Subject: AP: E Timor Court Struggles To Deliver Justice For 1999 Deaths
April 4, 2004
E Timor Crt Struggles To Deliver Justice For 1999 Deaths
DILI, East Timor (AP)--Sitting in his cramped jail cell, Joanico Gusmao readily admits he helped torch a village and stabbed to death a pro-independence supporter during the violence that enveloped East Timor in 1999.
But the 28-year-old farmer wonders why he's languishing in prison while the commanders who ordered the killing and hundreds of others remain free. One indicted suspect, retired Indonesian army chief, Gen. Wiranto, is running for president of his country.
"There is no justice in my case," Gusmao, who was sentenced in February to seven years in jail, told The Associated Press from prison.
"Those who should be here are those who directed this violence like Wiranto...and the other generals in Jakarta," he said. "They are free to raise their families while I'm here like a bird in a cage. I've accepted responsibility. What about them?"
Gusmao's case and that of dozens of other low-level militiamen jailed in Dili highlight the glaring disparities in the United Nations' effort to prosecute the worst offenses in East Timor.
Human rights courts set up in the newly independent nation to prosecute crimes against humanity during the fight for independence have had mixed results. Fifty people have been convicted, but the country's leaders are reluctant to pursue the worst perpetrators in Indonesia, fearing it would hurt relations with their former occupier.
"If this process is cut short as we fear may happen, it's not only a travesty of justice but could seriously set back the reconciliation process for East Timor," said Ross Clarke of the Judicial System Monitoring Program in Dili.
The Indonesian military and its proxy militias laid waste to much of East Timor when the territory's people voted overwhelmingly to break free of Indonesia in a U.N.-organized referendum in 1999, setting off an orgy of violence that left nearly 1,500 dead.
East Timor won its independence in May 2002, following four centuries of Portuguese colonial rule and 24 years of brutal Indonesian occupation.
The Serious Crimes Unit - funded and staffed by the U.N. but under the authority of the East Timorese government - has been praised for indicting 369 people for human rights violations.
It has also exposed the role of the Indonesian government in the violence, including how the military funded, armed and trained anti-independence militias on East Timor.
The unit's successes, however, have been diminished by the fact that 281 of those indicted - including nearly 100 Indonesian generals and soldiers - have escaped trial. All 50 suspects convicted by the Special Panel For Serious Crimes, in contrast, have been Timorese - many of them poor and uneducated.
Jakarta has rejected requests to extradite Indonesian suspects. And efforts to apprehend suspects through Interpol, the International Criminal Police Organization, have also bogged down.
The U.N. last month released new details on its case against Gen. Wiranto, hoping to hasten his arrest and prosecution. The general, however, is going ahead with his presidential campaign and dismisses the indictment as a political ploy.
Some rights activists said the problems originate from U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan's decision in 2000 to forego an international tribunal like that used for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda in favor of establishing courts in Indonesia and Dili.
A tribunal, they say, would have been better financed, more independent and had greater authority to detain suspects - though it couldn't have forced Indonesia to hand them over.
The Indonesian rights court in Jakarta was widely dismissed as a whitewash after it convicted only six of the 18 Indonesian military and government officials charged. All remain free pending their appeals.
In Dili, the unit was slowed in the first 18 months by mismanagement and a lack of funds and judges, rights groups said. Defense teams were hurt by witnesses too scared to testify and a shortage of qualified Timorese attorneys.
As the unit prepares to scale down in May along with the rest of the U.N. mission, about 50% of 1,400 murder cases have yet to be investigated. The unit's mandate will likely be extended a year, but many cases could still end up in the hands of an ill-equipped East Timorese judiciary.
The U.N. acknowledges that many cases have yet to be tried but says the process has served the cause of justice.
"We've achieved some significant convictions and helped build the capacity of the East Timor judicial system," said Nicholas Koumjian, the unit's deputy prosecutor general. "The evidence also provides a history of East Timor and helped establish the truth."
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