Rights Groups Urge SG Kofi Annan to Appoint Commission on Justice for East Timor
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Rights Groups Urge Secretary-General to Appoint Commission on Justice for East Timor

Response from Secretary-General

His Excellency Kofi Annan
The United Nations
1 United Nations Plaza
New York, New York 10017-3515

24 June 2004

Dear Mr. Secretary-General:

As human rights and international justice organizations that have closely followed and supported the UN’s efforts to establish justice in East Timor, we applaud your initiative to create an International Commission of Experts to review the status of efforts undertaken in the region and to hold individuals accountable for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in East Timor. To be as effective as possible, we urge that the Commission be formed immediately and that it cover the work of the ad hoc Human Rights Court in Jakarta and the UN-established Serious Crimes process in East Timor. The Commission’s mandate should include everything from indictments to prosecutions and appeals. We are concerned that if the Commission does not convene and report promptly, options to address core accountability issues in the region will be lost, especially given the Security Council’s recent resolution, S/RES/1543 (2004), encouraging the Serious Crimes Unit to complete investigations by November 2004 and the Special Panels to complete trials by May 2005.

Four years ago, you and members of the international community gave the Indonesian government an opportunity, as they requested, to prove they could conduct full and fair investigations and prosecutions of crimes arising from the violence in East Timor in 1999 without direct international participation or supervision. This was done with the proviso that you would “closely monitor progress” and ensure a “credible response in accordance with international human rights principles.”

By all accounts, Indonesia’s ad hoc Tribunals’ efforts have been deeply disappointing in that they do not appear to demonstrate a genuine effort to punish the perpetrators or maintain minimum recognized standards of independence and impartiality. They also risk perpetuating an incorrect historical record. Indeed, following the release of its first two verdicts, on 14 August 2002, your Spokesman issued a statement in which he aimed to set the record straight:

“In the course of the proceedings, it has been suggested by judges, prosecutors and defendants that there were irregularities in the conduct of the United Nations Mission in East Timor (UNAMET) during the 30 August 1999 Popular Consultation…These irregularities are alleged to have contributed to the widespread violence that engulfed the territory in September 1999. These allegations are false.”

Disturbingly, just last month, a brief presented by counsel to General Wiranto repeated this version of history identifying UNAMET and its “deceit” as “the trigger of the riots”. We are deeply concerned that such revisionism may go unchallenged.

As transparency and fairness are essential to the Commission’s success, it is vital that this group of experts evaluate the work undertaken in both East Timor and in Indonesia. From the perspective of those whose processes are being scrutinized there will never be a perfect time to conduct an objective assessment. It is worth noting, however, that Jakarta’s trials were largely completed last year and that the Serious Crimes process has experienced many recent difficulties, making the Commission’s work especially important at this time.

We urge you, with the support of the Security Council, to establish a Commission of experts in the areas of international humanitarian law, criminal law and transitional justice to review the aforementioned justice processes and decisions. The Commission should aim to make recommendations that ensure fulfillment of the Security Council’s demands in Resolution 1272 issued under a Chapter VII mandate, namely that “those responsible for such violence be brought to justice”.

Mr. Secretary-General, we appreciate your urgent attention to this matter. The steps requested above will serve the interests of peace and security in East Timor and Indonesia, bolster UN authority and honor your promise of justice to the victims.

Juan E. Mendez
International Center for Transitional Justice
Ken Roth
Executive Director
Human Rights Watch
Irene Khan
Secretary General
Amnesty International  
Jim Goldston
Executive Director
Open Society Justice Initiative
Nina Bang-Jensen
Executive Director
Coalition for International Justice
John M. Miller
UN Representative
International Federation for East Timor

see ETAN's Human Rights & Justice page


22 July 2004

Dear Mr. Mendez,

Thank you very much for the letter of 24 June that you and your colleagues at other human rights and international justice organizations sent, regarding the issue of serious crimes committed in East Timor in 1999.

I would like to assure you that the issue is very close to my heart. The United Nations itself was attacked and a number of its staff killed.

I agree with you that the brief presented by General Wiranto's counsel in May was indeed disturbing, and that an assertion that the United Nations Mission in East Timor's `deceit' was the trigger of the riots cannot be tolerated. As you may know, it has always been my strong conviction that the perpetrators must be brought to justice.

In this connection, relevant departments within the Organization have been working on ways for the United Nations to move the serious crimes process forward and bring about a resolution of the issue. The Commission of Experts, which you have touched upon in your letter, is one of the options under serious consideration. I shall of course seek the support of the Security Council for the appropriate action to be taken to address this issue.

I would appreciate it very much if you would share this letter with all the other signatories of your letter.

Yours sincerely,

Kofi A. Annan

Mr. Juan E. Mendez
International Center for Transitional Justice
New York


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