|Subject: RT: Truth commission set for
traumatised East Timor
Received from Joyo Indonesian News
Truth commission set for traumatised East Timor
By Dean Yates
JAKARTA, Jan 16 (Reuters) - East Timor will formally open a truth and reconciliation commission next week in a major step toward shedding light on widespread human rights abuses committed during Indonesia's brutal rule over the territory.
Similar in principle to the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission that probed apartheid-era crimes, officials said the East Timor body was vital to helping Timorese traumatised by the past deal with their suffering.
"Many Timorese want answers from those who caused their loss and suffering," Xanana Gusmao, East Timor's independence hero and the man expected to become the territory's first president, said in remarks carried in commission documents obtained by Reuters.
"With answers, people can start the healing process and close the horrible chapter in their lives."
The establishment of the Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation in East Timor comes as Jakarta moves closer to putting 19 suspects, including three generals, on trial over alleged major human rights abuses in East Timor linked to the territory's vote for independence in 1999.
The vote prompted Pro-Jakarta militias, with support from the Indonesian army, to go on a rampage in which the U.N. estimates more than 1,000 people were killed.
East Timor, currently administered by the United Nations, will become formally independent on May 20.
Indonesia's 1975 invasion and subsequent 24-year occupation of the former Portuguese territory left more than 200,000 people -- a quarter of the population -- dead from fighting, famine and disease. The United Nations never recognised Jakarta's rule.
The commission, being set up by the U.N. administration with widespread support from Timorese political leaders, will operate for two years. It can extend for a further six months if needed.
It has no judicial function but has strong powers to probe abuses, and any evidence of serious crimes will be referred to Timorese courts.
Evidence can also potentially be used in Indonesia or by the international community to prosecute people, the documents said.
The commission documents said the truth would be sought especially about events leading up to and after the independence ballot; the period before and after the Indonesian invasion in December 1975; and the overall impact of Jakarta's presence.
Pat Walsh, commission project coordinator, said seven Timorese national commissioners were scheduled to be sworn in on Monday but hearings would not start immediately.
"Through its truth-seeking function, the (commission) will lend an official ear to people's stories," Walsh told Reuters by telephone from the East Timor capital Dili.
The commission will look at reconciliation within communities, allowing people who carried out lesser crimes such as theft, minor assault or killing livestock to admit wrongdoing and make amends.
The word "reception" in the commission title refers to a role offering Timorese who fled to West Timor after the independence vote an orderly way of being received back into their communities.
Jakarta has been under strong pressure from foreign donors over its own delayed trials of those accused of rights abuses in East Timor in 1999. Officials have said a special court should convene this month, although a date has not yet been set.
Dili, 17 January 2002
TRANSCRIPT OF PRESS CONFERENCE HELD BY SRSG SERGIO VIEIRA DE MELLO 17 JANUARY 2002 [excerpt]
Second item on the agenda today is the appointment of the Commissioners of the Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation. You have been following since late 2000 the very hard work that has been done in drafting the regulation that was approved last year on the creation of this Commission, and then the extensive consultative work that was done in identifying the Commissioners for the National Commission which will play a very, very important role in taking this process forward.
You remember that the Commission's three main functions are: to seek the truth about human rights violations in the period 25th of April 1974 to 25th of October 1999. Secondly, to facilitate community reconciliation and thirdly, to report to the Government on its work.
The Commission, as you all know, is a unique initiative aimed at achieving dual goals of reconciliation and justice. It will complement the formal judicial system and will deal with lesser criminal cases. Cases that are less than serious in the definition of the Regulation on Serious Crime [will be determined and handled] through the community reconciliation process, thereby not burdening any further the already overwhelmed formal judicial system.
I should point out that the Commissioners will not have the power to grant any amnesty and will refer any evidence they may gather of serious crimes to the Office of the Prosecutor General. The Commission can, however, provide immunity from prosecution for perpetrators of lesser crimes after they have fulfilled the terms of the Community Reconciliation Agreement.
Now, the appointments that I would like to announce to you today. These names, seven names, have been recommended to me by a Selection Panel that I would like to congratulate because they have worked extremely hard and for several months, and proposed these seven names to me from among 95 nominations for National Commissioners and a shorter list of 15 candidates that were actually interviewed.
All the seven whose names I will announce today have been chosen for their high moral character, integrity and commitment to human rights, as well as to the process of reconciliation in East Timor.
And the names are: Reverend Agustinho de Vasconselos, Aniceto Guterres Lopes; Isabel Amaral Guterres; Jacinto das Neves Raimundo Alves; José Estevão Soares; Father Jovito Rego de Jesus Araújo and Maria Olandina Isabel Caeiro Alves.
The swearing-in ceremony [for the Commissioners] will take place this coming Monday, the 23rd of January, here in Dili. It will begin at 9.30 am and will be held in the auditorium that you all know in the former CNRT/UNAMET/UNTAET "markas" (headquarters) compound. Now, the next steps are the following: the Commissioners will attend a one- week orientation and training program. The objective is to establish up to six regional offices in East Timor and to select between 25 and 30 Regional Commissioners to run those regional offices. So I want to congratulate these seven National Commissioners. As you know they will be entrusted with a huge responsibility and they will be crucial in achieving durable and deep reconciliation in the hearts and minds of all Timorese. And if you have any questions on these two items that I have just talked about, I have here with me Carlos Valenzuela to provide you any clarification that you may require on the presidential election, and Patrick Burgess on the National Commissioners.
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