BACK DOOR Newsletter on East Timor      home    June news

" ... we urge the U.S. government to redouble its efforts to end impunity and ensure accountability and justice. The United States should heed Bishop Belo’s cry by giving unconditional support for an international tribunal on East Timor, and taking the lead in encouraging the UN Security Council to do the same. " 33 U.S. Non-government organisations
See also: BD: Calls for International War Crimes Tribunal - A collection of recent reports, articles and news
BD: War Crimes & Crimes Against Humanity - A collection of recent press releases, petitions, articles and news
BD: Sexual & Other Violence as a weapon of war - A collection of recent articles and news

U.S. NGO letter to Powell re. intl tribunal for East Timor

 6 June 2001

The Honorable Colin L. Powell
Secretary of State
United States Department of State
Washington, DC 20520

Dear Secretary Powell:

We are writing to urge full and active U.S. government support for the creation of an international tribunal for crimes against humanity committed in East Timor both before and after the 1999 referendum on independence.  The Indonesian government clearly lacks both the political will and ability to bring the perpetrators of mass human rights violations in East Timor to justice, and East Timor’s fledgling justice system is incapable of doing so.  The international community has afforded the Indonesian government more than enough time to initiate a genuine process of justice; only fatally flawed attempts have materialized.  Peace, democracy, and rule of law are too precious for either country to delay any longer.

Recent actions by the Indonesian government and security forces not only perpetuate but guarantee impunity for those who organized and implemented the scorched earth campaign in East Timor in 1999.  The ad hoc Human Rights Court for East Timor recently established by President Wahid limits the court’s jurisdiction to crimes committed after the August 1999 popular consultation, effectively blocking the prosecution of high-level military officials who have been accused of masterminding the destruction. Before his recent dismissal, Indonesia’s former attorney general Marzuki Darusman said efforts to prosecute two of the worst massacres would have to be dropped due to the time restriction, both of which occurred in April 1999 - the murders of at least 50 refugees at a church in Liquica, and the killing of at least 12 people at the Dili house of independence leader Manuel Carrascalao.  Limits placed on the court also will likely ensure failure to address overwhelming evidence that the Indonesian armed forces organized the militias, as a UN-commissioned report, “Crimes Against Humanity in East Timor, January to October 1999: Their Nature and Causes,” states: “The campaign of massive destruction, deportation and killings in September [1999] was essentially an operation planned and carried out by the TNI, with militia participation, to punish the people of East Timor for their vote against integration.”

The attorney general’s office has not investigated any cases of violence against women, which was a major component of 1999’s violence. Given the long history of violence against East Timorese women by Indonesian security forces, including rape and involuntary sterilization campaigns, any judicial process must pay special attention to crimes against humanity involving gender violence.  We remain deeply concerned about East Timorese women and girls who continue to be violated in militia-controlled refugee camps in Indonesia, including some held as sexual slaves.

Further, none of the of the suspects named by Komnas HAM, Indonesia’s National Commission on Human Rights, rank above a two-star general.  Four militia leaders included in the list of the 22 suspects identified last year by the attorney general’s office have already been omitted from the final dossiers because prosecutors claim they cannot be found.  However, one of the four, Izidio Manek, recently held a public meeting with journalists in a West Timor government office.  Prosecutors have prepared only 12 of the promised 18 trial dossiers of Komnas HAM's recommended suspects. A spokesman for the prosecutors recently projected that this number would be reduced even further.

Those most culpable for crimes against humanity could further escape prosecution through the August 2000 constitutional amendment prohibiting retroactivity in prosecutions.  Legal scholars and diplomats have already questioned whether the attorney general’s office has already missed the legal deadline for bringing cases on the 1999 atrocities to trial.

Political and domestic legal obstacles aside, it is highly unlikely that trials in Indonesia would meet international standards of justice. Indonesia’s corrupt judicial system presents its own barriers. The extremely lenient sentences just given to six militia members convicted of the September 6, 2000 murders of three UNHCR workers, including a U.S. citizen, in West Timor, described by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan as “a wholly unacceptable response to the ultimate sacrifice,” and as deeply disappointing by the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta, are but one recent example. Competent, well-trained, independent judicial personnel are lacking, as are programs that guarantee the protection of witnesses, victims, and suspects.  Few if any East Timorese would travel to Indonesia to testify out of fear for their safety.

