East Timor made steady progress toward self-government, with full independence scheduled for May 20, 2002. Under the auspices of the U.N. Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET), it held a peaceful election in August for a constituent assembly whose delegates then proceeded to discuss and debate the nature of the new state: how it would be structured, how power would be shared, what fundamental rights would be guaranteed. In September, an all-East Timorese Council of Ministers was appointed as the effective cabinet. The guerrilla force, Falintil, was transformed during the year into a component of the new East Timorese Defence Force. Policing was increasingly turned over to local graduates of the East Timorese police academy. In October, an East Timorese replaced a Tanzanian expatriate as general prosecutor.
The slow pace of justice continued to be a source of frustration for East Timorese jurists, human rights advocates, and victims alike, with much of the blame focused on UNTAET's Serious Crimes Unit. Nevertheless, prosecutions for serious crimes committed in 1999 did take place, with the first conviction in November 2001 of a former militia leader for crimes against humanity.
East Timorese who fled or were forcibly expelled to West Timor in 1999 began to return home in greater numbers. In May, a fifteen-year-old East Timorese girl was rescued and returned to East Timor from West Timor where she had been held in sexual slavery in a militia-controlled camp. Following the August election, the rate of return increased, with more than 3,000 people returning in October. Although reports continued of militia leaders in the West Timor camps intimidating refugees and spreading disinformation to discourage them from returning, their hold over the camps seemed to be steadily declining.
East Timor took a giant step toward independence with a widely praised election on August 30, 2001, the second anniversary of the referendum that produced a vote to separate from Indonesia--and devastating violence. The election for a constituent assembly involved sixteen parties competing for eighty-eight seats. Nearly the entire eligible voting population registered and participated, with almost none of the political violence that had been widely predicted. Prior to the elections, in June, the National Council of East Timorese Resistance (CNRT), the pro-independence coalition that had dominated East Timor's political life for the last two years, quietly dissolved itself to make way for a more competitive political system.
Justice for the 1999 violence in East Timor continued to be elusive. By late November, the office of the general prosecutor in Dili, the capital, had filed thirty-three indictments for serious crimes, four of which involved crimes against humanity. But many of the more than seventy suspects named in the indictments were militia members or Indonesian army officers living in Indonesia, and unlikely to be prosecuted there, let alone extradited to East Timor.
The sentences handed down by the panel of East Timorese and international judges in the Dili District Court reflected the seriousness of the crimes. On January 25, Joao Fernandes became the first person convicted of murder in connection with the 1999 violence. He received a sentence of twelve years. (He then escaped, but was eventually recaptured.) Augostino da Costa, who was convicted in July of killing a local employee of the United Nations Mission in East Timor (UNAMET) on August 31, 1999, received a fifteen-year prison sentence. Defendants who cooperated fully with the court and were shown to have themselves been under threat of death from their commanders when they killed were given similarly heavy sentences.
While such terms for serious crimes would ordinarily have occasioned little comment, some senior East Timorese officials, including Xanana Gusmao, former resistance leader and East Timor's president-in-waiting, questioned whether prosecuting East Timorese served the interests of justice when the Indonesian architects of the 1999 violence were not even indicted.
The Serious Crimes Unit's need to clear the backlog of cases, involving long-detained suspects, also meant that investigators and prosecutors had no time to prepare cases against top militia commanders believed to have been responsible for crimes against humanity--cases which should have been prepared as a top priority when UNTAET first arrived in Dili. This meant that some commanders, such as Cancio de Carvalho and his brother, Nemencio, could negotiate their return to East Timor from West Timor on the understanding they would face trial, yet without any serious prospect of prosecution.
Criticism of the Serious Crimes Unit surfaced repeatedly during the year, notably poor administration and weakness of its senior staff, and several good prosecutors and investigators left in frustration.
Problems also continued with the Dili court due to its lack of good interpreters, poor or nonexistent translations of dossiers, inadequate court reporters, and inexperienced defense counsel and other court personnel. In Baucau, East Timor's second largest city, the district court was briefly closed in May after assaults on a judge and prosecutor. Court personnel complained that the U.N. police had failed to provide adequate security in the face of threats, apparently from people unhappy with court decisions.
On October 4, a U.S. Federal Court judge ruled in response to a lawsuit based on the Alien Torts Claim Act that Indonesian General Johny Lumintang should pay damages of U.S. $66 million for his role in the human rights violations committed by the Indonesian army following the August 30, 1999, referendum in East Timor.
On October 16, during a seminar in Dili on "Justice and Accountability in East Timor," East Timorese nongovernmental organizations called for an international ad hoc tribunal to be set up to prosecute war crimes and crimes against humanity in East Timor occurring after Indonesia's 1975 invasion of the country. One week later, on October 23, Jakarta's chief justice of the Supreme Court promised that the long-delayed ad hoc human rights court to try the East Timor cases would be up and running in Jakarta by December.
In April East Timor's provisional legislature, the National Council, approved the establishment of a Truth, Reception, and Reconciliation. It was designed both to facilitate the return of former militia members from West Timor and to ease the burden on the formal judicial system by allowing those responsible for less serious crimes, such as arson, to confess their crimes before a commission panel and receive a punishment of community service.
There were some instances of attacks on Muslims during the year, but they were quickly condemned by East Timorese and UNTAET officials. On January 1 and 2, 2001, stones were thrown at Muslims living in the An-Nur mosque in Dili, and on March 7, the mosque in Baucau was destroyed.
A long-awaited labor law was finally passed by the National Council in July. Drafted with the help of the International Labor Organization, it established a system of labor relations in accordance with ILO standards.
East Timor's human rights defenders operated freely and played an active role in lobbying UNTAET and transitional government institutions. In July, the country's premier human rights organization, Yayasan Hak, led an effort to challenge UNTAET regulations that it felt compromised the independence of the judiciary in East Timor; the regulations were changed as a result. There were no attacks on human rights defenders. UNTAET's Human Rights Unit provided human rights training programs for East Timorese NGOs.
Australia continued to play a particularly significant role in the reconstruction of East Timor given its proximity to the new country, and Japan was the largest single donor. East Timor in general, however, enjoyed strong support from the international donor community.
In November 2000 and June 2001, international donor conferences were held in Dili with the specific aim of providing assistance to the East Timorese Defence Force. Australia was expected to provide major aid to the new force; lusophone countries were prominently represented at the conference, including Portugal, Angola, and Mozambique.
The E.U., U.S., Canada, and Australia were among the most active donors with regard to supporting justice projects.
Portugal and the lusophone countries, notably Brazil, continued to provide important assistance to East Timor, particularly in the field of education and culture. Some three hundred students from East Timor went to Portugal for post-high school studies, and some 150 Portuguese schoolteachers arrived in East Timor.
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