ISSN #1088-8136

Vol. 8, No. 2
Winter  2002-2003

Congress Moves to Renew Military Ties with Indonesian Military

Indonesian Verdicts Strengthen Calls for International Tribunal

East Timor Puts U.S. Soldiers Above the Law

Will the Refugees Be Forgotten?

Indonesia Network Update

Remembering Senator Paul Wellstone (1944-2002)

Stories from Ainaro

The State of International Aid to East Timor

Kissinger Protests

About East Timor and the East Timor Action Network

Winter 2002-03

back issues

ETAN Home Page


Indonesian Verdicts Strengthen Calls for International Tribunal

by John M. Miller

Indonesia’s ad hoc court on the 1999 violence in East Timor delivered its first verdicts in August. The result was the acquittal of six Indonesian security officers; only the pro-Indonesian East Timorese governor Abilio Soares was convicted. He received a three-year sentence, far less than the 12 years prosecutors requested. [At press time, the court — known formally as the Ad Hoc Human Rights Court on East Timor — acquitted 4 more Indonesian officials, but sentenced the notorious East Timorese militia leader Eurico Guterres to 10 years in prison. Few observers expect him to serve much if any of the sentence.]

In response to the summer verdicts, ETAN joined East Timorese and Indonesian activists in reiterating calls for an international tribunal to try military and political leaders responsible for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide in East Timor. All called for trials to include crimes committed throughout the occupation, not just the final year. East Timorese officials, while expressing anger (Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri called the proceedings “a farce”) said they would await the final conclusion of the Indonesian trials before deciding how to proceed.
The acquitted included the former head of the Indonesian police in East Timor, Timbul Silaen, who has been directly linked to meetings where violence was planned and encouraged. Five other Indonesian military and police officers were acquitted of charges related to their role in the most infamous post-ballot atrocity, the massacre at the Suai churchyard. According to eyewitness accounts, four of these officers personally directed the attack, which killed three Catholic priests and scores of refugees.

“The conduct of the trials confirms that their purpose was to deflect international criticism rather than to get at the truth. The prosecutions in Jakarta have been crushed under the weight of their limitations,” ETAN said in a statement as the verdicts were announced.

Activists urged UN officials and member governments — who had said they would wait for Indonesia to show it could effectively prosecute its own — to acknowledge the long-evident flaws of the Indonesian process and begin to establish a tribunal.

Incredibly, the Bush administration, while acknowledging that the trials did not meet international standards, said they would serve as a “warning [to] those who might consider new violations of human rights in Aceh and elsewhere.” All other observers drew the opposite conclusion, with many warning that reinstating military assistance while Indonesia resists Congressional conditions calling for military accountability will only embolden the armed forces to continue their abuses.

Calling the trials and verdicts a “mockery of East Timor’s demands for justice,” East Timorese lawyer Aderito de Jesus Soares wrote that “Indonesia has had its chance to put on credible trials. Washington must take the initiative at the UN to set up the international tribunal that Jakarta’s now-broken promise to hold credible trials forestalled.” In January 2000 a UN investigative commission found that ultimately the Indonesian Army was responsible for the intimidation, terror, killings, and other acts of violence committed before and after the referendum, and recommended the establishment of an ad hoc international human rights tribunal, but only for crimes committed in 1999.

Indonesia’s ad hoc court began in March under a very limited mandate. Only 18 suspects are being tried for failing to prevent massacres and other crimes committed in three of East Timor’s 13 districts during just two months — April and September 1999 — of the 24-year occupation. The defendants were accused of failing to prevent the actions of others rather than of directly ordering the atrocities.

Prosecutors, echoing an oft-repeated  military myth, described the violence in 1999 as a result of conflict between East Timorese factions. Yet the razing of East Timor was undeniably part of an orchestrated plan by top Indonesian military and political officials, first to intimidate the East Timorese into voting for “autonomy,” and then to punish them for supporting independence.

None of the top-ranking officers and officials named by Indonesia’s own human rights commission in January 2000 were seriously investigated, much less indicted. During the trials, powerful military officers dominated the proceedings by sitting in courtroom. Most East Timorese witnesses called to testify refused; those who appeared were harassed.

East Timorese do not appreciate seeing low-level militia tried in East Timor receiving long prison sentences while their former military masters  go free. The day after the August acquittals were announced, detainees in East Timor’s main prison forced their way out of the building; many cited the acquittals as justification for their actions. Indonesia continues to refuse to extradite anyone to East Timor for trial. (For updates, see ETAN’s Justice pages:

Return to Winter 2002-2003 Menu