Subject: JP: Indonesia To Honor Abilio Soares Verdict; Will Review Procedure

The Jakarta Post Tuesday, November 9, 2004

AGO to 'honor' Soares acquittal, review procedure

M. Taufiqurrahman, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Following the Supreme Court acquittal of former East Timor governor Abilio Soares from human rights violations, the prospect that other suspected abusers would be brought to justice has dimmed, as the Attorney General's Office (AGO) said on Monday it would not contest the decision.

AGO spokesman RJ Soehandojo said the office honored the Supreme Court's decision to clear Soares of all charges in the East Timor human rights case and would not challenge it, as all legal recourse had been exhausted.

"Our next step will be to review the whole judicial process to see whether the law was applied properly. However, the review will only serve an internal purpose," he told The Jakarta Post.

Soehandojo said justices and prosecutors may have interpreted the Human Rights Law differently.

"The review will tell us more about how to present a strong case against human rights violators in the future," he said.

The AGO has been criticized for creating a very weak case for the prosecution against Soares and 17 other defendants in connection with the bloodshed and rampage that occurred before and after the 1999 East Timor referendum. Aside from Soares, the only other civilian tried by the ad hoc rights tribunal was militia leader Eurico Gueterres; the rest were police and military officers who have all been acquitted.

Soares, the only senior official detained in the rights cases, was acquitted last week by the Supreme Court on the grounds that the territory was under military rule at the time of the atrocities, so a civilian official could not be held responsible.

The former governor was sentenced in 2002 to three years in jail for failing to control his subordinates during an attack on a church in Liquisa regency that left 22 civilians dead.

Critics have said the weak prosecution's case left the Supreme Court no choice but to acquit Soares. The ad hoc rights tribunal was Indonesia's only hope of avoiding an international tribunal to try parties suspected of perpetrating the mayhem in which 1,000 East Timorese civilians are believed to have been killed.

Separately, Ifdhal Kasim of the Institute for Policy Research and Advocacy (Elsam) said Indonesia could still elude the possibility of an international tribunal by salvaging the remaining legal process taken against the rights abusers. For example, Gueterres is appealing his five-year sentence.

"The Supreme Court justices must show resolve and reject the appeal, because what they decide has wide political implications in the outside world," said Ifdhal.

Soares and Gueterres have claimed to be scapegoats, as all police and military suspects -- mostly Indonesian nationals -- walked free.

Ifdhal said although the government could not intervene in the judicial process, it could send a strong signal about its commitment to bringing human rights abusers to justice.

"A number of Scandinavian countries have proposed to United Nations secretary-general Kofi Annan that a Commission of Experts be established to review the entirety of court proceedings at the ad hoc rights tribunal," he said.

If the Commission deemed the Indonesian judiciary inadequate in its execution of the law in the East Timor rights cases, it could recommend the establishment of an international tribunal.

"With all the pressure against us, we must leave behind nationalistic sentiment that obscured the trying of rights abusers in East Timor. The case is not about the military as an institution, but about individuals who abused their authority," Ifdhal said.

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