Damiri was charged with responsibility for a series of attacks on civilians committed by his subordinates in April and September 1999. The court was established to prosecute those responsible for the 1999 violence in East Timor.
"Damiri is the poster child for impunity in Indonesia," said Brad Adams, executive director of Human Rights Watch's Asia Division. "Even the prosecution asked for an acquittal. It's clear that the government is not interested in holding senior military officials accountable for their actions, no matter how heinous."
Damiri oversaw all Indonesian military operations in East Timor at the time that serious human rights crimes, including murder, arson, and forced expulsion, were carried out by the Indonesian military and military-supported militias in 1999. Damiri has been indicted separately by the U.N.-created Serious Crimes Unit in the East Timor capital, Dili, but Indonesia has refused to turn any of its citizens over for trial.
As if to demonstrate the lack of seriousness of the trial process, on June 5, 2003, prosecutor S. Hozie rested the Attorney General's case against Damiri by asking the court to acquit him of all charges, stating that, "The defendant had not been proven guilty of crimes against humanity."
Other convicted officers also remain free pending appeal. Few people in Indonesia believe Damiri will ever serve any time in prison.
Instead of arresting or at least suspending Damiri from the armed forces, in December 1999 he was promoted to the position of operational assistant to the armed forces chief of staff in Jakarta. Damiri is now a senior officer responsible for prosecuting the war in Aceh province.
"Damiri must be removed from his position in Aceh immediately," said Adams. "A convicted human rights abuser must not be involved in conducting a war. His role in Aceh is not only an embarrassment to Indonesia but causes grave concern that the tactics used in East Timor may also be used in Aceh."
Damiri, the highest-ranking military defendant in Jakarta's ad hoc court on East Timor, missed at least four of his scheduled court appearances due to his involvement in directing military operations in Aceh province, now under martial law since May 19, 2003.
Human Rights Watch has long maintained that Indonesia's efforts to bring high-ranking perpetrators to justice have been a failure. (See "Justice Denied for East Timor: Indonesia's Sham Prosecutions, the Need to Strengthen the Trial Process in East Timor, and the Imperative of U.N. Action," on Related Material on this page.) Human Rights Watch renewed its call for the U.N. Secretary-General 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, considering ways to strengthen East Timor's Serious Crimes Unit's capacity to continue its investigations and prosecutions, and the possible creation of an ad hoc international tribunal. Leading donors, such as the United States, Australia, European Union and Japan, were urged to support such an inquiry.
"Indonesia had the chance to prove that it could prosecute and discipline its soldiers for violations of international law," said Adams. "We now know conclusively that it either cannot or will not. Now it's time for justice to be offered to the East Timorese by the international community. Indonesia's friends need to make it clear to the Indonesian government and military that good relations are at stake, particularly with the military."
Damiri's verdict in Jakarta effectively brings the Indonesian ad hoc court on East Timor to a close. Of the eighteen defendants tried in Jakarta, twelve have been acquitted. The five other convicted defendants received nominal sentences and have not served any time in prison, pending the result of the appeals process. Former East Timor Governor Abilio Soares, the first defendant convicted, recently had his three-year sentence upheld by the appeals panel. He remains free pending the decision of Indonesia's Supreme Court.
In September 1999 the Indonesian National Army and Timorese militias went on a campaign of murder, arson, and forced expulsion after the people of East Timor voted for independence in a United Nations administered referendum. After almost twenty-five years of brutal occupation, an estimated 1,000 to 2,000 East Timorese civilians lost their lives in the months before, and days immediately after, the voting. Approximately 500,000 people were forced from their homes or fled to seek refuge.
Damiri was charged with responsibility for the actions of his subordinates in relation to the attack on the Liquisa Church and Pastor Rafael Dos Santos' residence on April 6th, 1999, the attack on Isaac Leandro's house and Manuel Carrascalao's house in Dili on April 17th, 1999, the attack on Dili Diocese on September 5th, 1999, the attack on Bishop Belo's residence on September 6th, 1999, and the Suai Ave Maria Church massacre on September 6th, 1999.
On February 22, 2003, East Timor's Serious Crimes Unit filed an indictment against Damiri charging him with five counts of crimes against humanity for murder, persecution, and deportation or forcible transfer of the civilian population. The charges stemmed from the criminal acts and omissions perpetrated by the Indonesian military and militia groups throughout East Timor in 1999. Damiri was charged with both individual criminal responsibility and command responsibility for the actions or omissions of his subordinates. Indonesia has refused to extradite the general to East Timor to stand trial.