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RIGHTS: U.N. Faults Indonesia on Sentence for East Timor War Crimes

Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS, Aug 15 2002 (IPS) - Human rights activists and senior U.N. officials have faulted an Indonesian court for imposing a lenient sentence on a former governor of East Timor charged with war crimes.

“The accused (Governor Abilio Soares) was found guilty of the charge (of crimes against humanity) and sentenced to three years’ imprisonment, which is below the statutory minimum of 10 years,” U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, said Thursday.

The sentence was imposed Wednesday by a homegrown war crimes court called the Ad Hoc Human Rights Tribunal in Jakarta, whose creation last year had the blessings of the U.N. Security Council.

Soares faced the death penalty for failing to halt the “large-scale, organised and coordinated violence” after the Indonesian-held territory voted for independence in late 1999. According to some reports, more than 1,000 civilians died during rioting after the vote.

On Thursday, the Tribunal also found that the former regional police commander and five other military, police and government officials were not guilty.

John Miller of the New York-based East Timor Action Network said the verdict shows the United Nations and the Security Council should have set up an international war crimes tribunal for East Timor modelled on those created for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia.

Both tribunals, created by the Security Council, are currently holding trials for those accused of genocide and war crimes in the two war-ravaged countries.

“The verdict by the tribunal in Jakarta shows the process was badly constituted,” Miller told IPS.

“The Security Council, in effect, said ‘let’s give Indonesia a chance’,” Miller said. “They have been given a chance – and now it’s up to the Council to create an international tribunal,” he said.

The verdicts were the first arising from a series of human rights trials in Jakarta, where more than 18 army officers and civilians are being prosecuted for atrocities committed in late 1999.

The new government in East Timor has also established a body to try allegations of serious crimes, including war crimes, but Indonesia has so far refused to co-operate with it.

Miller said an international tribunal for East Timor is needed because the newly created International Criminal Court (ICC) can only try those accused of genocide and war crimes after it came into force on Jul. 1.

Robinson said the United Nations is concerned prosecutors in Soares’ trial did not submit evidence that portrayed the killings and other human rights violations as part of a widespread and systematic pattern of violence.

“Rather, the indictments present the killings and other abuses as a result of spontaneous conflict between armed factions within East Timorese society,” she said.

“This seriously undermines the strength of the prosecution’s case and jeopardises the integrity and credibility of the process,” Robinson added.

She also said the United Nations was concerned that prosecutions to date have presented to the court “only a small percentage of the available testimony and evidence of victims and eyewitnesses to the 1999 violence”.

Amnesty International also criticised the Tribunal. In a statement, the human rights group said the indictments presented in court did not correspond with the available evidence.

Prosecutors ” deliberately failed to prove the widespread and systematic nature of the violations that occurred in East Timor”, it added.

The judge who delivered the verdict against Soares blamed the United Nations for recruiting “pro-independence” staff and election monitors when it conducted the vote.

The judges, the prosecutors and defendants also accused the United Nations Mission in East Timor (UNAMET) of “irregularities” in the conduct of the vote in the territory in September, 1999.

“These allegations are false,” U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard told reporters Thursday.

Indonesian authorities, not UNAMET, were responsible for security throughout the entire consultation process, as set out in agreements signed by the United Nations and Indonesia, he said.

“Further UNAMET was completely unarmed,” Eckhard said, in contrast to the Indonesian military.

And an independent Electoral Commission certified the results, after a close scrutiny of complaints, he added. “Not one ballot box was unaccounted for.”

Recruitment for UNAMET was open to all qualified East Timorese, regardless of their political beliefs. As a result, said Eckhard, it cannot be concluded that the violence was a consequence of “any irregularities in the ballot, bias or abdication of security responsibility on the part of UNAMET”.

“It should also be recalled that in the violence, U.N. local staff were killed because they worked for UNAMET, and U.N. property was systematically looted and destroyed.”

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