As obstacle after obstacle has been placed before justice for the East Timorese people, no Indonesian military or police personnel have been held accountable for crimes committed in East Timor. On the contrary, many retain positions of power, and some have even been promoted.  For example, the top-ranking suspect, Major General Adam Damiri, was recently appointed operations chief-of-staff of the Indonesian army.  The military’s current reassertion of power will stymie any domestic judicial efforts.  Already, the military is believed to have strongly influenced President Wahid’s decision to so severely limit the Human Rights Court’s jurisdiction.

Many Indonesian human rights and civil society leaders support the creation of an international tribunal for East Timor.  They view a tribunal as the only means to hold military personnel accountable for atrocities.  The tribunal will also serve as a strong deterrent to future crimes by the Indonesian military (TNI) throughout the archipelago. This is particularly important for Aceh and West Papua, where the TNI, police, and militias created by the military systematically repress civilians, as was done in East Timor.

Efforts to bring those responsible for crimes against humanity to justice in East Timor have been irreparably hindered by the inability to extradite, let alone question, military, police, or militia leaders in Indonesia. Although UNTAET investigators have shared information with their Indonesian counterparts, reciprocity has not been forthcoming.   UN investigators who traveled to Jakarta to question Indonesian suspects and witnesses were not permitted to do so despite the April 2000 Memorandum of Understanding signed between the UN and Indonesia. The chief of Indonesia’s armed forces, Admiral Widodo, has publicly refused to cooperate with any UN investigations.  Indonesia’s parliament supports this position. This leaves the East Timorese courts with access only to low-level militia; officers with command responsibility are out of reach.  Basing East Timor’s new democracy on the principle of rule of law is made extremely difficult when those who designed and perpetrated heinous crimes are, in effect, above the law.  Further, East Timor’s own justice system is severely under-resourced and will likely become even more so upon the reduction of UN support once independence is declared, prohibiting investigations and trials of the magnitude needed to achieve justice.  Currently, prosecutions are fraught with procedural and other errors, judicial infrastructure is poor, and highly-trained judicial personnel are scarce. A reliable, demonstrable system of justice is necessary to facilitate the return of the up to 100,000 East Timorese refugees now languishing in militia-controlled camps in West Timor.  Only an international tribunal can provide this.

More fundamentally, the lack of international action thus far to establish an international tribunal completely ignores the wishes of the East Timorese people.  Overwhelmingly, East Timorese want to see Indonesian officers with command responsibility and a history of 24 years of unspeakable abuse brought to justice, and they know this cannot happen through Indonesia’s inept justice system, which they deeply distrust.  East Timor’s Catholic Bishop and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Carlos Ximenes Belo and the NGO Forum of East Timor both recently reiterated their support for a tribunal.  “Justice must not be restricted to a chosen few. …We have no faith in the investigations being conducted in Jakarta. Those who authorized the crimes in East Timor will not face justice there,” Belo said.  Arsenio Bano, the executive director of the NGO Forum, asked, “If the perpetrators of crimes against humanity cannot be brought before an International Court, then where are they going to be tried?”

The international community, through the UN, was ultimately responsible for holding the referendum in East Timor, and it consequently shares responsibility for the violence that took place before and after the vote, which was facilitated by the May 5, 1999 Agreement between the Secretary-General and the governments of Indonesia and Portugal.  That agreement gave Indonesia sole responsibility for maintaining peace and security for the vote, despite the brutal history of Indonesian security forces in East Timor.  The United States, which armed, trained, and supported the Indonesian military during its 24-year illegal occupation of East Timor, has a special responsibility to support justice in East Timor.

