(New York) -- A leading Indonesian political party, Golkar, should reconsider its decision to select a former general indicted for crimes against humanity as its candidate for presidential elections in July, Human Rights Watch said today.
The former general, Wiranto, was chief of Indonesia's armed forces in 1999 when the Indonesian army and military-backed militias carried out numerous atrocities against East Timorese after they voted for independence. In February 2003, he was indicted for crimes against humanity by the U.N.-sponsored Special Panels for Serious Crimes of the Dili District Court and named as a chief suspect by the Indonesian Human Rights Commission.
"Golkar should be embarrassed to select someone who has been indicted for crimes against humanity as its presidential candidate," said Brad Adams, executive director of the Asia Division at Human Rights Watch. "If Golkar has really reformed itself after the massive rights violations of the Suharto years, it should be distancing itself from its dark past instead of embracing it.""
Human Rights Watch said that the party's decision to nominate former General Wiranto calls into question Golkar's commitment to reform after the dictatorial reign of its former leader, President Suharto. The nomination also raises the possibility that Indonesia will elect a president who will be unable to travel to other countries.
The charges against Wiranto are so serious that the United States has put Wiranto and others accused of crimes in East Timor on a visa watch list that could bar them from entering the country. Human Rights Watch called on other countries to enact similar bans to send the message to Golkar and Indonesian voters that electing someone allegedly responsible for such serious crimes is unacceptable to the international community.
"Countries with a commitment to the rule of law and justice should send a message that Wiranto's election could make Indonesia a pariah state that they would have difficulty dealing with," said Adams.
On February 24, 2003, the U.N. sponsored East Timor Serious Crimes Unit filed an indictment for crimes against humanity against Wiranto and three other Indonesian generals, three colonels and the former governor of East Timor. The charges include murder, arson, destruction of property and forced relocation.
The indictment covers crimes committed before and after East Timor's referendum on independence in August 1999, and the Serious Crimes Unit has submitted 1,500 pages of evidence in support. All of the suspects are believed to be in Indonesia.
However, Indonesia's current foreign minister, Hasan Wirajuda, said the government would "simply ignore" the indictments by the U.N.-sponsored tribunal. In addition, the Indonesian Attorney General's office has ignored the recommendations of its own national human rights commission that General Wiranto should be put on trial, allowing Wiranto to remain free from criminal prosecution.
Human Rights Watch renewed its call for U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to commission a report by a group of experts to examine all options for justice for East Timor, including examining the Jakarta trial process, looking at mechanisms for extradition and trials of key suspects, and considering ways to strengthen the Serious Crimes Unit's capacity to continue its investigations and prosecutions. Due to the lack of a credible process in Indonesia, the burden of accountability will be left with the unit and East Timor unless the United Nations acts to establish another mechanism.
"Wiranto's nomination and the failure of the Indonesian justice system underscore why the international community needs to ensure a credible and effective court to bring to justice those responsible for crimes committed in East Timor," said Adams.
When East Timor voted for independence in September 1999 in a U.N.-administered referendum, the Indonesian military and pro-Jakarta Timorese militias went on a campaign of murder, arson and forced expulsion. An estimated 1,000 to 2,000 East Timorese civilians lost their lives in the months before, and days immediately after, the vote. Approximately 500,000 people were forced from their homes or fled to seek refuge.