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Asian Tribune is published by E-LANKA MEDIA(PVT)Ltd. Vol. 20 No. 104

War Crimes Tribunal for East Timor Lacks U.N. Support

By Thalif Deen - Inter Press Service

United Nations, 19 December, (IPS): When U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon paid his first official visit to East Timor (Timor-Leste) last week, he was conscious of the growing demands for accountability for crimes committed during Indonesia's invasion and subsequent occupation of that relatively new nation state.

A coalition of some 70 international human rights and non-governmental organisations wrote an open letter to the secretary-general seeking "substantive justice to the people of Timor-Leste" who "suffered countless war crimes and crimes against humanity during the Indonesian invasion and 24-year occupation of their homeland."

The coalition, which included the East Timor and Indonesia Action Network (ETAN), the Human Rights Working Group in Jakarta and the Australian Coalition for Transitional Justice in East Timor, applauded the secretary-general for refusing to grant legitimacy to the bilateral Commission for Truth and Friendship (CTF).

The letter said the CTF and Indonesia's Ad Hoc Human Rights Court "have proven manifestly unsuitable in both design and implementation to the task of delivering justice in accordance with international law."

Instead, the coalition is urging the creation of an international tribunal to prosecute those most responsible for the many crimes committed during the 24-year occupation of East Timor by Indonesia.

Asked whether the creation of such a tribunal is feasible, John Miller, national coordinator for ETAN, told IPS: "For the short-term an international tribunal appears unlikely."

He pointed out that Indonesia is strongly opposed to such a tribunal. And the government of Timor-Leste is unwilling to press this issue fearing Indonesia's reaction, and believing good relations with its neighbor depend on a policy of not pressing for prosecutions.

At the same time, said Miller, U.N. member states use the Timor government position as an excuse to evade their responsibilities to uphold international law and the U.N. charter.

"However, for most of the period of the Indonesian occupation of East Timor, self-determination and independence seemed unlikely as well," he noted.

These issues need to be kept in the forefront and changes within Indonesia and on the international stage could lead to a tribunal, as in Peru and Cambodia in recent months, Miller added.

In November, a six-member delegation representing the U.N. Security Council, including Indonesia, the United States and China, visited East Timor. In its report to the Council last month, the delegation said that Timor-Leste "will continue to need U.N. assistance in a number of areas in the foreseeable future".

In the coming year, the report said, it will be crucial for the new government, which took office only in August 2007, "to consolidate itself and implement its priority programmes to enhance security and improve the lives of the people, for which it will require the support of multilateral and bilateral partners to accomplish its objectives."

The report also recommends that the current U.N. Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT), a successor to the former U.N. Mission of Support in East Timor (UNMISET) established in May 2002, should be continued when its mandate expires in February 2008.

Asked about the charges of war crimes, the U.N. Special Representative to Timor-Leste Atul Khare told a press briefing in the capital of Dili last week that "as far as the serious crimes committed in 1999 are concerned, as you are aware there are some pending cases that are being investigated by the Serious Crimes Investigation Unit of UNMIT as mandated by Security Resolution 1704."

Separately, he said, "you are aware there are other mechanisms, such as the Commission on Truth and Friendship, but all these mechanisms must have an element of credible accountability and of course conformity with internationally accepted human rights principles."

Miller said the aftermath of the recent Security Council delegation to Timor-Leste indicates the international community "may be suffering from a form of amnesia when it comes to the many crimes against humanity committed during 24-years of brutal Indonesian occupation in Timor-Leste."

"Indonesia's membership in both the Security Council and Human Rights Council should stimulate all U.N. members' resolve to ensure that those responsible do not go unpunished and to ensure that the new, democratic government in Jakarta upholds its international human rights obligations," he added.

Asked if anything short of an international tribunal would be acceptable, he said: "We think a tribunal is best."

However, he said, a reinvigorated Serious Crimes Process (which formally ended in 2005) could contribute to justice and accountability if it has sufficient resources and sufficient pressure is put on Indonesia to cooperate by providing evidence and giving up those indicted to the serious crimes court. About two-thirds of those indicted have sanctuary in Indonesia, some with prominent positions.

Asked if there is support in the U.N. Security Council for the creation of a tribunal, he said: "Not at this time."

The major powers have been very short-sighted, he declared. And some, like China and Russia, fear the precedent of a Timor-specific tribunal, though of course they could always veto any such effort to deal with Tibet or Chechnya, which China and Russia are opposed to, respectively.

Other members do not want to press Indonesia, fearing that pressure for genuine justice would destabilize Indonesia's nascent democracy, Miller said. However, the lack of accountability by Indonesia's military remains a major roadblock to reform and a threat to that democracy.

"Nothing would send as strong a message to the Indonesian military that it needs to respect democratic and legal norms than to lock up a few generals for their roles in the most horrendous human rights crimes in East Timor," he added.

- Inter Press Service (IPS) News Agency -

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