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Statement by Human Rights Watch to the Commission on Human Rights

Special Session on East Timor, Geneva, September 23-24, 1999

Madam Chair,

Human Rights Watch believes that there is a strong prima facie case that crimes against humanity have been committed in East Timor. We urge the Commission to set up a formal Commission of Experts, composed of expert investigators and given the mandate and resources to conduct a thorough investigation. The investigative body should be empowered, as an interim measure, to report its findings to the Security Council and Third Committee of the General Assembly, and should be directed to issue a report to the next session of the Commission on Human Rights.

An investigative body is urgently needed to clarify the facts. Important questions remain unanswered. It is not known how many people have been killed in East Timor. What we do know, however, makes it imperative that there be a detailed investigation to develop a full account of what has taken place in East Timor. We know for a fact that since January 1999, there has been a pattern of systematic and targeted killings of people suspected of supporting independence or of working with international agencies, including the UN Mission in East Timor (UNAMET). We know for a fact that since the September 4, 1999 announcement that nearly eighty percent of the population opted to reject Indonesian rule, virtually the entire population of East Timor has been uprooted. We know for a fact that tens of thousands of East Timorese have been expelled to West Timor against their will and face further forced displacement to other parts of Indonesia. We know that those displaced in East and West Timor are unprotected and on the verge of starvation. And we know for a fact that much of the physical infrastructure of East Timor has been deliberately and wantonly destroyed.

We believe the destruction, devastation, and forced displacement that have put almost the entire population of East Timor at risk would themselves justify an inquiry into the possibility that crimes against humanity have been committed by the Indonesian army and its proxy militias. We have the names of some people killed, eyewitness accounts of pro-independence supporters being stabbed by militias en route to or in West Timor, detailed accounts of militia attacks on some compounds where East Timorese had sought refuge in the days after the vote results were announced, and eyewitness accounts of the deliberate and systematic forced expulsion of East Timorese into West Timor. Many reports of massacres remain unconfirmed, in part because East Timor has been virtually cut off from the world since the end of the first week in September, and even today, after the arrival of the Interfet forces, there is no reliable information about what happened in the last two weeks in much of the territory.

The perpetrators of this violence must be held accountable and that accountability must extend to the most senior ranks of the Indonesian armed forces. This was no spontaneous eruption of anger by the losers in the August 30 referendum. Rather, there is strong evidence to suggest that it was part of a deliberate Indonesian army strategy to prevent East Timor from becoming independent. The main instruments of this strategy were the ostensibly civilian militias, composed largely but not exclusively of East Timorese, which were organized into a network with a political front organization in early 1999, and which were funded, trained, and equipped by the Indonesian army. Local police and army units were involved, both in supplying the militias and participating in the violence. Battalions 744 and 745 of the Indonesian army, which are about 70 percent East Timorese, were mobilized. Among the organizers of the violence was the military intelligence office based in Dili, known as SGI (Satuan Gabungan Intelijen or joint intelligence unit), and above it, the elite army special forces, called Kopassus.

The tactics used from January until the day the results of the August 30 referendum were announced were a combination of intimidation, harassment, and periodic armed attacks on suspected independence sympathizers and, from mid-June 1999, on UNAMET, international observers, and the press. From September 4, 1999, when UNAMET announced that close to 80 percent of the populace had rejected any continued ties to Indonesia, until the present, the army and militias have resorted to a scorched earth tactic that has left East Timor in ruins. Hundreds of thousands of people have been forced to flee their homes. Places of refuge for the displaced in East Timor, such as schools, church compounds, and other public places, have been targeted. Buildings sheltering the displaced have been burnt to the ground, and those inside have been attacked. Tens of thousands of displaced people escaped to the hills to flee the violence, but others were picked up the militias. The militias reportedly have forced as many as 160,000 East Timorese into neighboring districts in West Timor that are wholly under Indonesian control, with the possible intent of ridding East Timor of pro-independence supporters and preventing their return.

What is the evidence for the above? Some of it is documentary, some of it is anecdotal, some of it remains confidential out of fear of the sources' safety. But some examples are as follows:

A militia leader named Rui Lopes from the western district of Suai told interviewers from an independent television channel in Jakarta that the day before the election results were announced he had taken part in a district level meeting at the house of the district head (bupati) in Suai. He said the bupati and the district military commander have orders that the militias were to burn down Suai, drive UNAMET out, and drive everyone into West Timor. He said the idea was to convince people that the East Timorese were not happy with the result and that UNAMET would be forced to conduct the poll again. He said that the militias in Suai were full of SGI (intelligence) agents.

