|For Immediate Release Contact John M. Miller; (718)596-7668,
U.S. and U.N. Must Support an International Tribunal on East Timor
Violence A Statement by the East Timor Action Network/U.S. February 2,
The reports issued this week by the U.N.'s International Commission of
Inquiry on East Timor and the Indonesian National Commission of Inquiry on
East Timor both confirm what has been long known: Indonesian military
officials at the highest levels -- working with militia leaders and
civilian officials -- were responsible for the violence surrounding the
U.N.'s plebiscite in East Timor. Their mandates, however, limited the
investigations to events since January 1999, rather than the entire period
of Indonesia's illegal occupation since 1975. The individuals named must
be further investigated, prosecuted and, if convicted, punished.
Individuals who suffered human rights abuses should receive reparations.
The special UN panel has recommended that an international tribunal be
established. The Indonesian government, however, insists that an
international tribunal is unnecessary and that the international community
should wait and see if Indonesia can prosecute its own.
The Indonesian government's stance is problematic. While an Indonesian
commission has investigated the most recent violence in East Timor,
Indonesia has yet to demonstrate its ability to follow through with
credible prosecutions. The commission's investigation is only the first
step of a long process, and there is no guarantee that later stages will
meet international standards. Too many uncertainties about the
independence, quality and ability of Indonesia's courts exist.
The democratic Indonesian government has yet to show that it can hold
its military to account. Despite repeated pledges by Indonesia's civilian
leadership, the Indonesian military and its militia allies continue to
block East Timorese refugees from returning home and incursions continue
into East Timor's Oecussi enclave. Indonesia's failure to remedy these
ongoing problems do not inspire confidence in pledges to hold the military
accountable for past activities in East Timor. In addition, Indonesia has
a long record of reneging on commitments to the U.N. Human Rights
Commission. Efforts by members of the military to "deny
accountability" and "obstruct" the Indonesian
investigations trouble U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Richard Holbrooke,
among many others.
Indonesia has yet to adopt the necessary legislation to create a human
rights court able to try crimes against humanity. While the Indonesian
parliament is now working on setting up a human rights court, its mandate
as currently conceived will not be retroactive. It leaves past crimes to
an undefined truth and reconciliation commission. The grave human rights
violations committed against the people of East Timor could go unpunished.
While he plans to remove General Wiranto from his cabinet, Indonesian
President Abdurrahman Wahid has already said that he will pardon Wiranto,
if found guilty. Justice will have been delayed and likely denied for the
East Timorese should Indonesia fail to credibly prosecute and punish.
The atrocities committed against the people of East Timor are an
international issue, not just an Indonesian one. An international tribunal
is needed to deal with crimes committed against the international
community, as well as against East Timorese. Both must actively
participate in the prosecution and sentencing of those responsible. While
most of those accused are Indonesian, their alleged crimes were part of a
systematic attempt to undermine and then overturn a U.N.-conducted vote.
The East Timorese who participated in the plebiscite received public
promises from both the U.N. and Indonesia that their vote would be
respected. They voted in the defiance of overt and covert threats, knowing
these pledges might turn out to be hollow. Nearly all of the victims of
the violence were East Timorese, not Indonesian. In the words of the U.N.
report, they must "not be forgotten in the rush of events." East
Timorese at all levels of society have long called for an international
ETAN calls on the U.S. government and the U.N. to work with the
Indonesian government to establish a joint Indonesian, East Timorese and
international tribunal as recommended by the U.N. commission's report.
However, the U.N. must move forward with an international tribunal, even
if Indonesia refuses to cooperate. The operation of the panel must be
totally transparent. Any tribunal's mandate must be expanded to include
atrocities and rights violations committed as a result of the entire
period of Indonesia's invasion and occupation of East Timor since1975.
Both the U.N. and Indonesian reports are preliminary; the U.S. government
(and other U.N. members) can support further investigations by releasing
all relevant files and intelligence information both to any tribunals and
to the general public. While Indonesia bears the greatest responsibility
for events in East Timor over the last 25 years, governments -- such as
the U.S. -- which supported Indonesia's occupation of East Timor by
providing weapons, training and other assistance, should publicly examine
their own complicity.
Note: The full U.N. report can be found at http//www.un.org/News/ossg
The East Timor Action Network/U.S. was founded in November 1991,
following the massacre of more than 271 peaceful demonstrators in Dili,
East Timor. ETAN/U.S. supports independence and human rights for the
people of East Timor. ETAN has 28 local chapters.
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