Subject: JP: East Timor human rights trials: All just a game

The Jakarta Post December 26, 2002

East Timor human rights trials: All just a game

Moch. N. Kurniawan, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Indonesia's landmark human rights trials of alleged gross human rights violators in the former province of East Timor will always raise public concern for their failure to break the cycle of impunity.

While the world has placed high hopes that the trials, which started in March, would uphold justice for the victims of the bloodshed in East Timor in 1999, nine military and police officers and a civilian, from a total 18 defendants taken to court, have been acquitted.

The court sentenced two East Timorese civilians, former East Timor governor Abilio Jose Osorio Soares and former pro-Jakarta militia leader Eurico Guterres, to three years and 10 years in jail respectively. Both, however, did not immediately serve their sentences despite their conviction of exceptional crimes.

What about the remaining six defendants? Many, particularly human rights activists, have already made their final judgment: Military and police officers implicated in the East Timor mayhem will all walk free.

If there is any, the verdict will be aimed at saving the face of the trials.

The military and police were charged with failing to prevent the bloodshed that swept the former Indonesian province carried out by pro-Jakarta militias prior to and after a UN-administered ballot in August 1999 that saw about 80 percent of East Timorese opting to secede from Indonesia.

The carnage left over 1,000 dead, many buildings burned down and 250,000 East Timorese fleeing to safety in East Nusa Tenggara.

Indonesian military and police had the responsibility, as mandated by the UN, to maintain peace and order before, during and after the self-determination ballot offered by former president B.J. Habibie early in 1999.

With such huge human and material losses, the acquittal verdicts for the military and police reflect the laughable way in which legal processing of the perpetrators and masterminds of the crimes against humanity in East Timor has been carried out.

Human rights activists, as well as ad hoc judges, said that from the beginning of the investigation into this extraordinary crime, there was no political will from the government to uphold justice but more to protect high-ranking military and police officers.

Hendardi, of the Indonesian Legal Aid and Human Rights Association (PBHI), said the government, through the Attorney General's Office, clearly showed its reluctance to ask former Indonesian Military (TNI) chief Gen. Wiranto to account for the violence by removing him from the list of suspects proposed by the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM).

"The Attorney General's Office limited those being held responsible for the East Timor chaos to the local officers," he said.

The highest-ranking military officer to stand trial for the violence has been Maj. Gen. Adam Damiri, former chief of Bali-based Udayana Military Command, which oversaw Bali, Nusa Tenggara and East Timor.

"From that point onward, it was a victory for the military and police. It set a precedent that the ad hoc court is just a mechanism to ease international pressure, not to uphold justice," Hendardi told The Jakarta Post.

Ifdhal Kasim of the Institute for Policy Research and Advocacy (Elsam) concurred.

He said both the government and ad hoc judges ought to be held responsible for the poor performance of the human rights court, established under Law No. 26/2000 on human rights tribunal.

According to him, the government was blameworthy, not only for its reluctance to take high-ranking military and police officers to court, but also for its belated move to endorse the much-awaited victim protection regulations and for providing inadequate training and information to prosecutors and judges.

He said the issuance of the government regulation on witness protection only several days before the start of the trial had made it difficult for prosecutors to convince key witnesses to testify at court.

"Key witnesses were vital to help judges reach a verdict. Without them, the trials were useless," Ifdhal said.

Most of the witnesses taken to court testified in favor of the defendants, which, of course, left the judges with inadequate evidence on which to sentence the defendants.

Ifdhal said the government had also failed to provide good training and literature for prosecutors and judges, making them appear unprepared to handle such exceptional crimes.

"Prosecutors were so weak in presenting their indictments that they didn't try to expose the lines of communication or chains of command between the military/police and the militias that carried out violence and murder there," he said.

"Bloodshed there was simply perceived as a clash between prointegration and proindependence groups."

Furthermore, he said, the sentence demands for the military and police were minimal, due to a perception that security personnel were those who had to maintain the unity of Indonesia, and therefore deserved exemption from punishment.

Nonactive, ad hoc judge Winarno Yudho and judge Binsar Gultom also expressed their dissatisfaction at the trials.

Winarno, a senior lecturer at the University of Indonesia, was recently made nonactive from the ad hoc court due to his discontent at the lack of seriousness shown by parties handling the trial.

"The absence of key witnesses, a failure to perceive the seriousness of crimes against humanity and the failure to use videoconferencing technology to present witness testimonies all prove that the court has not been treated seriously and has operated well below international standards," Winarno said.

"If you observed the trials, many witnesses appeared to have been briefed before they testified before the court. That's why their testimonies matched each other's," he added.

He said, for example, many witnesses, in the same way, testified that there were no attacks on civilians except the clashes between prointegration and proindependence supporters.

Witnesses also claimed that armed civilians, Pam Swakarsa, were formed at the initiative of locals and had no link to the military, although it was common knowledge that the military was behind the establishment of the paramilitary group, as also happened in other provinces, Winarno said.

