Subject: National Post: Impunity in Indonesia

National Post (f/k/a The Financial Post) (Canada)

November 10, 2004 Wednesday National Edition


Impunity in Indonesia

National Post

Neither the current East Timor government nor the international community has made a particularly high priority of bringing to justice those responsible for the human rights abuses perpetrated in 1999, when East Timor broke away from Indonesia. So it should not come entirely as a surprise that Indonesia feels free to quietly allow the crimes perpetrated by its security forces to go unpunished. While 18 people have been tried for abuses committed during East Timor's breakaway, only a single conviction stands now that an Indonesia court has acquitted former East Timor governor Abilio Soares of responsibility for violence that occurred under his watch.

Jakarta should not be allowed to slip off the hook so easily for the brutal violence it perpetrated in East Timor, where at least 1,400 people were killed by army-backed militias. While it is understandable that the government of impoverished East Timor is reluctant to antagonize Indonesia -- a key trading partner -- by protesting the dearth of convictions (it's tough to put an abstract concept like justice above a concrete need to feed a people), the rest of the world has no such excuse. Instead, it should heed human rights groups' calls for an independent body to take over and try those behind the East Timor atrocities.

This is not a question of merely ensuring that culpable individuals get their due. It is also a matter of expressing the world's outrage at an unacceptable assault on innocents. No country should be willing to tacitly accept the slaughter of civilians, nor to let the disturbingly familiar excuse that Mr. Soares was just following procedures go unchallenged.

We had hoped Indonesia's recent election of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono -- who ran on a platform of cleaning up political and judicial corruption -- would set the country on its way to embracing a culture in which rights are respected and justice is impartially blind. But Mr. Soares's release indicates that, however well-intentioned the new leader may be, little has changed in Jakarta.

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