope I am wrong."

When The Washington Times called Col. Suratman's office at the military headquarters one recent morning, he was said to be playing tennis.

"They'll bring them to court, but only the ones from the lower level," said Hendardi, who sees signs of a tradeoff in the government's decision last month to permit the military to set up a separate command for Aceh province, where dozens have already died this year in continuing violence between the military and armed separatists.

Human rights groups say a special military command for Aceh would strengthen the role of the armed forces, who have a history of abusing civilians there.

Albert Hasibuan, who headed a 1999 investigation into the East Timor atrocities, agrees there is "a little bit of compromise going on" between Mrs. Megawati, the military and the attorney general's office.

"This political compromise has to be stopped," Mr. Hasibuan told The Times. His report for the National Commission on Human Rights accused the military, and particularly its Kopassus special forces, of setting up and arming most of the militias that terrorized East Timor throughout 1999. The militias tried but failed to stop the East Timorese from supporting independence in the Aug. 30, 1999 referendum.

The human rights team further accused the military, police and militias of "mass killings," widespread arson, forced displacement of the population and "genocide."

U.N. officials, who are administering the territory until independence, which has been set for May 20 this year, have estimated that at least 1,000 East Timorese died during the 1999 violence. More than 200,000 others were forced at gunpoint to Indonesian-controlled West Timor after the referendum. Even now, tens of thousands of the refugees have not been able to return home.

After Mr. Hasibuan's team ruled that military officers in Jakarta should be held responsible, then-President Abdurrahman Wahid dismissed Armed Forces Commander Gen. Wiranto. But Gen. Wiranto is not among the 19 persons who are to appear before the human rights court — an omission Mr. Hendardi sees as further evidence of a compromise.

Scheduled to begin work on Jan. 15, the court operations were indefinitely postponed because Mrs. Megawati waited until Jan. 12 to approve a list of special judges who will hear the cases.

Senior court officials predicted last year that the human rights tribunal could start in September or October. Those dates came and went.

Even if all the suspects show up and the cases proceed, the scope of the tribunal is limited by a decree that Mrs. Megawati issued shortly after she took office. It restricts the court's jurisdiction to actions that took place in April and September 1999 in the three districts of Dili, Liquica, and Suai.

Under the Leahy amendment passed by Congress in 1999 in reaction to the East Timor violence, U.S. military sales and training assistance to Indonesia are suspended until certain conditions are met. The first of those is that Indonesia must take effective measures to bring to justice members of the armed forces and militia groups suspected of human rights abuses.

"If these generals are brought to justice, it means ending the chain of impunity," Mr. Farid said.


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