(New York) - Now that the Indonesian courts have acquitted or overturned the convictions of all Indonesians indicted for crimes against humanity in East Timor, the United Nations needs to take steps to create a judicial process that will bring to justice those responsible for these crimes, Human Rights Watch said today. The support of the United States, Japan, Australia, and European Union countries will be essential in this effort.
The appeals court in Jakarta today announced that it had overturned the convictions of four high-ranking Indonesian security officials and cut in half the 10-year sentence of Eurico Guterres, the former leader of the notorious Aitarak militia in East Timor.
"The decisions show that courts in Indonesia are simply not independent and are incapable of rendering justice for the atrocities committed in East Timor," said Brad Adams, executive director of Human Rights Watch's Asia Division. "Indonesia has given the international community no choice but to initiate a justice mechanism for these appalling crimes, which took place in full view of the world in 1999."
The four acquitted officials are Major General Adam Rachmat Damiri, who was commander of the military region that included East Timor and the highest-ranking officer to face trial; Colonel Nur Muis, who as commander of the Indonesian armed forces in East Timor was Damiri's direct subordinate in the Indonesian army's chain of command; former Police Chief Commissioner Hulman Gultom; and Lieutenant Colonel Soedjarwo. All had been found guilty by the ad hoc Human Rights Court in Jakarta for crimes against humanity, which Indonesia created in an attempt to shield itself from calls for an international tribunal.
Damiri and Muis were also indicted in February 2003 on three counts of crimes against humanity-murder, persecution, and deportation-by the U.N. Serious Crimes Unit in a joint indictment with East Timorese authorities at the Dili District Court in East Timor. The Indonesian government has vowed not to extradite anyone to the U.N.-backed courts in Dili. The decision by the Indonesian appeals court ensures that there is currently no chance for senior Indonesian military officials to be held accountable for the crimes committed by Indonesian army and security forces in East Timor.
Demonstrating its intent to shield Indonesians from justice for crimes in East Timor, the appeals court earlier this year overturned the convictions of five other Indonesians. Following today's decision, only two of the 18 who were originally tried by the ad hoc human rights court may serve prison time. Both of these men, Abilio Soares, the former governor of East Timor, and Eurico Guterres, are ethnic East Timorese.
"The results of these cases show that Indonesia remains committed to the fiction that the violence in East Timor was carried out only by East Timorese," said Adams. "The well-documented reality is that the violence was planned and orchestrated by the Indonesian military. The judicial games being played in Jakarta cannot alter these facts."
Human Rights Watch urged the United Nations to stop dragging its feet in creating a Commission of Experts to review the judicial processes in Jakarta and Dili and propose a bona fide judicial process that will bring to justice those responsible for the violence. In a recent letter to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Human Rights Watch along with other human rights organizations urged the United Nations to immediately establish a Commission of Experts to review the judicial process in both East Timor and Indonesia and to make recommendations on how to resolve the impunity gap created by the Indonesian ad hoc Court in Jakarta.
"It's also time for the United States, Australia, Japan, and EU countries to realize that they should not do business with Jakarta on anything related to the military so long as Indonesia protects war criminals within its ranks," said Adams. "The scope for military reform is bleak so long as the military is incapable of cleaning its own house of human rights abusers."
In September 1999 the Indonesian Armed Forces and Timorese militias embarked on a campaign of murder, arson, and forced expulsion after the people of East Timor voted for independence in a U.N.-administered referendum. After a quarter century of brutal occupation, an estimated 1,000 to 2,000 East Timorese civilians were killed in the months before-and days immediately after-the vote in 1999. Approximately 500,000 people were forced from their homes or fled to seek refuge.
Human Rights Watch has long maintained that Indonesia has failed in its efforts to bring to justice high-ranking perpetrators of crimes committed in East Timor. For details, please see "Justice Denied for East Timor: Indonesia's Sham Prosecutions, the Need to Strengthen the Trial Process in East Timor, and the Imperative of U.N. Action".