(New York) - Human Rights Watch today will urge the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, meeting in emergency session in Geneva, to establish a high-profile commission of inquiry to investigate human rights abuses in East Timor.
"It is imperative that the international community find out what has happened in East Timor," said Sidney Jones, executive director of the Asia Division at Human Rights Watch. "We know that terrible things have happened since the U.N. and international observers were forced out at the end of a gun two weeks ago, but we won't know the full extent of the crimes without a serious, professional, fully funded investigation."
The special session of the Commission on Human Rights, which opens today, will focus exclusively on the ongoing crisis in East Timor. It is only the fourth such session in the Commission's history. In 1992 and 1993, the Commission held special sessions on the situation in the former Yugoslavia, and in 1994 on the situation in Rwanda. The current session follows a call from Portugal on September 9 subsequently endorsed by a majority of the Commission's members.
Human Rights Watch will call for the establishment of an Commission of Experts with a clear mandate and resources sufficient to conduct an in-depth investigation of the violence that has shaken the troubled region. The international monitoring organization is urging that the investigators be authorized to look into human rights abuses that have occurred since January 27, 1999, the date when President Habibie announced that he would give East Timorese people the option of declaring independence from Indonesia. The organization is calling for particular attention to the seemingly orchestrated violence and mayhem that erupted immediately following the UN announcement on September 4 that the people of East Timor had voted for independence by close to a four-to-one margin.
Noting that nearly the entire population of East Timor has been uprooted in recent weeks, the international monitoring group urges that the Commission of Experts be mandated to take testimony from witnesses and victims outside of East Timor as well as inside. More than one hundred and fifty thousand East Timorese are now gathered in camps in West Timor and reports suggest that many were forcibly moved across the border by Indonesian security forces and their militia proxies. Despite strong criticism from international observers, the Indonesian government has made plans to move many of these displaced Timorese to other islands in Indonesia further from their homeland.
Human Rights Watch is urging Mary Robinson, the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights, to immediately appoint a team of international investigators with the highest possible qualifications in human rights and criminal law. To be effective, the Commission of Experts must work closely with the staff of the United Nations Mission in East Timor (UNAMET), who already possess considerable information on developments in East Timor, and must be assisted by full-time staff with country expertise and the necessary fact-finding, linguistic, and forensic capabilities as well as access to military intelligence.
The organization emphasizes that the goal of the investigators must be to determine not only individual responsibility for the abuses but command responsibility as well. Human Rights Watch specifically urges that the staff consist of full-time personnel -- not of persons seconded part-time from other U.N. duties -- and that it be directly accountable to a single chairperson who in turn will be personally accountable for the work of the investigatory body. Finally, Human Rights Watch is calling on governments to make voluntary contributions to fund the work of the Commission of Experts and to share intelligence information with the Commission to facilitate its investigations.
"It will not do to have part-time bureaucrats running this investigation," said Jones. "We need full-time, experienced professionals who know the country, know how to uncover the facts, and who have the contacts necessary to look closely into military and covert operations and find out who ordered what.