Subject: JP: Rights court adjourns hearing, waits for Belo testimony

Rights court adjourns hearing, waits for Belo testimony

The Jakarta Post December 4, 2002

Moch. N. Kurniawan, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The ad hoc human rights court adjourned on Tuesday in a trial against a military officer charged with crimes against humanity, and ordered prosecutors to present key witness former Dili Bishop Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo via teleconference on Dec. 18.

The court was supposed to hand down a verdict on former Dili military district commander Lt. Col. Soedjarwo on charges that he allowed subordinates to attack the residence of Bishop Belo on Sept. 5 and Sept. 6, 1999, and the office of the Dili Diocese. At least 13 people were killed during the attack on the Bishop's residence.

Judge Binsar Gultom said the human rights court was not playing a game, and in order for it to issue a serious verdict in the name of justice, the testimonies of key witnesses like Bishop Belo must be heard.

"Bishop Belo has confirmed he will testify via teleconference in the trials of Brig. Gen. M. Noer Muis and Maj. Gen. Adam Damiri between Dec. 16 and Dec. 18.

"So we ask prosecutors to present Bishop Belo on Dec. 18, and we'll issue the verdict on Dec. 19 or several days after that date," he told the court, adding that the teleconference would be funded by the World Bank.

Noer Muis was formerly an East Timor military commander, while Adam Damiri was former chief of the Udayana Regional Military Command, which oversaw East Timor. Noer Muis and Adam Damiri are being tried separately.

Soedjarwo's lawyer Chandra Motik Yusuf Djemat objected to the decision, claiming the planned teleconference was against Criminal Code Procedures, especially Article 185.

"It's unfair. My client must now suffers losses as he was to have received the final verdict now," she said.

Prosecutor Roesmanadi supported the decision, saying that he may revise the indictment after hearing Bishop Belo's testimony.

"We'll follow the judge's decision today, and we'll do our best to present Bishop Belo," he said.

Despite the objection from Soedjarwo's lawyer, judges moved on with their decision, stressing the importance of upholding justice.

After the court adjourned, Binsar admitted that many court trials of human rights violations in East Timor proceeded very poorly because prosecutors failed to present key witnesses.

"We can't continue in such a way anymore. How can we hand down a verdict without hearing the testimonies of key witnesses and victims?

"Now we have a chance to hear Bishop Belo's testimony, so let's do it," he told reporters.

Human rights activists have strongly criticized the ad hoc court for acquitting a number of military and police officers on charges of crimes against humanity in the 1999 bloodshed in East Timor. Over 1,000 people were killed before, during and after the independence ballot in August 1999.

Activists have said there is no hope that the court would punish military and police officers, for the reason that, on the basis of their roles and duties as guardians of the nation, the officers are not criminals and must therefore be protected.

Of the total 18 defendants, one civilian and nine officers of the military and police have been acquitted, while only two civilians, who happen to be of East Timorese origin -- former Governor Abilio Jose Osorio Soares and former militia leader Eurico Guterres - have been found guilty by the court.

Nevertheless, the two have only received minimum sentences of three and 10 years, respectively, and they remain free as the court did not order them to begin serving their sentences immediately.

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