Subject: UN Cave-in Adds Justice To East Timor's Death Toll

The Australian 25 October 99

UN cave-in adds justice to the death toll

From New York correspondent STEPHEN ROMEI

IT is sadly typical of the second-best deal delivered to the people of East Timor that, while investigators were disinterring 11 bodies from a well in Liquica, the Security Council was helping bury the UN's own human rights inquiry.

The council will today approve UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's blueprint for East Timor, after specific references to the inquiry were dropped from the document at the insistence of China.

The British-sponsored resolution originally called on all parties to co-operate with the UN-sanctioned investigation, which is being run from the office of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson.

However, to appease China, a permanent member of the council with veto power and its own human rights problems in Tibet, the resolution was watered down.

It will call on all parties to co-operate with "investigations" into "reports" of human rights abuses. The difference is significant. It allows Indonesia to ignore with impunity the five-person UN investigation team, to arrive in Dili next month.

Without the co-operation of Indonesian authorities, which the Habibie government made clear would not be forthcoming, the inquiry will be severely handicapped.

As the terrible find in Liquica demonstrates, investigators will have physical evidence on which to consider prosecutions. They also will have little difficulty gathering witness testimony of atrocities.

Yet, without access to Indonesian government files, the chances of proving a link between human rights abuses and members of the military are greatly diminished.

This is why Indonesia voted against the human rights inquiry in Geneva last month. It was supported by Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, Cuba, India, Japan, Nepal, The Philippines, Russia, Sri Lanka and Sudan.

At the time, many observers said this largely east-west split in the 53-member UN Commission on Human Rights was predictable, as though that somehow made it acceptable.

As Mrs Robinson made clear in a passionate statement to the commission, there was overwhelming evidence that East Timor "has seen a deliberate, vicious, systematic campaign of gross violations of human rights". Her extensive report is a litany of murder, rape, intimidation, property destruction and forced displacement.

It is unacceptable for the prosecution of such crimes to be thwarted for political reasons, or due to an understandable desire to embrace the new Indonesia.

Even Xanana Gusmao is overreaching in his embrace of reconciliation, by suggesting pro-Indonesia militiamen be granted amnesty. Jose Ramos Horta rightly insisted the offenders "must not go unpunished".

Against this background, it is difficult not to foresee a likely outcome of the inquiry: a couple of rag-tag militiamen are put on trial, everyone else gets off. This despite the fact that the complicity of the military in the violence is widely acknowledged.

Possibly, the only people who can prevent such a whitewash are new Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid and his deputy, Megawati Sukarnoputri.

They could demonstrate a commitment to a fresh start for a democratic Indonesia by announcing full co-operation with the UN investigators, and by pledging to bring to justice those responsible for destroying East Timor's finest hour.

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