(New York) - The first verdict and sentence in the East Timor trials being held in Jakarta fall far short of accountability for past rights violations, Human Rights Watch said today.
The ad hoc human rights court for East Timor convicted former East Timor governor Abilio Osorio Soares of crimes against humanity and sentenced him to three years imprisonment on August 14, 2002. Soares had been implicated in the attacks on an independence leader's house in April 1999 and the Suai church massacre in September 1999.
"The court's action is a mockery of justice. The sentence amounts to little more than a slap on the wrist," said Mike Jendrzejczyk, Washington director for Asia for Human Rights Watch. "This signals that Indonesia is not serious about holding the worst abusers accountable."
The prosecutor had asked the court to sentence Soares to 10 and one-half years, just over the minimum. The maximum penalty possible was death.
Verdicts for several other defendants are expected soon, including those for former police commander of East Timor Brig. General Timbul Silaen and two lieutenant colonels implicated in the Suai massacre.
"The next verdicts are the ones to watch," said Jendrzejczyk. "Almost any guilty verdict will seem tougher by comparison, giving the false impression that justice has been done."
Human Rights Watch previously expressed concern over legal loopholes that threatened to undermine the effectiveness and comprehensiveness of the Indonesian judicial process in the East Timor cases.
Judges did not allow the trials to be derailed by a constitutional amendment banning retroactive application of laws, as many feared. But the trials were still hindered by a definition of crimes against humanity that limited command responsibility for the actions of subordinates, and by a presidential decision limiting the mandate for the tribunal to a handful of cases that occurred in April 1999 and after the referendum of August 30, 1999.
The indictments portray the 1999 violence in East Timor as a civil disturbance rather than a systematic and widespread terror campaign, thereby ensuring from the outset that the establishment of cases of crimes against humanity would be much more difficult. The role of the military and Indonesian officials in organizing and arming militia groups and in orchestrating the violence has never been fully revealed in court. Only four East Timorese witnesses testified in Jakarta and at least one of these has alleged intimidation. Many indicted suspects have not even been detained.
"The entire process is deeply flawed," said Jendrzejczyk.
After the verdict, Soares said he would appeal, repeating his claim that he could not have prevented well-armed groups from acting in a "horizontal conflict." According to Indonesian press accounts, he also said that "many orders came right from the center and did not involve the province."
"The conduct of the trials thus far undermines the Bush administration's claim that expanded U.S. cooperation with the Indonesian military is now justified and will benefit human rights," Jendrzejczyk said. "We're a long way from seeing any serious accountability."
Human Rights Watch strongly opposes any increased U.S. security assistance for the Indonesian armed forces until the Indonesian government demonstrates effective civilian control of the military and holds senior military officers accountable for human rights violations in East Timor and Indonesia.