RIGHTS-EAST TIMOR: Evidence of Atrocities

UNITED NATIONS, Nov 14 1999 (IPS) - Three UN human rights officials said Monday that they had received substantial evidence of murder, torture, rape and other abuses in East Timor after they voted Aug 30 to be independent of Indonesia.

“I think what we are seeing is devastating,” said Asma Jahangir, UN special rapporteur on extra judicial and summary executions. his remarks at a news conference in the East Timorese capital, Dili, were made available here.

Jahangir cited reports that some 200 people out of a group of about 2,000 who had sought refuge at a church in Suai had been killed. She also noted eyewitness accounts of killings by Timorese who had survived the post-vote violence.

“We have had testimonies from eyewitnesses who have seen people being killed in front of them,” Jahangir said. “We have seen sites where people have been buried.”

She added that, in recent days, “two to three bodies have been identified per day” in the slow process of finding and registering those who were killed in the weeks after the ballot.

The three human rights rapporteurs – Jahangir, Nigel Rodley and Radhika Coomaraswamy – noted that they still have substantial work ahead to confirm reports and gather evidence on the violence.

The rapporteurs’ mission, they cautioned, was a first step and would be followed by the eventual dispatch of a commission of inquiry for East Timor. “Obviously, something catastrophic has happened,” said Rodley, the special rapporteur on torture.

UN officials have been at pains to stress the enormous scale of the devastation in East Timor – blamed on pro-Indonesia militias and on factions of the Indonesian military, which had occupied East Timor for 24 years.

The majority of houses and buildings in cities like Dili, Suai, Liquica and Maliana were destroyed, according to UN spokesman Fred Eckhard.

The evidence being gathered by the human rights officials on their current trip included widespread allegations of rapes, sexual slavery, torture and other crimes.

Coomaraswamy said that the officials had received “stories of an increase in domestic violence, trafficking, all these other issues relating to violence against women… To see the devastation is quite shocking.”

She added, however, that despite reports of cases of sexual slavery of East Timorese women in the Indonesian province of West Timor, the rapporteurs had not been allowed to enter refugee camps there to verify reports.

“We were told we could not go and that we would have no access to the camps in West Timor,” Coomaraswamy said. But she added that she has heard reports from women who have left West Timor of “widespread” sexual violence against East Timorese women there.

UN officials estimated that more than 200,000 East Timorese remained in West Timorese camps, often run by the pro-Indonesia militias, despite commitments by Indonesian officials to allow the refugees to return home.

Several thousand East Timorese returned from West Timor in recent days but Jahangir said that the new Indonesian government of President Abdurrahman Wahid had denied rapporteurs access to West Timor.

The three officials were scheduled to stay in East Timor until mid-November and, by Nov 25, they must file a report on atrocities committed after the Aug. 30 ballot on independence for the territory. In addition, a UN commission of inquiry is expected to gather its own evidence shortly.

The commission, however, has not yet begun its work, and Rodley warned that any delays in its deployment could result in the loss or deterioration of evidence.

In particular forensic specialists are urgently needed, he said.

UN peacekeepers had been asking “for weeks” for forensic specialists to be sent to East Timor “precisely because of their fears over the problem of degrading evidence.” So far, Rodley said, one specialist had arrived there to assess forensic needs.

One of the main challenges facing any investigation was determining how many East Timorese were affected by the violence, when many were still missing.

According to UN officials, some 500,000 of the state’s 890,000 East Timorese were dislocated by the violence, which erupted immediately after some 80 percent of voters opted for independence from Indonesian rule.

Even now, as many as 300,000 East Timorese are unaccounted for, although most were believed to be hiding in remote parts of the territory or displaced in West Timor or other Indonesian provinces.

With the flow of refugees coming from West Timor increasing slowly, some UN officials suggested that the number of East Timorese believed to have been killed during the referendum could turn out be be less than previously estimated.

More than 200,000 East Timorese were killed in the immediate aftermath of Indonesia’s 1975 invasion of the former Portuguese colony. Estimates by human rights groups of the death toll following the August ballot have ranged from about 900 to 7,000.

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RIGHTS-EAST TIMOR: Evidence of Atrocities

UNITED NATIONS, Nov 8 1999 (IPS) - Three UN human rights officials said Monday that they had received substantial evidence of murder, torture, rape and other abuses in East Timor after they voted Aug 30 to be independent of Indonesia.

Republish | | Print |

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