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East Timor's first year of freedom from Indonesia was largely devoted to recovery and reconstruction from the September 1999 violence that left the entire country a charred ruin. As they rebuilt, East Timorese and the U.N. Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) had to decide on how to handle past abuses, how to prevent new ones, and how to build basic institutions to ensure the protection of human rights. Progress was slow, particularly in bringing the perpetrators of the 1999 crimes to justice. By October, however, a new court system and police force were in place, two daily newspapers were circulating, NGOs were flourishing, and intense discussions on the country's future constitution were taking place.

The new East Timor was not free of human rights violations. Many East Timorese returning from West Timor were abused for alleged militia links by local officials of the National Council of East Timorese Resistance (CNRT), UNTAET's governing partner, and by members of the former guerrilla army, Falintil; several returnees were killed. U.N. police lacked the capacity and often the will to prevent such abuse. Members of the country's Muslim, Protestant, and ethnic Chinese minorities found themselves persecuted because of suspected ties to the Indonesian power structure. CNRT leaders were not always tolerant of political organizations with viewpoints different from their own.

Human Rights Developments

On October 19, the Indonesian People's Consultative Assembly voted to accept the results of the August 30 referendum in which close to 80 percent of East Timor's population had voted to separate from Indonesia. On October 22, Xanana Gusmao, for seven years a political prisoner in Jakarta, returned to Dili as president of the CNRT. UNTAET came into being through Security Council Resolution 1272 of October 25, 1999. East Timor became, for all intents and purposes, a U.N. protectorate governed by a special representative of the secretary-general with close to absolute powers. The first regulation adopted by the new administration noted that anyone holding public office or engaged in public duties in East Timor would be obliged to observe human rights standards embodied in a list of international treaties. (At its inception in 1998, the CNRT committed itself to upholding the same standards in its "Magna Carta of Freedoms, Rights and Duties for the People of East Timor.")

UNTAET had to create basic institutions from scratch. The first East Timorese judges, prosecutors, and public defenders were installed on January 7, 2000 but the court building, destroyed by the militias, was not ready until March. At one point, UNTAET's own police stopped making any arrests of suspected criminals, including those involved in the 1999 violence, because it had no place to put them; the one detention center in the entire country, a former Ministry of Tourism building, had long since exceeded capacity, and the main prison in the capital, Dili, was only rehabilitated in May. The police academy started training its first East Timorese recruits in late March.

As in many other peacekeeping missions, UNTAET's civilian police (civpol) were a major problem. Recruitment was agonizingly slow, and the overall quality of those recruited was low. Most civpols were recruited for three-month tours of duty, hardly enough time to understand the place or the people. Almost none spoke a language intelligible to the East Timorese, and interpreters were scarce, leading to a reliance on informal security forces set up by the CNRT, whose activities civpol had almost no capacity to monitor or control.

Because almost all of East Timor's lawyers had been trained in Indonesian universities, UNTAET decided in November 1999 that Indonesian law would be the applicable law except where it conflicted with international standards. It took until September, however, to come up with an acceptable provisional criminal procedure code. UNTAET police from close to fifty countries had little guidance in criminal procedure in the intervening months and often operated according to the procedures they knew from home.

The process of investigating crimes against humanity in East Timor was slowed by some of the same problems of lack of institutional infrastructure, untrained civpols, and bureaucratic divisions within UNTAET. As early as December 1999, UNTAET decided that aninternational panel of the Dili district court would be set up to investigate international crimes, such as crimes against humanity, and all serious offenses, such as murder and rape, that occurred from January 1, 1999 through October 25, 1999.

None of the civpol who were legally empowered to investigate the 1999 crimes, however, received any training in investigating crimes against humanity until late June. Most civpol treated each case as a routine homicide investigation, with no attention to the role of the Indonesian state or to the links among the different crimes. The short tours of duty meant that every new investigator coming in tended to start the questioning of witnesses from scratch.

Authority for investigations changed repeatedly. In late November 1999, a special five-member commission appointed by U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson arrived in Dili to hear testimony from over one hundred eyewitnesses to murder, rape, and arson. Known as the International Commission of Inquiry on East Timor (ICIET), the group issued a report on January 31, 2000, recommending, among other things, that an international tribunal be set up to prosecute those responsible for the abuses. In his letter forwarding the report to the Security Council, Secretary-General Kofi Annan did not endorse the recommendation for a separate tribunal, stressing that full cooperation should be given to Indonesian efforts to investigate the crimes, but recommended that UNTAET capacity for coordinating investigations be strengthened.

