Subject: FT: Justice fails to net big fish for crimes in East Timor

Received from Joyo Indonesia News

Financial Times (London) December 10, 2003

Justice fails to net big fish for crimes in East Timor: Of the 367 people indicted by the UN, 280 are now believed to be living freely in Indonesia


When United Nations prosecutors in February indicted Indonesia's former defence minister, General Wiranto, and seven other senior figures for crimes against humanity during Jakarta's bloody exit from East Timor, it was seen as a step forward for justice.

An uncooperative Indonesia was unlikely ever to hand over the retired general - now a presidential candidate - for trial. But at the very least the indictment, filed with an East Timorese court, would lead to an arrest warrant registered with Interpol.

That, in turn, would make travel overseas a virtual impossibility for the man prosecutors claim holds ultimate "command responsibility" for the deaths of some 1,400 people at the time of an August 1999 vote for independence.

Instead, almost 10 months after his indictment was filed, an arrest warrant for Gen Wiranto has yet to be issued. The former general, who denies any wrongdoing, is free to travel and his case stands as a vivid example of why those who argue the cause of justice for East Timor are becoming cynical.

A court in East Timor yesterday did sentence a pro-Jakarta militia member to a decade in prison for the killings of two local UN workers. He became the 41st person convicted by a special panel hearing cases related to the 1999 violence.

But the vast majority of those convicted have been small-time militia members like him. While they face trials in Dili, the generals who created their militias and ordered what prosecutors call a "systematic" attack on East Timor's population are evading justice in neighbouring Indonesia.

"We have created injustice in this process," says Aniceto Guterres, a prominent human rights activist who chairs East Timor's truth and reconciliation commission. "The trials that are going on now are just for the small fish, not the big fish."

A special Indonesian tribunal ended its work in August, having convicted six of the 18 charged with crimes against humanity. All those sentenced to prison are believed to remain free while appealing against sentences that have been criticised for being too lenient.

Of the 367 people indicted by UN prosecutors, 280 are now believed to be in Indonesia and most go about their lives openly. Camilo Dos Santos, a lieutenant indicted for his role in killings including that of Financial Times journalist Sander Thoenes, for example, now lives in Indonesian West Timor where, investigators say, he regularly meets visiting dignitaries.

The disparity has prompted soul-searching among prosecutors. The mandate of the UN-backed team prosecuting cases related to the crimes of 1999 will probably be extended for another year when it expires in May.

But, says Nicholas Koumjian, the former Los Angeles prosecutor who leads the team: "We don't want to be going after people who are just militia members who were peripherally involved in 1999. We want to go after those we believe are really responsible for what happened."

The problem, he says, is "we don't have any realistic prospect at this moment of arresting those people".

The Security Council resolution that led to the UN mission to rebuild East Timor included delivering justice as a key responsibility and Kofi Annan, the secretary-general, is required to review the process.

The fact that the Indonesian court process - established by Jakarta to pre-empt an international tribunal - is now widely considered a sham, leaves the door open for an international judicial process.

Most people close to the process, however, say it is more likely that Mr Annan will appoint an expert panel to recommend how to proceed.

That is partly because the international community is eager not to antagonise Jakarta at a time when the military is again in the ascendant and Indonesia's help is needed in the war against terrorism, say diplomats.

The situation has also been complicated by East Timorese leaders' own reluctance to anger Indonesia, the tiny nation's nearest neighbour and biggest trading partner.

Jose Ramos Horta, the foreign minister, has proposed creating an international commission to lay out cases, with punishment of perpetrators left up to individual countries. Diplomats, however, say support from Indonesia is unlikely.

Others in Dili argue that pushing for justice is not their job. "The international community must take responsibility. Please don't give us this burden," says East Timor's president, Xanana Gusmao. "We have enough to carry on our shoulders."

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