Also below: May 8 JP: Legal experts decry Atambua sentences
United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan said the sentences were “a wholly unacceptable response to the ultimate sacrifice” of the three UN staffers who were killed while working in the Indonesian refugee town of Atambua close to the East Timor border in East Nusa Tenggara province. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has vented its outrage at the sentences. The U.S. State Department, in expressing its disappointment, called into question “Indonesia’s commitment to the principle of accountability”.
Are these criticisms, which amount to an attack on Indonesia’s legal system, fair and justifiable? To some Indonesians, these attacks border on interfering in the country’s legal system. Indonesia certainly cannot be accused of not observing due process of law with regard to the trial and conviction of the East Timorese responsible for the murder of the UN workers. The outcome may not be satisfactory to the outside world, but the trial was open and closely monitored by the international media and observers. The six men were tried and convicted by the laws of the country. There is no doubt about that.
The North Jakarta District Court said that since the UN staffers were killed by a mob, it was difficult to link their deaths directly to the six defendants. The court dropped the manslaughter charges against three main defendants on the basis of insufficient evidence. Attorney General Marzuki Darusman, whose office was responsible for prosecuting the six East Timorese, has announced his plan to appeal against the sentences, sticking to the original demand for a minimum of three years imprisonment. Setting aside international criticism, however, Marzuki said “the more important thing is that the supremacy of the law works as it does”.
As people in this country and abroad must realize by now, it is one thing for Indonesia to carry out due process of law and completely another whether this process ensures the delivery of justice, which is the very objective of this whole exercise. Looking at the brutal way that the Atambua murders were carried out and at the humanitarian nature of the mission of the UN staffers, there is a nagging feeling that our sense of justice, and not only that of the members of the international community, has not been met by Friday’s court verdicts. The United Nations has a valid case to lodge a complaint or to question Indonesia’s competence in delivering justice.
The fact of the matter is that the Indonesian court has failed to punish the people who should be held responsible for the deaths of three international humanitarian aid workers. Once again, Indonesia has failed to live up to its responsibility as a member of the international community. In the recent past, Indonesia has been criticized for its failure to punish the people, including military and police officers, who should be held responsible for the massive campaign of violence and destruction in East Timor in September 1999 after the people voted overwhelmingly to have their own state separate from Indonesia.
It is not only in East Timor that the Indonesian government has failed to uphold the law and deliver justice. This is still happening all the time in almost every part of the country. The list is too extensive to be presented here. Suffice to say here is that the Indonesian legal system, and the people who should administer and enforce the law, have done a miserable job. Part of the problem in this country could be resolved if only we had a strong and credible legal system, including the laws as well as law enforcers and administrators.
On the court verdict for the murder of the three UN workers in Atambua, we cannot simply lay the blame on the judges who passed the sentences. The Attorney General’s Office and the Indonesian Police in fact must take the lion’s share of the blame for their failure to come up with a stronger case and with the necessary evidence to ensure convictions commensurate with the crimes committed. The way the case against the six East Timorese was built and presented in court, it came down more like a mere formality to show to the international community that there is due process of law in this country. From the way the case was handled from the beginning, it was clear that there was no genuine intention to uphold justice and to deliver just punishment to those responsible. For all we know, the real perpetrators of that heinous crime in Atambua last September might still be out there roaming free.
National Commission on Human Rights secretary-general Asmara Nababan and noted lawyer Abdul Hakim Garuda Nusantara said that the international outcry that followed the sentencing was understandable.
But Asmara remarked that the sentences were not totally unexpected since the investigation was weak from the onset. Prosecutors, he said, failed to bring a clear case against the six who were convicted.
“The judges had no other decisions to take since they were based on the prosecutors’ indictment. So we understand if the international community is disappointed and angry with the weak punishment, which is similar to that given to a bicycle thief,” Asmara told The Jakarta Post by telephone.
The North Jakarta District Court sentenced on Friday three men—Julius Naisama, 35, Jose Francisco, 30, and Joao Alvez da Cruz, 26, -- to between 16 months and 20 months imprisonment for their involvement in the September attack in Atambua, East Nusa Tenggara.
Presiding judge Anak Agung Gde Dalem said the manslaughter charges had been dropped against the three due to the fact that the attack was carried out by a mob, which made it difficult to determine the suspects of the killings.
The judge also said that the victims’ charred bodies made it difficult to identify who committed the killings.
Two others—Xisto Pereira and Joao Martins—were sentenced to 10 months each while Serafin Ximenes got 15 months for conspiring to incite violence that resulted in the damage of property belonging to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
The sentences immediately received strong criticism from UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who said that there should be no impunity for those who use violence against the UN or international humanitarian staff.
Similar condemnation over a “very disappointing verdict” was also voiced by the United States government, which questioned Indonesia’s commitment to the principle of accountability.
In response, Attorney General Marzuki Darusman has promised that his office will file an appeal to the high court against the sentences and seek more severe punishments for the six men from East Timor.
Separately, Abdul Hakim from the Institute for Policy Research and Advocacy (ELSAM) decried the sentences, which he said indicated impunity rather than punishment.
“The verdicts have negated the effect of the punishment, in which someone is to be punished in order to make them wary and not repeat such a crime again. This case is a heavy test to our national court’s credibility,” Abdul Hakim told The Post.
Abdul Hakim further argued that the Criminal Code clearly stipulates that premeditated murder is punishable with a life sentence or the death penalty.
Both Asmara and Abdul urged that an appeal should be lodged, with prosecutors preparing a stronger case.
“The victims were in Atambua at this country’s invitation to help us take care of the refugees. The government failed to protect them,” Abdul Hakim said.
“The prosecutors have to take their chances with an appeal in the hope that the high court will also consider the international community’s sense of justice, and not only the country’s nationalism,” Asmara said.
Asmara pointed out that the Sept. 6 incident could be considered a violation of human rights, which carries stricter and heavier punishment. However, the time the crime was committed falls beyond the new law on human rights’ existing mandate.
He said that according to Human Rights Tribunal Law No. 26/2000, someone convicted of rights abuse could face a minimum 10-year jail sentence and a maximum 20 years or the death sentence.
The law was passed on Nov. 23, 2000. (02/bby)
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