|Subject: AFP: Lawyers for former army chief
challenge rights court's authority
Agence France Presse
August 7, 2002 Wednesday
Lawyers for former army chief challenge rights court's authority
JAKARTA, Aug 7
Lawyers for a former military chief in East Timor said Wednesday that Indonesia's human rights court has no authority to try him on charges of ignoring the massacre of at least 39 civilians in 1999.
The lawyers for Colonel Nur Muis, reading his defence plea, also said the charges against him are "vague, carelessly formulated and incomplete".
They said prosecutors had failed to specify which regular troops were involved in the attacks by pro-Jakarta militias on independence supporters and did not explain the alleged widespread and systematic nature of the crimes.
The court itself has no authority to hear cases of rights abuses in East Timor because it was set up after the violence surrounding East Timor's vote for independence from Indonesia, the lawyers said. This breached constitutional and other safeguards against retroactive legislation, they argued.
Muis was the last of 18 soldiers, policemen and civilians to be brought before the court for crimes against humanity in the territory. Several previous defendants have also claimed the court is unconstitutional but judges have overruled them.
The first verdicts in the trials are expected next week.
Muis is accused of having failed to stop militias and their army supporters from killing civilians seeking refuge in the Dili diocese, in the home of East Timor's bishop and in a church in September 1999.
Independence supporters had taken refuge in church property to try to escape a wave of militia violence following the announcement on September 4, 1999, that East Timorese had voted overwhelmingly in a UN-organised ballot to break away from Indonesia.
The militias, created and supported by Indonesian military elements, waged a campaign of intimidation before the vote and of revenge afterwards. At least 1,000 East Timorese are estimated to have died in 1999 and whole towns were burnt to the ground.
Indonesia set up the court to deflect pressure for a UN tribunal into the violence. The trials are being closely watched by the world for proof that Jakarta will punish those behind the violence.
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