Subject: AP: Rights groups say E Timor amnesty bill undermines justice

Rights groups say East Timor amnesty bill undermines justice

May 8, 2004 3:15am AP Online

DILI, East Timor_Pro-Indonesia militiamen convicted for their role in the 1999 violence that left 1,500 dead in East Timor should not be given amnesty under a proposed law, rights activists said Saturday.

The bill, introduced in East Timor's parliament last week, is part of the government's efforts to reconcile with the past and move forward as the country prepares to celebrate the second anniversary of its independence May 20.

However, New York-based Human Rights Watch said in a release the bill could undermine the work of the U.N.-backed Special Panel For Serious Crimes, which has indicted 381 and convicted 50 Timorese militiamen for offenses, including crimes against humanity.

"It is bitterly ironic to mark East Timor's second anniversary of nationhood by undermining justice for the most serious crimes that accompanied the country's independence," said Charmain Mohamed, the East Timor researcher for Human Rights Watch.

"Reconciliation has a place, but there can't be reconciliation without judicial accountability for violations of basic international human rights."

The bill would allow pardons for any type of criminal offense committed before March 31, 2004, but would be limited to those who have already served a third to a half of their jail sentences.

The Judicial System Monitoring Programme _ an independent group working in Dili since 2001 to monitor the development of East Timor's justice system _ also criticized the bill. It said it could "cause chaos and create injustice" in the country.

"The proposed law only minimally and indirectly supports reconciliation and justice," the group said in a statement. "It undermines the judicial process and, if applied, the law will grant impunity to high-level economic crimes such as bribery and fraud committed. JSMP cannot understand its overall advantage for Timorese society."

Under East Timor's political system, the bill will get a second reading starting Monday when members can introduce amendments. If passed, the bill must be signed by the president before it becomes law.

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