Subject: JP: Abilio acquittal 'erodes trust in rights tribunal'
November 06, 2004
Abilio acquittal 'erodes trust in rights tribunal'
The Jakarta Post, Jakarta
The acquittal of former East Timor governor Abilio Soares could further erode people's confidence in the country's commitment to justice, a senior Cabinet minister announced on Friday.
Minister of Foreign Affairs Hassan Wirayuda said that the verdict served as fresh ammunition for people to question the credibility of the courts.
"I am sure the decision provides more reasons for others to question the credibility of the ad hoc human rights tribunals," Hassan said after meeting President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
Abilio, the only official to be jailed for atrocities related to the United Nations-backed referendum in East Timor in 1999, was acquitted Thursday on the grounds that is was under military rule at the time of the bloodshed.
A total of 18 civilians and military and police officers were implicated in the bloody rampage, but only three civilians were sentenced to jail, including Abilio. All of the military and police defendants were acquitted.
Rights activists have called the trials a sham, held merely to avert an international rights trial for the military personnel allegedly responsible for the violence.
Criminal law experts from the University of Indonesia's school of law Rudy Satryo Mukantarjo warned that the verdict would likely "endanger Indonesia's position in the international community."
"The United Nations could try the cases in the International Criminal Court (ICC), if it considers the tribunal in Indonesia substandard," he said.
Bonar Tigor Naipospos of the Solidarity Without Borders human rights group said Abilio was as guilty as the security officers, and that judges had "overlooked" abuses under Abilio before the military took over.
"For example, he was still the territory's governor during a bloody attack by militias on the house of pro-independence figure Manuel Carrascalao in April 1999," he was quoted by the Agence-France-Presse.
At least 12 people were killed when pro-Jakarta militia members attacked dozens of refugees sheltering at Carrascalao's house.
Abilio, who was serving his three-year sentence handed down by the ad hoc rights tribunal in 2002, said in his review hearing that the Indonesian Military (TNI) was responsible for crimes against humanity in East Timor in 1999.
Submitted as new evidence in the case review was, among other items, letters from East Timorese figures and president Xanana Gusmao, which state that Abilio is innocent.
Abilio also argued that the military disliked him because he once suggested that regents and local councillors should all be reserved for native East Timorese to strengthen integration.
He also accused the military of a series of attempts, including a demonstration by militia leader Eurico Guterres, to topple him.
Three of the five justices accepted his arguments, while two rejected them. The two were Artidjo Alkostar, who has a master's degree in international human rights law, and former diplomat Soemaryo Suryokusumo, known also as an international law expert.
Abilio's acquittal has raised questions as to who should be held responsible for the violence that drove more than 200,000 East Timorese into West Timor and destroyed almost 80 percent of infrastructure in the former Portuguese colony in 1999.
November 6, 2004 Saturday London Edition 1
Ex-governor of East Timor has his conviction quashed
By TIM JOHNSTON
Indonesia's supreme court has overturned the conviction of the only man the country has imprisoned for the violence surrounding East Timor's vote for independence five years ago.
The acquittal of Abilio Soares, East Timor's last Indonesian governor, means that 17 of the 18 men tried by Indonesia's human rights courts for involvement in the violence have been found not guilty.
Eurico Guterres, a former militia leader and the last man to face prison for participation in the conflict, is currently free pending appeal.
In a United Nations-organised referendum in August 1999, almost 25 years after Indonesia invaded the former Portuguese colony, the East Timorese voted overwhelmingly to secede.
Indonesian forces and the militias they sponsored killed more than 1,000 people and reduced most of East Timor to rubble in the period surrounding the vote.
Mr Soares was originally convicted of failing to stop a massacre in a church in the town of Liquica in April 1999 in which at least 22 people died.
In its recent decision, the supreme court found that since Timor was in effect under military rule at the time of the attack, Mr Soares could have done little to stop it.
The court decision has refocused attention on Indonesia's failure to bring those responsible for the killings to justice, although it has surprised few East Timorese.
"People sort of knew it was not going to benefit anyone as far as justice was concerned, and I think the acquittal of Abilio Soares now is additional evidence to support that argument," said Jaoquim Fonseca, who helped run a human rights organisation at the time of the 1999 vote and is now a university lecturer in Dili, capital of East Timor.
The government said yesterday that it was aware of the concern.
"We will see the possibility for all those cases to be again reviewed," said Hassan Wirajuda, foreign minister.
The loss of East Timor is still a touchy subject in fiercely nationalistic Indonesia and pursuing those responsible for the viol- ence is not politically popular.
Prosecution is also difficult because many of the accused are current or former members of the military, which is still powerful enough to remain largely unaccountable for its actions.
The question of justice for East Timor could prove potentially embarrassing for Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Indonesia's new president, but he is unlikely to face much pressure - either from the government of East Timor or the international community.
The government of East Timor has shown itself to be more interested in improving relations with Jakarta than pursuing the perpetrators of the violence, and western countries formerly critical of Indonesia's human rights record are now trying to improve relations with a country that has become a vital ally in the war against terrorism.
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