The first trial involving crimes against humanity, known as the “Los Palos” case, finally began yesterday after several delays. The Special Panel is comprised of Judge Marcelo Dolzany da Costa (Brazil) presiding, Maria Natercia Gusmao Pereira (East Timor) and Sylver Ntukamazina (Burundi).
The new Deputy General Prosecutor for Serious Crimes, Jean-Luis Gillisen (Belgium), who was sworn in on 4 July 200, opened for the Prosescution, with a statement acknowledging the importance of this case. He said that it was an important moment not just for the East Timorese people, but also for the international community as the victims of the crimes alleged include all of humankind. The Special Panel takes part in the building of international justice, thereby helping the international community to end impunity for the commission of atrocities, he said.
The Public Prosecutor, Stuart Alford (UK), gave the Prosecution’s opening statement. He outlined the nature and facts surrounding the charges, which relate to five events that occurred in various parts of Lautem district between 21 April 1999 and 25 September 1999. The seven charges of crimes against humanity include torture, forcible transfer and persecution of the civilian population, several individual murders and the murder of a group of clergy. The ten accused men were all allegedly members of the notorious Team Alpha militia.
It had originally been planned that the entire Court would visit the crime scenes in Lautem district, which is the most Eastern district of East Timor, by helicopter today, however, this visit has been postponed until later in the case.
The trial is being held in the newly furbished court room of the Court of Appeal, rather than in the Dili District Court. This courtroom is equipped with simultaneous translation facilities, although these were not yet functioning at yesterday’s hearing. The trial is being recorded on both audio and video and is being broadcast live on a television in an additional room in the court building to accommodate additional members of the public and press.
The trial continues today with the statements of the ten accused and is expected to continue for several weeks. All other serious crimes trials and preliminary hearings that had been scheduled during July and early August have been postponed until early September.
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