Tomas Goncalves, another militia leader who fled to Macau following an anti-independence rampage by militias on April 17, 1999 that left between twelve and eighteen dead, told the South China Morning Post on September 16 that the plan to rid East Timor of all independence supporters had been hatched much earlier in the year. He said he had attended a meeting on February 16 in Dili, organized by the head of the SGI, which the heads of all thirteen district-level militias attended. Goncalves said the SGI head, an Indonesian colonel, told them the army was determined not to abandon its supporters in East Timor. Goncalves also told the Post that the colonel had received orders to hold the meeting from a chain of command that extended to Maj. Gen. Zacky Anwar Makarim, the man General Wiranto appointed as his liaison in East Timor in April. Zacky was head of the army intelligence organization, BIA, until January 1999.

The Indonesian government, through the army, not only organized the militia network, but through other branches of the government including the Foreign Ministry, it organized and funded an entire political machine designed to get out the pro-integration vote. The political front for the militias, called the FPDK or Forum for Democracy and Justice, was founded on January 27, 1999, the same day that President Habibie announced he would give the East Timorese the option of independence. One of the leaders of FPDK was Eurico Gutteres, leader of the Aitarak militia in Dili. In April, after two militia rampages that resulted in dozens killed in Liquica, a man who has been the Indonesian Foreign Ministry's spokesman since the late 1970s, Ambassador Francisco Lopes da Cruz, formed a political organization called the Popular Front for East Timor (Barisan Rakyat Timor Timur or BRTT), designed to soften the image of the pro-integration forces. The FPDK and the BRTT, then joined with a third group to form a united pro-integration front, thereby giving an official imprimatur to the militias.

In July 1999 in Dili, Human Rights Watch interviewed a man from Covalima, Suai, who said that the militia in his area, called Laksaur, was led by an East Timorese named Olivio Mendota Morok, a civil servant who had formally worked as an intelligence agent with Kopassus. The Laksaur militia was based at the subdistrict command of the Indonesian army in Salele, Suai. ). On April 5, 1999, the witness had been captured by Laksaur members and brought to the subdistrict military command. He had been tortured in the front office of the command post by a Laksaur commander who himself was a former soldier, dishonorably discharged for stealing weapons in order to commit robbery.

In an interview with the Far Eastern Economic Review, Bambang Wisnumurti, the chief of military intelligence for East Timor, openly admitted the military's role in setting up the militias. He said the rationale was that the independence movement was very well organized but the pro-integration side was not, and they needed help. The article notes that Zacky Anwar, "probably the country's most experienced covert operative," and two other senior intelligence officers were believed to have played major roles in organizing the network, and that Kopassus played a major role in infiltrating local army units and training the Dili-based Aitarak militia in particular. (see Dan Murphy and John McBeth, "Scorched Earth,"Far Eastern Economic Review, September 16, 1999.)

As the date of the referendum approached, members of the Aitarak militia-those with the closest links to SGI and Kopassus-began showing up in other districts. Human Rights Watch learned that Aitarak members showed up in Ermera on August 30-31, the night after the referendum took place and the UNAMET office came under siege. The homes of pro-independence supporters were systematically burned as army and police stood by. When one of those homes was torched by a group of ten armed and masked men, an occupant identified one of the attackers as Maj. Malachie, chief of staff of the district military command, Kodim 1637 in Gleno.

A member of the Aitarak militia named Mariano Cabral, interviewed by local NGOs in West Timor in early September, said Aitarak's firearms were provided by the regional East Timor military command (Korem 164 Wira Dharma) and that each member received a salary of Rp.300,000 per month plus 50 kilograms of rice. Cabral himself was an active duty member of the Indonesian army at the time he joined the militias.

