Subject: Canberra mute as Timor accused walk free

Canberra mute as Timor accused walk free

Tom Hyland

April 13, 2008

CANBERRA is maintaining a diplomatic silence over Indonesia's failure to punish anyone implicated in the mass murders that led to Australia's military intervention in East Timor in 1999.

Instead, the Federal Government has backed a "friendship" commission set up by Indonesia and East Timor, which is about to report but has no power to call for prosecutions and was boycotted by the UN.

The release last week of former militia leader Eurico Guterres after a Jakarta court overthrew his conviction means all those charged by Indonesian prosecutors over the violence that killed about 1500 people have now been freed. Mr Guterres, a former petty criminal with powerful backers in Jakarta, now plans to run for the Indonesian parliament next year.

The other 17 people tried by a special Indonesian court ­ created to sidestep pressure for an international tribunal to try those responsible for crimes during the 1999 independence referendum ­ were found not guilty or acquitted on appeal.

The failure of the prosecutions has been condemned by Indonesian, East Timorese and international human rights groups as a whitewash. They have warned that the imminent report of the Commission on Truth and Friendship, set up by the Indonesian and East Timorese governments, could confirm a culture of impunity.

Foreign Minister Stephen Smith refused to respond to emailed questions from The Sunday Age about the collapse of the Indonesian prosecutions. Instead, Mr Smith's office replied with a brief statement, attributed to a spokesperson, that said the Government "notes" Mr Guterres' acquittal.

"This ruling was confirmed by the Indonesia Supreme Court as part of the Indonesian legal process," the statement said.

"Australia will continue to be guided by East Timor's and Indonesia's agreed approach to taking forward the processes of justice for human rights abuses in East Timor up to and including the 1999 atrocities."

Mr Smith's press secretary said he would not comment further. His reticence contrasts with the strong stand taken by Labor while in opposition during the 1999 crisis.

Labor's then foreign affairs spokesman, Laurie Brereton, demanded Australia support an international tribunal along the lines of those for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, to pursue those responsible for atrocities in East Timor.

Amnesty International said Mr Guterres' release was "a deliberate miscarriage of justice" that reversed progress on human rights under President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

In a commentary in the Jakarta Post Indonesian artist Bramantyo Prijosusilo said the fact no one was convicted would confirm a widely held view in Jakarta that Indonesian forces did not commit abuses in East Timor. "Everyone indicted for crimes against humanity in East Timor has now been acquitted," Bramantyo wrote. "As there is no one guilty, it easily goes that there were no crimes."

In an editorial, the Jakarta Post said the fact no one was guilty meant "impunity reigns". Nor was the Commission on Truth and Friendship report likely to shed light on the guilty parties, it said, given the commission had no mandate to call for prosecutions or declare anyone guilty.

The East Timor Government, keen for good relations with its powerful neighbour and aware of a lack of international support for a war crimes tribunal, agreed to set up the commission in 2005.

In January, the International Centre for Transitional Justice, a US-based human rights group, said the commission appeared more interested in friendship than in truth, and in protecting perpetrators of abuses.

It warned that the commission risked being seen as a "diplomatic charade".

The UN boycotted the body because its mandate precluded prosecutions but allowed it to recommend amnesties.

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