The crimes committed in East Timor during 1999 were not only directed against the East Timorese people, but also against the institution of the United Nations.  A flawed process of justice not only dismisses the grave abuses suffered by the people of East Timor but also scorns the UN and the entire international community. As East Timorese leader Xanana Gusmao recently said at a UN Security Council meeting, the crimes committed in East Timor were an affront to the international community, as well as a source of suffering to the territory’s people, thus the international community should take prime responsibility in bringing about justice, while the East Timorese should bear the responsibility for reconciliation.

In order that justice truly be served, an international tribunal should cover crimes against humanity committed in East Timor since the 1975 Indonesian invasion, and not be limited to 1999. The first few years of military occupation killed more than 200,000 East Timorese, approximately one-third of the population. Crimes of this scope must not go unaddressed.

In April, Bishop Belo said, "While we believe in and promote reconciliation, the people of East Timor are crying out for justice against the perpetrators of the horrendous crimes committed during Indonesian occupation. Without justice, the brokenness continues."  Without setting a precedent for rule of law and justice for East Timor, brokenness will also continue for Indonesia.  These crimes are offenses against all humanity, not just Indonesia.  As the State Department recently urged the Indonesian government, we urge the U.S. government to redouble its efforts to end impunity and ensure accountability and justice.  The United States should heed Bishop Belo’s cry by giving unconditional support for an international tribunal on East Timor, and taking the lead in encouraging the UN Security Council to do the same.

Thank you for your serious consideration.  We look forward to your response.


Mike Amitay
Executive Director
Washington Kurdish Institute

Mubarak Awad
Chair of the Board
Nonviolence International

Jeff Ballinger
Press for Change

Kurt Biddle
Washington Coordinator
Indonesia Human Rights Network

Ronald J. Cruz
Portuguese American Leadership Council of the United States

Peter Deccy
Executive Director
Peace Action Education Fund

Robert Doolittle
Youth Director
Saint Paul Parish, Cambridge, MA

Stephen Glodek, SM
Conference of Major Superiors of Men

Erik Gustafson
Executive Director
Education for Peace in Iraq Center

William D. Hartung
President’s Fellow
World Policy Institute at the New School

Tiffany Heath
Legislative Director
Church Women United- Washington D.C. Office

John Hocevar
Executive Director
Students for a Free Tibet

Martha Honey
Peace and Security Program, Institute for Policy Studies

Rev. Kathryn J. Johnson
Executive Director
Methodist Federation for Social Action

Peter H. Juviler
Center for the Study of Human Rights, Columbia University

Jana Mason
Policy Analyst/Congressional Liaison
U.S. Committee for Refugees

Mary Anne Mercer
Northwest International Health Action Coalition (NIHAC)

John M. Miller
Foreign Bases Project

Father Bill O’Donnell
St. Joseph the Worker Parish, Berkeley

Kathryn Cameron Porter
Human Rights Alliance

Maria Lya Ramos
Washington Peace Center

Rev. Peter Ruggere
Maryknoll Office of Global Concerns, Washington DC

Charlie Scheiner
National Coordinator
East Timor Action Network

Shaun Skelton
Executive Director
Visions in Action

Morton Sklar
Executive Director
World Organization Against Torture USA

Stephanie S. Spencer
Program Associate
Southern Asia Office, Global Ministries
Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and United Church of Christ

Kathy Thornton, RSM
NETWORK National Coordinator
NETWORK, A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby

Orland Tizon, PhD
Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition (TASSC)

Eileen Weiss, Sharon Silber
Jews Against Genocide

John Witeck
Philippine Workers Support Committee

Kani Xulam
American Kurdish Information Network

Alice Zachmann
Guatemala Human Rights Commission USA

Free Burma Coalition

Letter posted to various lists by:

Karen Orenstein
Washington Coordinator
East Timor Action Network
1101 Pennsylvania Ave., SE
Washington, DC 20003
Tel: 202-544-6911
Fax: 202-544-6118

See also:
BD: Calls for International War Crimes Tribunal - A collection of recent reports, articles and news

BD: War Crimes & Crimes Against Humanity - A collection of recent press releases, petitions, articles and news

BD: Sexual & Other Violence as a weapon of war - A collection of recent articles and news

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