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East Timor Still Awaits Justice One Year After UN Call for International Tribunal

For Immediate Release 
January 31, 2001

Contact: John M. Miller, (718) 596-7668; (917) 690-4391;

The East Timor Action Network/U.S. (ETAN) today criticized the UN and its member states for their failure to act on the UN's international commission of inquiry recommendation one year ago today to create an international tribunal for East Timor. Today also marks the first anniversary of the report by the Indonesian Human Rights Commission (KPP-HAM) which recommended the investigation and prosecution of high-ranking Indonesian military and political figures and East Timorese militia members.

"We are deeply disturbed that a year has passed since both inquiries and no steps have been taken to address these severe human rights abuses through an international tribunal and no one has been prosecuted in Indonesia," said John M. Miller, spokesperson for the East Timor Action Network/U.S.

ETAN called on the United States government and other nations to actively support an international tribunal to prosecute those responsible for serious human rights abuses and crimes against humanity in East Timor not only in 1999 but going back to 1975 when Indonesia invaded the former Portuguese colony.

"We are extremely troubled that not one country in last week's open Security Council debate on East Timor mentioned a tribunal. An international tribunal is the only way to ensure that most victims of Indonesian military and militia violence in East Timor will see justice for crimes committed against them, allowing them to move forward with their lives and rebuilding their new nation," said Miller.

"Many analysts believe that the prospect of a tribunal will encourage Indonesian efforts to prosecute its generals and other high-level military and civilian personnel. Such a tactic is completely ineffective if the threat is left unspoken," Miller added.

Charles Scheiner, National Coordinator of ETAN who recently returned from six weeks in East Timor, found overwhelming public support for a tribunal.

"Indonesian efforts to prosecute those responsible for East Timor's destruction are bound to fail because many East Timorese victims and witnesses are terrified of traveling to the country whose generals ordered the crimes against them. Their fears will prevent them from testifying against military and militia leaders who have enjoyed impunity for many years," said Scheiner. "No matter how serious an Indonesian judicial process might be, justice cannot be achieved if witnesses fear to testify."

Both Indonesian and UN prosecutorial efforts have proven inadequate. No Indonesian military personnel have been prosecuted for atrocities committed during 1999 either before and after East Timor's referendum. Last fall Indonesia amended its constitution, creating legal obstacles to prosecuting those responsible for past human rights abuses, especially those who gave orders.

The defiant refusal of the Indonesian military to cooperate with UN investigations into the 1999 atrocities, as well as the many other practical and political obstacles, has convinced many Indonesian, East Timorese, and international organizations that an international tribunal is now the only viable option to bring to justice military and militia leaders responsible for atrocities in East Timor.

UN prosecutions in East Timor are fraught with procedural and other problems. Scheiner attended the first day of the trial of Joao Fernandes in Dili District Court on January 10. He observed a lack of resources and professionalism in the prosecution, the defense, and the management of the court.

"If justice is to be achieved in East Timor, court procedures and due process should be of unquestionable integrity and the Dili District Court so far fails to meet even minimal standards for a fair trial," he concluded. Fernandes pleaded guilty to murder and was sentenced to 12 years.

"An international tribunal will also deter ongoing rights violations throughout Indonesia and promote reconciliation in East Timor," noted Miller. "Without a tribunal only lower-level East Timorese militia members in East Timor are likely to face justice, while militia leaders remain unscathed and Indonesian military officers who gave the orders and designed the policies are free to retain positions of prestige and power in Indonesia."

Both Indonesian and UN prosecutorial efforts have sharply limited their scope to a handful of better-known incidents.

When the KPP-HAM issued its report, Indonesia's Attorney General Darusman Marzuki promised that it would take three to six months to decide whether to file charges against military, militia and political leaders named in the report. Over a year later no charges have been filed. Marzuki, while continuing his investigation, faces opposition from politicians and others who view those who ransacked East Timor as national heroes.

The UN International Commission of Inquiry on East Timor wrote in its January 31, 2000 report to the UN Secretary General: "The intimidation, terror, destruction of property, displacement and evacuation of people [in 1999] would not have been possible without the active involvement of the Indonesian army, and the knowledge and approval of the top military command." The KPP-HAM investigation reached similar conclusions.

The UN inquiry recommended that "The United Nations should establish an international human rights tribunal consisting of judges appointed by the United Nations, preferably with the participation of members from East Timor and Indonesia."

On August 30, 1999, the people of East Timor, defying threats and violence, turned out in record numbers to vote overwhelmingly for independence. Following the vote, Indonesian troops and their militia proxies destroyed some 70% of the country's infrastructure, killed more than 1500 people, and forced hundreds of thousands across the border into Indonesia where approximately 100,000 remain.

Indonesia invaded neighboring East Timor on December 7, 1975, hours after a state visit to Jakarta by then President Gerald Ford and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. According to human rights groups, one-third of the population -- more than 200,000 East Timorese -- was killed in subsequent years as the U.S. provided weapons and political support under both Democratic and Republican administrations.

The East Timor Action Network/ U.S. (ETAN) was founded in November 1991 to support East Timorese self-determination. ETAN now works for a peaceful transition to independence in East Timor. It has 28 local chapters throughout the U.S.

For additional background, see ETAN's website


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