Tribunal planned on Timor massacre

Issue 

Tribunal planned on Timor massacre

By David Robie

AUCKLAND — Human rights advocates are planning a "people's tribunal" of international jurists to put Indonesia on trial over violations in East Timor.

The hearing is expected to be convened in Bangkok in September to coincide with the Non-Aligned Movement summit in Jakarta.

The advocates hope to increase international pressure on the Suharto regime over last November's massacre of unarmed mourners in an East Timorese cemetery. A young New Zealander died in the massacre.

A Timorese campaigner visiting Auckland in July revealed the plan and also appealed for an international investigation into the Santa Cruz massacre.

"After Kuwait, Timor is now the big test for international human rights", says Agio Pereira, project officer of the Sydney-based East Timor Relief Association. "The people's tribunal could be a catalyst for justice and self-determination."

Pereira says a peace plan advocated by a former United Nations envoy, Jose Ramos-Horta, and other Timorese resistance leaders was the best hope for his country's future. Both the New Zealand and Australian governments have reacted coolly to the proposal.

Supporters of East Timor self-determination are pressing for the release of a confidential report submitted to UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali by his personal envoy, Amos Wako.

The envoy visited East Timor in February and is understood to have written a "blistering critique" of the Indonesian government.

During recent months Indonesian judges have imposed harsh sentences on five Timorese protesters who were fired on, while handing out relatively mild punishments to Indonesian soldiers accused over the shootings.

A 29-year old student leader, Gregorio da Cunha Saldanha, was jailed for life for having organised the protest which led to the massacre.

Military tribunals have sentenced nine soldiers and one policeman to jail terms ranging from eight to 20 months for "violating military regulations" during the demonstration.

Although an official Indonesian report put the death toll at 50, independent sources, human rights agencies and eyewitness journalists have estimated that at least 150 died.

"We believe the actual figure is 198 killed, based on hospital mony and the number of disappearances", claims Pereira. "Seven victims were actually buried under an asphalt road. New Zealand should ask questions about the dead and missing."

The New York-based international rights group Asia Watch has condemned the light punishments imposed on soldiers, saying the courts martial were "stage managed" to appease international criticism.

The trials revealed a "sloppy, ill-prepared, ill-informed, poorly disciplined and poorly led army", says the Asia Watch report, adding that they did nothing to "pierce the secrecy surrounding how the shooting started or what happened to the bodies of those killed".

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