INDONESIA: Sham trials for generals
On August 5, the ad hoc human rights court in Indonesia accepted an appeal, and acquitted four generals of any involvement in the killing of at least 1500 East Timorese during the 1999 terror campaign that was orchestrated by the Indonesian Armed Forces (TNI). Six days later, another prominent general was acquitted for his role in the 1984 Tanjung Priok massacre of 23 people in Jakarta.
The two decisions have been strongly condemned by Indonesian and international human rights and solidarity organisations.
Major-General Sriyanto Muntrasan — the current head of the infamous Kopassus commando unit — was accused of ordering soldiers to shoot into a crowd of protesters in the Tanjung Port area when he was an army captain in 1984. The incident resulted in 23 deaths, at least 50 wounded and several "disappearances" of protesters. Despite compelling evidence, he and other officers have received no convictions.
The four generals on trial in the East Timor case — former regional military commander Major General Adam Damiri, former Dili police chief Hulman Gultom and former military chiefs Brigidier General Nuer Muis and Lieutenant Colonel Soedjarwo — were amongst a group of 16 Indonesian military and police officers out of a total of 18 charged with human rights crimes in East Timor. None of the 16 have been convicted.
On only two East Timorese have the charges stuck — the notorious militia leader Eurico Guterres and former East Timor Governor Abilio Soares. On August 5, however, the court halved Guterres' 10-year sentence to five years — below the legal minimum.
An August 6 media release by the Britain-based solidarity group Tapol commented: "Although an International Commission of Inquiry on East Timor recommended in January 2000 that an international tribunal for East Timor should be set up, the UN controversially opted instead to give Indonesia the chance to bring the alleged perpetrators to justice under its own legal system.
"That process has quite clearly failed ... Indonesia has shown that it is unwilling and unable to establish the truth of what happened in East Timor — especially as regards the role of its security forces — and to hold the perpetrators to account for their crimes."
Asmara Nababan, a former member of Indonesia's National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM), stated: "These decisions confirm the view that the tribunal is unfair, and it appears that this impunity will as a result be perpetuated in other human rights cases."
Brian Adams, the director of the Asia division of Human Rights Watch, remarked that "the decisions show that courts in Indonesia are simply not independent and are incapable of rendering justice for the atrocities committed in East Timor". John Miller, spokesperson for the US-based East Timor Action Network, commented that "These acquittals shouldn't surprise anyone. Now that Indonesia's judicial farce is in its final act, the United Nations must step in and create an international tribunal with the resources and clout to credibly prosecute the masterminds of the terror in East Timor."
Most of the generals involved in the TNI terror campaign in East Timor have been promoted or maintain prominent positions in the military. Damiri, for example, has been given responsibility for overseeing the 15-month military siege in Aceh, where there has been the same pattern of indiscriminate killing and torture as there was under his command in East Timor. Other generals that operated in East Timor have been linked to serious human rights abuses in West Papua.
In response to the decision, East Timorese foreign affairs minister Jose Ramos Horta has repeated the call for supporters of East Timor not to campaign for an international war crimes tribunal, on the basis that such a tribunal could have a destabilising influence on Indonesia and affect East Timor.
His preference is for a type of truth and reconciliation commission, such as was held in post-apartheid South Africa. In an article in the August 13 Sydney Morning Herald, prominent West Papuan human rights advocate Jacob Rumbiak commented that: "I understand East Timor's political circumstances and the need for good relations with Indonesia ... but bringing justice to the East Timorese would have created a very positive precedent. Without that our own human rights campaign seems hopeless."
A letter co-signed by 106 East Timorese individuals and representatives of human rights and non-government organisations on July 20 called on the United Nations General Secretary to support some sort of tribunal: "We, the East Timorese people, argued that it is the United Nations' responsibility to examine and evaluate the court processes that have taken place in both countries. The United Nations should seek any other mechanisms and/or alternatives to bring to justice those perpetrators of crimes against humanity, where there is evidence that the process was unjust."
The US State Department has also responded with a strong criticism of the decision regarding the East Timor trials. Anxious to resume military co-operation with Indonesia, it wants some kind of due process or convictions in order to be able to so with a minimum of protest. The Australian and British governments have made no comment.
From Green Left Weekly, August 18, 2004.
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