Subject: Timor justice slow but sure

Timor justice slow but sure

July 29, 2004 9:45pm Asia Intelligence Wire

East Timor will soon have to make crucial decisions about the hunt for truth and justice for the crimes of 1999. Sarah Boyd reports.

THE United Nation's special representative in East Timor, Sukehiro Hasekawa, has been thinking about the O J Simpson trial. "The relatives of the victim and those of the accused needed to look each other in the eye and acknowledge what actually happened. That trial went on for a year and cost a lot of money, but perhaps they never did that."

Dr Hasekawa is a quietly spoken, dignified man with a strong belief in the importance of truth. He was in Wellington last week and gave an address on the justice and reconciliation process in East Timor.

Justice in East Timor has been a hybrid of formal judicial trials and more emotional restorative justice hearings. The latter involves the perpetrator going to the village where the crime occurred, meeting relatives of victims and offering an apology. "They first receive the confession and an account of what happened. It lasts not just hours but sometimes days."

It's been used to deal with the many less serious crimes that occurred during the referendum period, such as beatings, house burnings and lootings. Dr Hasegawa says the key is for the victims to receive an apology, and punishment may include payment or community service.

"The high level of community involvement in the process, with the participation of victims, perpetrators and communities, has ensured the restoration of dignity of victims, facilitated the re-integration of former low-level militia in their own communities and assisted the reparation of community relationships."

To hear cases involving more serious crimes, the UN transitional authority set up in 2001 an investigations unit and a special panel consisting of two international judges and one East Timorese. The panel has handed out, for example, a 33-year jail term to those responsible for the 1999 murder of three nuns.

But the system is severely hampered by the fact that most of the perpetrators live outside the country. Since trials began, there have been 54 convictions and three acquittals, but 75 per cent of those indicted are thought to be in Indonesia -- including some high-ranking Indonesian military commanders.

The serious crimes unit is ready to try them, yet they can't do so in East Timor without their presence. Dr Hasegawa says an agreement was drawn up between the UN transitional administrator, the late Sergio Vieira de Mello, and the former Indonesian attorney-general to allow for the extradition of suspects, but it was never ratified by the Indonesian Parliament and there have been no extraditions.

Indonesia set up its own tribunal in Jakarta and carried out its own hearings. "Indonesia will say they've done their best. Many in the international community feel very dissatisfied with the results," he says.

The investigations and indictments from 1999 are supposed to be completed by November this year, and the cases of about 30 more defendants heard by May 2005.

What happens next remains unclear, Dr Hasegawa says, with many competing opinions and interests.

One option would be to end the justice and reconciliation process when the UN departs: "Let's call it a partial victory and close the curtain."

Another: a full-on international tribunal costing much more than has been invested in the process so far.

"The UN is considering the establishment of a commission of independent experts to look into what has happened so far with the process in Jakarta and East Timor and decide what to do," he says.

Whatever happens is very much dependent on the political will of the leadership in Timor, given that it's now an independent country.

Dr Hasegawa says the feeling of some is that, if the international community wants to continue with a formal justice process, it will need to take it over and do it somewhere like Geneva or the Hague, or Wellington.

"Don't send in 100 people and put our prosecutor-general on top and do all the work and call it a Timorese process," is how he characterises what people are saying.

EAST TIMOR has to prioritise its resources and wants to focus more on the victims -- widows or orphans created by the violence. He says there are many factors at play in the decision, including a pragmatic view that it will be easier to establish relations with Indonesia without a continuing formal justice process.

That's countered by concerns that it could cause internal instability because of the desire of many in East Timor for justice and the fear that violence could return if people are seen to have been let off the hook.

Dr Hasegawa, who has worked for the UN for 30 years, including in Somalia and Rwanda, says reconciliation and healing of communities can take years, even generations. "What is significant is that the process has commenced widely across the local communities in Timor-Leste, but, as importantly, between political leaders at the national level in Timor-Leste and, crucially, between political leaders in Timor-Leste and Indonesia."

Copyright © 2004 Independent Newspapers Ltd.

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