Subject: AWSJ: Indon Plans Own E. Timor Inquiry Into War Crimes

Asian Wall Street Journal October 7, 1999

AWSJ: Indonesia Plans Own East Timor Inquiry Into War Crimes


JAKARTA - Indonesia, balancing international censure and local sensitivities, is due to set up its own inquiry and tribunal to investigate and try alleged crimes against humanity committed in East Timor.

The moves are expected to be formally announced on Friday. They are an attempt to steer a delicate course between antagonizing domestic sensitivities and mollifying international anger about the violence since a late-August United Nations referendum, in which East Timor voted overwhelmingly for independence.

Whether the moves work, U.N. officials say, depends on if the inquiry has real teeth - or is considered a whitewash.

Under the weight of international pressure, Indonesia last month allowed foreign peacekeepers into East Timor and effectively handed over responsibility for the territory to the United Nations. But it still has to formally cede sovereignty and has balked at international demands that those responsible for the bloodshed be brought to trial. This week, Foreign Minister Ali Alatas said Indonesia won't cooperate with an international commission set up last month, the first step toward a possible tribunal on crimes against humanity.

Concerns About International Inquiry

Indonesia's position on the inquiry has hardened in the weeks since the East Timor issue dominated the international agenda. That's at least in part because the pressure on Indonesia has eased with the arrival of international troops in East Timor, but also because domestic politics is preoccupied with a national assembly due to elect a new president later this month. The assembly must also ratify the U.N. referendum and formally end Indonesian rule over East Timor. The result: Indonesia has threatened not to issue visas to investigators until then.

Still, officials say they are keen to pre-empt the humiliation of an international inquiry by launching a credible probe of their own. In the worst-case scenario, any international inquiry might mean a Yugoslavia-style tribunal with wanted lists of Indonesian officials. "We want to give a clear indication that we are different from Serbia, that we respect human rights, and that we shouldn't be treated like Rwanda," said Umar Juoro, an academic and government adviser.

That's why the government of B.J. Habibie on Wednesday agreed to a temporary law that would lead to the establishment of a tribunal with special powers to bypass the Indonesian court system, as well as military law, officials said. The tribunal would work in tandem with a team set up by the National Human Rights Commission, which itself would have special privileges to appoint adhoc prosecutors who would prepare charges against those alleged to have committed abuses. This would avoid problems of the past, commission member H.S. Dillon said, where police prosecutors would throw back cases they didn't like. "In the past, we would report evidence and the government would sit on it. This one is going to be different," he said.

Officials say Mr. Habibie, and his armed forces chief, Gen. Wiranto, both expressed support for the inquiry and for the tribunal. Mr. Habibie "is very interested in getting the facts out," said Mr. Dillon, who is expected to be one of as many as nine people on the inquiry team. Gen. Wiranto, as commander of the forces that are alleged to have backed pogroms by pro-Jakarta militias in East Timor, has been accused by international human-rights groups as ultimately responsible for the past month's devastation. He has denied any coordinated military involvement in the upheaval.

Quick Action Is Possible

U.N. officials are suspending judgment on Indonesia's moves. A key unknown: membership of the inquiry team. While respected for its role in investigating abuses in Indonesia, Indonesia's human-rights commission has been perceived as ineffectual in East Timor. Mr. Dillon and other commission members acknowledged the team must be from outside the territory, and have no government links. "We can't leave it to other people," he said. Commission members suggest two possible members for the inquiry team: Marzuki Darusman, a politician who helped set up the human-rights commission in 1993, and noted lawyer Todung Mulya Lubis.

The inquiry team is likely to move quickly once it is finalized, possibly by Friday. That's in part because evidence might be disappearing, but also because access to East Timor might become harder for Indonesians once sovereignty is formally ceded. The Indonesian inquiry also might gain international credibility by starting work before the official U.N. team, which is due to arrive in East Timor this week.

In the end, though, the inquiry team's credibility will rest on how it fares. "Our major problem is going to be to conduct an inquiry that is internationally acceptable," Mr. Dillon said. Already, the human-rights commission has put out feelers to U.N. officials for possible cooperation with international investigators. And it might recruit international members to help in forensic and legal issues. If both the inquiry team and tribunal prove effective, diplomats say, those panels could end up doing most of the work. But "if this is going to be an excuse to protect people, we will run into problems eventually," a diplomat said.

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