Subject: NYTimes: Jakarta Sets Up Inquiry Despite Distrust Abroad

The New York Times Sunday, October 10, 1999

Jakarta Sets Up Inquiry Despite Distrust Abroad


AKARTA, Indonesia -- Indonesia, which invaded East Timor in 1975 and yielded the shattered territory to foreign troops three weeks ago, is organizing a commission to investigate reports of atrocities committed by militia groups and the Indonesian army.

The question hanging in the air is: how can a country that annexed and brutally subjugated its neighbor for nearly a quarter-century investigate its own behavior and bring those responsible to justice?

"We're optimistic that we can do it," said Marzuki Darusman, the chairman of the National Human Rights Commission. "What we lack in initial credibility or trust will be balanced out by the results of the investigation."

But many human rights experts say Indonesia's effort is doomed from the start. They say that only an inquiry led by the United Nations can document the killing and burning that erupted after a majority of East Timorese voted for independence on Aug. 30.

In fact, some say the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, which voted last week to undertake its own inquiry, should steer clear of the Indonesian investigation to avoid being tainted by association with it.

"If I thought justice would actually be done, I would be fully supportive of an in-country investigation," said Sidney Jones, the Asia director of Human Rights Watch. "I don't think there is any possibility of that."

Yet Indonesia is plowing ahead. On Friday, President B.J. Habibie signed a law enabling the National Human Rights Commission to set up a tribunal to prosecute civilians and soldiers for crimes against humanity in East Timor and elsewhere.

"It's a landmark decision," Darusman said. "Under present circumstances, if a general is identified as being responsible for crimes, it's almost impossible to have that person tried. But now we're able to bypass that problem."

Such powers could be critical in giving legitimacy to a home-grown investigation. Human rights experts have accused Indonesia's army of arming anti-independence militias and allowing them to go on a rampage after the independence vote.

Indonesia's military leaders deny that they sanctioned the brutality in East Timor. But military analysts said it was unlikely that the militias would have been allowed to carry out a sustained and methodical campaign of destruction without the consent of high-level officers in Jakarta. Previous investigations in Indonesia have tended to focus on soldiers rather than their commanders.

"The issue of military impunity is one of the major problems facing Indonesia," said Tessa Piper, a senior program officer at the Asia Foundation here, "and it will continue to be a major problem until they address it."

Darusman said that under the decree signed by Habibie, the Indonesian commission could indict the army's top commanders if it believed that they were responsible for the bloodshed in East Timor.

At the same time, Darusman said he did not want to prejudge the situation. He said the inquiry could disprove the perception abroad that East Timor is a "war zone" where thousands of people were killed.

Darusman said Indonesia's investigation would seek to answer five questions: Was there genocide? Were Indonesian armed forces involved in militia actions? Was there a policy of arson? Were people forcibly deported from East Timor? And were there other crimes, like rape or torture?

He said it would also look into reports of violations committed by soldiers in the Australian-led military force. He declined to be specific, except to say that the reported violations affected both militia members and civilians.

On Wednesday, Australian troops killed two militiamen after the men ambushed a military convoy in the East Timorese town of Suai. They were the first fatalities in what has been a generally peaceful operation.

Although the Indonesian government has shown few signs it will cooperate with a U.N. investigation, Darusman said he hoped that the United Nations would help Indonesia's inquiry. He said the Indonesians could use expertise in areas such as forensic investigation.

Even skeptics acknowledge that if Indonesia's investigation were successful, it could set a valuable precedent. Indonesia's commission has had a poor record in East Timor, in part because it was identified as being opposed to independence.

By conducting an aggressive investigation of the atrocities committed there, it could compensate for these weaknesses and build up the credibility to pursue abuses in other troubled parts of this restive country.

Jakarta Post October 13, 1999

Kontras spurns ruling on tribunal

JAKARTA (JP): The Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras) on Tuesday rejected the government regulation in lieu of law which established a national human rights tribunal.

Kontras coordinator Munir said the regulation was designed more to protect guilty parties from an international inquiry into atrocities in East Timor, rather than prosecuting these abuses in the court.

The government regulation in lieu of law for the national human right tribunal was enacted by President B.J. Habibie on Oct. 8, as a response to the outcome of a UN vote last month on an international human rights investigation for East Timor.

Kontras, however, saw several articles in the regulation that could allow human rights abusers to avoid prosecution.

The regulation, for example, allows the police and the military to conduct investigations, even though members of these two institutions are most likely to become suspects during the inquiry.(03)

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