From November to late March, civpol alone had full authority for investigations. Its investigation unit, however, was responsible not just for investigating the 1999 violence but for all ongoing crimes as well. As law and order concerns in East Timor increased, attention to the 1999 crimes was often diverted. On March 22, a war crimes/human rights investigations unit was set up within civpol to be headed by an investigator from the Office of Human Rights Affairs. The change was only on paper; the new unit had no investigators other than civpol. In early June, a prosecution service was set up under UNTAET's judicial affairs department, separate both from civpol and from the Office of Human Rights Affairs (OHRA). On July 20, 2000, UNTAET formally shifted from its original peacekeeping structure to a coalition government with the CNRT. Among the eight "ministries" created was a Ministry of Judicial Affairs to which the investigation unit was formally moved in August.

In the meantime, six different agencies concerned with accountability for the 1999 crimes- judicial affairs, human rights, political affairs, legal affairs, civpol, and the East Timorese courts-went ahead with their efforts, sometimes tripping over each other in the process. East Timorese witnesses to these crimes grew resentful over repeated questioning without any obvious progress in bringing the perpetrators to justice.

If investigations into killings were slow, they were close to non-existent in rape cases. Serious investigations into rape as an element of crimes against humanity only began in July; before then only two rape cases from 1999 were under active investigation. One factor was the lack of women investigators. Less than 4 percent of the civpol force overall was female, and of the handful of women investigators, only one had special training in investigating sexual crimes.

Throughout the year, the relationship with the Indonesian investigation into crimes in East Timor remained delicate. The Indonesian Commission of Inquiry into Human Rights Violations in East Timor (KPP-HAM) visited Dili in December and January; the defense team for Indonesian army officers considered possible suspects in the violence came to East Timor on January 20. On January 31, KPP-HAM issued a thorough and professional report timed to coincide with release of the ICIET report.

The quality of the KPP-HAM report served to give the Indonesian effort more credibility than it otherwise might have had, but it also put pressure on the Indonesian Attorney General's Office to come up with indictments. To get those indictments, the attorney general needed UNTAET's help; his office had almost no evidence that would stand up in court. UNTAET, for its part, recognized that those most responsible for the 1999 violence were all in Indonesia. If UNTAET was fully cooperative with the Indonesian process, not only might the interests of justice be better served, but the Attorney General's Office also would have no excuse for not proceeding with prosecutions.

Accordingly, on April 6, UNTAET and the Indonesian government signed a Memorandum of Understanding that would facilitate the exchange of evidentiary materials and enable one country to request the other to question witnesses, make arrests, or "transfer" suspects as necessary. Indonesia made its first formal request under the M.O.U. on May 15 for assistance in five cases; it sent a team of seventeen investigators to pursue that request in July. As of August, UNTAET had made no requests of its own.

In mid-May, Xanana Gusmao, president of the CNRT, announced the establishment of a National Return and Reconciliation Commission. Plans for the commission were further developed in June, and by August, a coordinating committee led by UNTAET was considering a plan that would allow perpetrators of lesser offenses, such as arson or looting, to make a full confession of their misdeeds before the commission. Traditional justice mechanisms at the local level would then assign the perpetrator to some form of community service, but the misdeeds, the confession, and the "sentence" would be registered with the formal court system.

The focus on the 1999 violence tended to obscure ongoing violations. Violence against East Timorese returning from West Timor was a serious problem, although the vast majority of the more than 170,000 who had returned by September 2000 did so safely. Those linked, or suspected of having links, to militia groups or to the Indonesian army sometimes faced mob violence, particularly in late 1999 and early 2000 when the two major agencies involved in facilitating returns, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Office on Migration (IOM), gave local communities little warning of planned returns.

In some cases, civpols working outside the capital ceded authority to CNRT or to the former guerrilla army, Falintil, to screen returnees and question them about past militia affiliations. In early February, a returning militia member was beaten and stabbed by members of an "investigation unit" of the CNRT in Liquica, a town near Dili. In the town of Tibar, even nearer to Dili, a suspected militia member was kicked to death in April after having been held for five days in an illegal detention facility. In the latter two cases, UNTAET civpols took the suspected perpetrators into custody, but the screening process was allowed to continue. In Aileu, the town in the interior chosen as the country's future capital by Xanana Gusmao, where Falintil guerrillas were stationed, Falintil ran detention and "reeducation" centers without serious interference from UNTAET.

Local CNRT leaders were also responsible for intimidation and harassment of minorities. Some 265 Indonesian Muslims remained virtually under siege in the Dili mosque to which they had fled in September 1999. Most had been long-term residents of Dili. Congregations of the Assembly of God Protestant church in the districts of Ermera and Aileu came under attack, most seriously on June 9 when three churches were burned. The pastors were accused of having links in 1999 to an Aileu-based militia. Indonesian businesspeople of ethnic Chinese background faced threats and extortion from gangs apparently under the control of CNRT leaders. The threats became particularly pronounced after a riot in the Dili sports stadium on April 30 in which two businessmen were accused of financially backing a group seen as opposed to the CNRT.No evidence to that effect was ever produced. East Timorese ethnic Chinese were also forced to pay protection money to gangs linked to local leaders.

Human Rights Watch World Report 2000

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