Global Policy Forum

UN Council Stalls Plan for


By Irwin Arieff

July 13, 2005

The Security Council is sitting on a U.N. expert panel's recommendation for an international tribunal to try Indonesian and local militia leaders blamed for a deadly 1999 rampage in East Timor, diplomats and U.N. officials said on Wednesday. The experts submitted their findings on May 26 to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who transmitted their report to the 15-nation council in late June. Normally such a document would be officially published at that time. But the council decided instead to delay its official release at least until Indonesia and East Timor had added their views, council diplomats and U.N. officials said.

Since Indonesia and East Timor's strong opposition to an international court is already well known, human rights activists said the council move raised fears it meant to suppress the report altogether. Twelve rights groups wrote Annan on Tuesday asking him to ensure the report was published "as soon as possible" and its findings discussed by the council. "I have given my report to the council," Annan said when asked if the report was being killed off.

Greek Ambassador Adamantios Vassilakis, the council president for July, denied the council wanted to suppress it. "We received a report from the secretary-general which the council will consider and will take appropriate action at some stage," he said. Asked why there had been no official action to date, he said council members did not want to disturb the current good relations between East Timor and Indonesia, and wanted "to see also what the implementation of that report requires."

Wary of Offending Indonesia

Diplomats said many council members including the United States, China and Russia had been were wary of offending Indonesia by putting out the report without first seeking Jakarta's comments. China and the United States flatly denied standing in the way of its publication. Russia had no immediate comment.

"This issue of justice in East Timor is incredibly embarrassing for Indonesia. It is very worrying that the council now may be falling in line behind them," said Charmain Mohamed, a researcher with New York-based Human Rights Watch. "The fear is that they may be secretly working on a face-saving way forward. At the very least, the report should be published and all the recommendations publicly aired before any deal is struck," Mohamed said in a telephone interview. About 1,500 civilians were killed, 250,000 driven from their homes and others raped and tortured when the Indonesian army and proxy gangs and militia razed much of East Timor in 1999. The violence was triggered by a referendum in which mainly Catholic East Timor voted to break free from Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation, after 24 years of brutal military rule. East Timor finally won independence in May 2002 after 2-1/2 years of U.N. administration and centuries of Portuguese colonial rule and Indonesia occupation.

Under international pressure, Indonesia set up a special court to hear cases of crimes against humanity and its attorney general indicted two government officials, 18 military and police officers and a gang leader but no high-level suspects. Over the ensuing years, of the 18 tried, only the gang leader was convicted.

In February, Annan named a panel of three outside experts to determine whether justice had been done, despite pleas from Indonesia and East Timor to leave the matter to them. In their 149-page report, the experts said the Indonesian officials and gang leaders should be tried by an international tribunal if Jakarta did not agree to prosecute them within six months under international supervision. The prosecutions before the Indonesian special court had been "manifestly deficient," they concluded, "due to a lack of commitment on the part of the prosecution" as well as a lack of expertise, experience and training.

More Information on International Justice
More Information on the Ad-Hoc Court for East Timor
More Information on East Timor
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