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Letter to U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues 
Concerning Justice for East Timor

22 August 2002

Pierre-Richard Prosper 
Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues 
U.S. Department of State 
2201 C Street, NW 
Washington, DC 20520

Dear Ambassador Prosper,

Nearly six months have passed since we met in Washington to discuss the need to address war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in East Timor. In the interim, the possibility that existing mechanisms might serve justice in these cases has been all but extinguished. We therefore urge you to increase your efforts to ensure these atrocities do not go unpunished by working to establish an international tribunal for East Timor.

As you know, Indonesia¹s ad hoc Human Rights Court on East Timor recently acquitted six military and police officers for crimes against humanity committed in 1999. These include the former head of the Indonesian police in East Timor, Timbul Silaen, who is directly implicated in participating in meetings where violence was planned and encouraged. In addition, he failed to control those under his command. Five Indonesian military and police officers implicated in the most infamous post-ballot atrocity, the massacre at the Suai churchyard, were also acquitted of all charges. According to eyewitness accounts, four of these officers personally directed the attack, which killed scores of refugees and three Catholic priests.

The only person found guilty by the Indonesian court is the only civilian and East Timorese to receive judgment so far. Yet even former governor of East Timor Abilio Soares, who is implicated in funding and establishing the militias, received a mere three-year prison sentence. This is remarkably lenient given the ten-year minimum specified by Indonesian law.

These results have led Indonesian human rights lawyers to call the trials a ³comedy.² Amnesty International and the East Timor-based Judicial System Monitoring Programme stated the Indonesian proceedings do not meet international standards and ³have delivered neither truth nor justice.² In a joint statement, the organizations urged the United Nations to reassess ³its decision not to pursue the recommendations of its own International Commission of Inquiry on East Timor to establish an international criminal tribunal.² In response to the verdicts, the former head of the UN mission that carried out the 1999 referendum on independence, Ian Martin, echoed the call for the UN to create an international tribunal.

Most East Timorese people, after a quarter-century of experience with Indonesian ³justice,² have long dismissed the Jakarta proceedings, calling for the UN to establish an international tribunal covering the entire brutal military occupation. Brave victims ­ many of them widows ­ overcame fear and trauma to give painful testimony; they now ask when their cases will be heard. Resentment and disillusionment are building, as East Timorese see low-level militia tried in East Timor receive long prison sentences while their former military masters go free. The day after the acquittals were announced, nearly all detainees in East Timor¹s main prison forced their way out of the building; many cited the acquittals as justification for their actions.

As a former war crimes prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, you understand the need war-torn countries have for justice. We know you appreciate that the people of the world¹s newest nation cannot build a peaceful society in its absence. We believe you hear us when we say that East Timor, Indonesia and the world community need an international tribunal for East Timor to uphold and increase respect for human rights, and to discourage future incidents of serious abuses.

The Indonesian trials have done nothing to answer East Timor¹s cry for justice. This sham process has only rubbed salt in festering physical and emotional wounds. Any attempts by the U.S. government to portray the Jakarta verdicts as even remotely satisfactory ­ as seems to be the case currently ­ would be unconscionable.

We urge you to publicly and unambiguously reject the Indonesian ad hoc Human Rights Court on East Timor as unacceptable. We invite you to follow the example of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson and return to East Timor in the near future to talk with the victims, civil society and government officials to gain a greater understanding of the dangers we face. And we implore you to do all that is within your power to ensure strong, active and formal U.S. government support for the establishment of an international criminal tribunal for East Timor.

Thank you for your serious consideration of these urgent matters. We look forward to your response.


Filomena Barros dos Reis 
Advocacy Officer, East Timor National NGO Forum 
Rue Caicoli, 
Dili, Timor Lorosa¹e

Diane Farsetta 
National Field Organizer
East Timor Action Network/U.S
Madison, WI

see also Human Rights and Justice pages