In some cases, East Timorese people who had sought refuge in police or military commands in East Timor were later taken by militias to West Timor, to the towns of Atambua, Kefa, Soe, or Kupang. In some instances, this was voluntary, in others clearly not. There is evidence that the exodus to West Timor was a planned army operation. In Baucau, just before the evacuation of the local office of the United Nations Mission in East Timor (UNAMET) on September 7, the district military commander looked at the UNAMET local staff standing on the tarmac of the Baucau airfield and according to an eyewitness, said, "These are IDPs, right? I have orders that all IDPs have to go to Atambua and Kupang." It was only after intervention by UNAMET international staff insisting that local staff were not internally displaced persons that the East Timorese staff were permitted to board the plane to Dili.

One NGO with observers on the ground has reported that the militias were deliberately spreading false information of imminent attacks by the pro-independence guerrilla army, Falintil, as a way of persuading people to leave in the days after the results of the referendum were announced. In Dili, militia members reportedly went house to house, seeking individual families, and ordering them to leave. The families were taken first to the Dili provincial police command and then transported to West Timor by military ship, airplane, or truck. All such departures are accompanied by militia, police, or army, and sometimes all three, and new groups of militia or police are on hand to monitor the arrivals in West Timor. In most cases, soldiers or police ask those fleeing to register their names. While the name lists may be necessary, as police claimed, to obtain social services from provincial government offices in West Timor, there is concern that they may also be used to keep track of pro-independence people.

According to Human Rights Watch sources, some 15,000 of the displaced now in camps in a district along the north coast of West Timor are from the tiny enclave of Ambeno, formerly Oecusse, a part of East Timor that is wholly surrounded by West Timor. Virtually all the rest of the displaced are from Dili and areas extending to the border with West Timor. Pro-Indonesia forces have stated they intend to retain control of these districts, and forced expulsions appear to have been a means toward that end.

These examples only hint at the volume of information available. With the proper resources, it should be possible for a commission of inquiry to document in great detail the full range of human rights violations that have taken place in East, and more recently West Timor; the immediate perpetrators; and the chain of command within the Indonesian armed forces that made the abuses possible. It will not be an easy task, however, particularly as the departing Indonesian troops and fleeing militia members may have tried to destroy evidence, and the traumatized East Timorese survivors of the terror may be fearful of giving any information that could put them at risk until their security is well and truly guaranteed. Even so, there is much information in the public domain and in the records of many of those who worked in East Timor from June to September 1999 that provide a good starting base.

On September 15, the Security Council, appalled by the worsening situation, condemned the violence perpetrated in East Timor since the referendum and demanded "that those responsible for such acts be brought to justice."

The first and urgently needed step towards accountability is solid documentation of the human rights crimes that have been committed. Several important efforts in this regard are already underway, including information-gathering by UNAMET and refugee interviews by the Australian Section of the International Commission of Jurists. But only a mechanism with the proper mandate and the necessary resources will be able to adequately coordinate and conduct the wide-ranging investigation that will be required to determine both individual and command responsibility for these tragic events. Human Rights Watch therefore calls on the Commission on Human Rights to establish an impartial Commission of Experts to investigate the violence that has been perpetrated against the people of East Timor since January 27, 1999, the date when President Habibie announced that he would give East Timorese the option of declaring independence from Indonesia.

The Commission of Experts should be mandated to collect testimony in all areas where witnesses and victims may be located, whether they are currently within or outside East Timor. It should be empowered to begin its work immediately in order that critical evidence not be lost, and be directed to work in close communication and cooperation with UNAMET. It should be asked to report its findings directly to the Third Committee of the General Assembly and to the Security Council, and to submit a final report to the next session of the Commission on Human Rights.

We urge the Commission on Human Rights to call on all Member States to cooperate with the Commission of Experts by providing all information in their possession. This should include military intelligence information in the possession of governments.

The High Commissioner should be asked to immediately appoint Commissioners with the highest qualifications in human rights and criminal law. It is essential that the Commission of Experts be assisted by full-time staff with country expertise and the necessary fact-finding, linguistic, forensic, and military intelligence capabilities to determine not only individual responsibility for these abuses but command responsibility as well. The staff should consist of full-time personnel, not of persons seconded part-time from other U.N. duties, and it should be directly accountable to a single chairperson who in turn will be personally accountable for the work of the Commission.

It is critical that the Commission of Experts have the resources necessary to carry out its task. In addition to money from the regular U.N. budget, states should be encouraged to make voluntary contributions. We urge the Commission on Human Rights to call on all states to contribute financially to ensure the success of this endeavor.

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