Subject: SMH: Evidence of atrocities is there, but where is the UN team?

also: [SMH] Atrocities inquiry awaits green light

Sydney Morning Herald 16/10/99

Evidence is there, but where is the UN team?


When Australian troops on Thursday recovered the mutilated bodies of six East Timorese people, washed up on a beach near Suai in East Timor's west, they could do no more than note and videotape the injuries, before burying the remains in shallow graves.

They had to do the same when the charred remains of 10 people - eight skulls and two corpses - were recovered from a burnt out truck, abandoned in bushland near the municipal dump outside Dili in late September.

But they are marking the graves and keeping records of all burials and other evidence associated with each corpse in preparation for the arrival of specialists from the United Nations who will have the task of investigating allegations of human rights abuses. Frustration is building that there is still no proper UN investigative team on the ground in East Timor to begin collecting and preparing evidence of human rights abuses.

Almost three weeks ago the UN Commission on Human Rights acted and authorised an inquiry into what had gone on in East Timor. But the inquiry's experts have yet to arrive.

The frustration boiled over this week when even the head of the UN Assistance Mission to East Timor (UNAMET), Englishman Mr Ian Martin, chided the UN Human Rights Commission's tardiness.

"Certainly, there are not at the moment adequate resources to carry out investigations," Mr Martin said in Dili on Thursday night.

Concerns were mounting that evidence of abuses was deteriorating, he said.

In the meantime it has fallen to the Australian-led Interfet troops to gather and preserve what evidence they find of abuses, but the Australian Defence Force readily admits the task is beyond its capabilities.

"Interfet lacks the investigative horsepower to do it but is securing the sites so others can do the investigation," said an ADF Interfet spokesman, Colonel Duncan Lewis, in Canberra yesterday.

He said the commander of Interfet, Major-General Cosgrove, had made his concerns known to the UN and had requested more investigative resources.

These concerns are shared by the NSW Director of Public Prosecutions, Mr Nicholas Cowdery, QC, who is heading a group of some 200 Australian lawyers who have volunteered to gather evidence of atrocities.

This group, operating under the auspices of the International Commission of Jurists, has begun interviewing East Timorese people with knowledge of abuses and atrocities who have been evacuated to Australia.

"The idea is to record the evidence while the detail is fresh in people's minds and the evidence is not contaminated," he said yesterday.

The UN inquiry, when it gets under way, will report back to the UN Human Rights Commission by the end of the year. It will then be up to the commission to decide if an international criminal tribunal should be established to bring to justice those Indonesian officials and others suspected of involvement.

Indonesia has threatened not to co-operate. After being pressed to set up an inquiry by the United States Secretary for Defence, Mr William Cohen, it has established its own national commission to investigate the role of its military in East Timor.

Sydney Morning Herald 16/10/99

Atrocities inquiry awaits green light

By MARK RILEY Herald Correspondent in New York

The United Nations official inquiry into suspected atrocities in East Timor has become bound in procedural red tape and its start has been delayed by several weeks.

It was expected that the war crimes inquiry would begin immediately after the UN Commission on Human Rights recommended it on September 27. The UN Secretary-General, Mr Kofi Annan, moved quickly to appoint his Human Rights Commissioner, Mrs Mary Robinson, as head of the inquiry and said the investigation should be conducted with "urgency". However, UN procedure requires final approval of the commission's recommendation from a powerful committee of the UN General Assembly before it can go ahead.

Even though the inquiry is regarded as a pressing agenda item for the UN, the Economic and Social Council of the General Assembly will not meet to discuss the matter until October 26 at the earliest.

In the meantime, Mrs Robinson has ordered her staff to begin preparations for the inquiry in the hope it can begin as soon as the go-ahead is given. Mrs Robinson said on October 1 that she hoped it would be only days before she could name the five experts she had selected to lead the panel of investigators in East Timor.

However, that announcement cannot be made until the Economic and Social Council has granted its approval.

A team of field workers, including several forensic experts, is preparing to fly to East Timor to gather evidence.

The commission of inquiry will operate under a tight deadline. Mr Annan requires it to report to the UN Security Council by December 31.

The inquiry will investigate allegations of mass killings, rapes and the forced transfer of East Timorese people.

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