Videoconferencing was proposed for the trials of Adam Damiri, former chief of East Timor Military Command Brig. Gen. M. Noer Muis and former chief of Dili Military Command Col. Soedjarwo, to hear the testimony of former Bishop Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo and other witnesses residing in East Timor. No such facility materialized, however.

With local parties showing reluctance to hold the human rights court at all, international pressure has also weakened following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the U.S.

All governments in the world looked to strengthen cooperation with their military and police forces to provide support in the war against terrorism, rather than upholding human rights.

In combating terrorism, preemptive actions even violate human rights, such as the use of intelligence reports to arrest people believed to be involved in terrorist activity.

"Terrorism is a larger issue than human rights at present, so you can see that even the UN didn't really pay attention to the development of the human rights court in Indonesia," Hendardi said.

"This situation was cynically taken advantage of by the court here to acquit more and more military and police charged with crimes against humanity," he said.

Grants and other forms of assistance poured into the country, which joined the war against terrorism, and were allocated primarily to equipping the military and police.

However, the holding of human rights trials is one of several conditions cited in the Leahy Law and must be satisfied before the U.S. can restore full military ties with Indonesia.

The U.S. government, which penalized the Indonesian Military for the East Timor carnage by imposing an embargo on weapons sales to Indonesia, has lifted the embargo on the sale of nonlethal equipment to TNI, but still maintains an embargo on other items, including officer training.

Winarno concurred with Hendardi.

But Hendardi warned all the defendants on criminal charges in East Timor not to be too complacent, as an international tribunal would be able to try them if the UN expressed its dissatisfaction with the trials.

According to him, the UN would evaluate whether or not the local human rights ad hoc court had functioned in line with international standards, was impartial, and had imposed appropriate punishment on the defendants.

He said there was still a possibility that the UN would announce that the ad hoc courts here had failed to provide justice, although it was a slim chance.

"Let's await the UN's assessment as it is the only hope for upholding justice. Local pressure can't be expected to have a great impact on the court," he said.

According to him, the East Timor trial should pave the way for the court to try the Aceh, Papua, Sampit, Semanggi and Trisakti University cases, the last two of which occurred in Jakarta.

"If the result of the East Timor case, which has been monitored internationally, is poor, we can expect very little from other human rights abuse trials, where international scrutiny may be absent," he said.

Defendants of East Timor mayhem

1. Abilio Jose Osorio Soares, former East Timor governor, failed to prevent his subordinates from committing a number of tortures and murders in East Timor in 1999. Sentenced to three years in jail, but walks free pending the verdict by the higher court.

2. Insp. Gen. Timbul Silaen East Timor Police chief, charges similar to Abilio's. Acquitted.

3. Col. Herman Sedyono, former Covalima regent, failed to prevent the Suai church massacre on Sept. 6, 1999 that left 27 people killed. Acquitted.

4. Lt. Col. Lilik Koesherdiyanto, former chief of Suai military, charges similar to Herman's, Acquitted

5. Lt. Col Sugito, former chief of Suai military, charges similar to Herman's, Acquitted.

6. Lt. Col. Gatot Subiakto, former chief of Suai Police precinct. Charges similar to Herman's. Acquitted

7. Capt. Achmad Syamsuddin, former staff of Suai military. Charges similar to Herman's. Acquitted.

8. Eurico Guterres, former pro-Jakarta militia group leader. Convicted of letting his subordinates kill and torture people in the house of pro-independence leader Manuel Vegas Carascalao. Sentenced to 10 years in jail, but escaped imprisonment as he appealed the verdict.

9. Lt. Col. Endar Priyanto, former chief of Dili military, Charged with failing to prevent the killing in the house of pro-independence leader Manuel Vegas Carascalao. Acquitted.

10. Lt. Col Asep Kuswani, former chief of Liquica military. Charged with failing to prevent the killing in a Liquica church on April 6, 1999. Acquitted.

11. Lt. Col. Adios Salova, former chief of Liquica Police precinct. Charges similar to Asep's. Acquitted.

12. Leonito Martins, former Liquica regent. Charges similar to Asep's. Acquitted

13. Brig. Gen. M. Noer Muis, former East Timor military chief. Charged with letting subordinates kill and torture people seeking refuge in the residence of Bishop Carlos Belo on Sept. 5 and 6 and in Suai church on Sept. 6. Trial still underway.

14. Brig. Gen. Tono Suratman, former East Timor military. Charged with failing to prevent the Liquica massacre on April 6 and bloody incident in the house of Manuel Vegas on April 17. Trial still underway.

15. Lt. Col. Yayat Sudrajat, former task force commander at Dili military. Charged with involvement in the Suai church massacre. Verdict not yet issued.

16. Lt. Col. Soedjarwo, chief of Dili military sub-district, let his subordinates kill and torture people in the House of Bishop Belo, no verdict yet

17. Lt. Col. Hulman Gultom, former chief of Dili Police. Charged with failing to prevent killing in the house of Manuel Vegas. No verdict issued.

18. Maj. Gen. Adam Damiri, former chief of Udayana Military Command. Charged with failing to prevent the murders and tortures in East Timor. Trial still underway. --JP


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