Subject: WiSJ: Justice for E. Timor

Wisconsin State Journal

February 19, 2002 Tuesday, ALL Editions



Diane Farsetta

Without justice, there can be no rule of law, no redress for victims, no deterrent for potential offenders. And the consequences of justice denied increase with the seriousness of the transgression. What happens, then, when genocide and other crimes against humanity go unpunished?

Ask the people of East Timor.

For nearly a quarter-century, the East Timorese suffered under a brutal, illegal Indonesian military occupation. According to Amnesty International and Catholic church sources, more than one-third of the population was killed. And although the overwhelming August 1999 vote for independence in a United Nations-organized referendum put the country firmly on the road to independence, retaliation was swift and tragic.

The departing Indonesian military and its militia proxies carried out a scorched-earth campaign, killing at least 2,000 people, raping hundreds of women and girls, forcing three-quarters of the population from their homes, and destroying more than 70 percent of East Timor's infrastructure.

In January 2000, a UN commission rightly called for an international human rights tribunal, stating such a move was "fundamental for the future social and political stability of East Timor. " Moreover, failure to hold the Indonesian military and government accountable for atrocities committed in 1999 -- crimes perpetrated in direct opposition to a UN mission -- gives a green light to all who would ignore the will of the international community.

Why, then, has East Timor not seen justice? The Indonesian government balked at the possibility of international trials and promised to establish its own Human Rights Court.

This flawed court will not deliver justice: Its mandate is limited to just two months in 1999 and only three of East Timor's 13 districts; the judges include people with no court experience and with close ties to the Indonesian military; traumatized East Timorese are unlikely to testify in Indonesian courtrooms, and the court will not hear cases of the widespread, systematic use of violence against women.

In response to this unacceptable process, a coalition of East Timorese organizations stated in October 2001, "Indonesia is both incapable and unwilling to take responsibility for prosecuting those culpable for the crimes against humanity in East Timor. " In January, nearly four dozen U.S. and international attorneys and legal scholars declared, "The time to prosecute the crimes inflicted upon the East Timorese through the establishment of an International Criminal Tribunal is now."

Nowhere is the injustice more apparent than in East Timor itself. Victims continue to suffer, families remain separated, nearly one-tenth of the population remains in militia and military-controlled Indonesian refugee camps and the infrastructure is still in shambles. That is why East Timorese human rights activist Filomena dos Reis is in Madison speaking about the need for an international tribunal Wednesday night. Her speech will be at 7 p.m. in the UW-Madison Memorial Union.

To dos Reis, this issue is anything but abstract. She was eight when Indonesia invaded, she risked her life by working for human rights during the occupation, and she continues to counsel women victims of Indonesian military violence.

Crimes against humanity demand an international response. And the United States, which provided Indonesia with substantial military and political support during its occupation of East Timor, must take a leadership role in calling for an international tribunal.

EDITOR-NOTES: Farsetta, of Madison, is a field organizer for the East Timor Action Network.

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