Subject: JP: Indon court fails to send E. Timor rights violator to jail

The Jakarta Post December 28, 2002

Court fails to send rights violator to jail

Moch. N. Kurniawan, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The ad hoc human rights court failed on Friday to send to jail even though it found Lt. Col. Soedjarwo, the first military officer convicted guilty of crimes against humanity in East Timor after the 1999 vote for independence.

Soedjarwo, the former chief of the Dili military district, was given a sentence of five years imprisonment after being found guilty failing to prevent attacks by pro-Jakarta militiamen on the Dili diocese building and the residence of Nobel Peace Prize recipient Bishop Carlos Ximenes Belo on Sept. 5 and Sept. 6, 1999. At least 13 civilians were killed while taking refuge in the two compounds.

However, the panel of judges presided over by Andi Samsan Nganro did not order the officer to go to jail, allowing him to remain free pending an appeal.

The Procedures Code (KUHAP) gives discretion to judges to decide whether the convicted persons must begin serving their sentences immediately or not.

The 5-year sentence is far below the minimum sentence of 10 years sought by the government prosecutors against Soedjarwo, but no clear reasons were given for the less than minimum sentence. The Indonesian human rights law calls for no less than the minimum if a guilty verdict is reached.

"After the Sept. 5 Dili diocese massacre, he sent his troops to guard Bishop Belo's house, but, later, he withdrew them after receiving unreliable reports from Capt. Hartono that Bishop Belo wanted the army to be withdrawn to respect a mass at 7 a.m.," Judge Andi said.

Andi went on to say that Soedjarwo should have discussed with his superiors, former East Timor military commander Brig. Gen. Noer Muis whether or not to pull the troops from the bishop's residence because the location was very unsafe and prone to attacks.

"Three hours after his decision, militias easily attacked the residence of Bishop Belo, leaving dozens of people dead and injured," he said.

Soedjarwo rejected the court's verdict and said he would be appealing to an ad hoc appellate court, which may take several months as it has not yet been established.

"I did my best to maintain security, but the judges' decision was not constructive," he said, while adding, "Of course I reject the verdict and will appeal to the higher court."

Many dubbed it a meaningless verdict because an officer convicted of such a serious crime was able to remain free. It follows similar results imposed on the former East Timor governor Abilio Jose Osorio Soares and former militia leader Eurico Guterres.

Abilio was given three years in jail, while Eurico was penalized 10 years in jail, but both were granted their freedom by the judges, pending similar appeals.

Previously, the court acquitted several police and military officers, including former chief of the East Timor police Brig. Gen. Timbul Silaen, of all charges.

The court is still hearing testimony in the cases of Noer Muis and Maj. Gen. Adam Damiri, former chief of Udayana Military Command overseeing security in Bali, Nusa Tenggara and the then-East Timor province.

The human rights trial has sparked widespread domestic and international criticism as prosecutors have presented incomplete cases and those who were strongly suspected of being responsible for the human rights abuses were acquitted.

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