Sydney Morning Herald
December 13, 2000
The indictment of two members of Indonesia's notorious special forces unit on murder charges over the stabbing and shooting of three Catholic priests, two church workers, a journalist and a teenage boy appears at first glance to be a key step forward in finally bringing to justice the perpetrators of human rights abuses in East Timor last year. But formal indictment is a long way from successful prosecution. In the first indictment announced in Dili yesterday, 11 people were named, including a special forces (Kopassus) deputy commander, Lieutenant Syaful Anwar. But the officer and another unnamed Kopassus soldier are not in custody in East Timor. They are in Indonesia, as are all the senior Indonesian police and military officers named as responsible for the carnage that preceded the arrival of the Australian-led peacekeepers last September.
While the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) can charge members of the Indonesian military, its prosecutors do not have access to them. A memorandum of understanding signed with Jakarta earlier this year has failed to deliver the crucial co-operation of the Indonesian authorities. UNTAET was refused access to 22 Indonesian military and police suspects in Jakarta earlier this week. This leaves only low- and middle-ranking East Timorese members of pro-Indonesian militia groups to face justice in Dili. That process is hampered by the vast number of serious crimes and the fledgling state of the legal system.
The problem with any attempt by East Timor to mount its own trials has its origin in the decision by the United Nations Secretary-General, Mr Kofi Annan, in January this year to delay a recommended international human rights investigation and give Jakarta an opportunity to bring its people to court. Behind the scenes an international tribunal had been opposed by Russia and China, which routinely object to human rights investigations because of their problems in Chechnya and Tibet.
Indonesia is supposed to be bringing suspects to account for some of the worst human rights abuses, including the massacre of priests, women and children sheltering in a church in Suai and the murder of a Dutch journalist, Sander Thoenes. The former armed forces chief, General Wiranto, has been named by Jakarta as "morally responsible", but no charges have been laid or cases mounted. This leaves East Timorese prosecutors with a credible legal process but no significant suspects to try, and Indonesian prosecutors with all the big suspects but no credible process. Jakarta is not willing to extradite suspects to East Timor, and would have serious problems in protecting witnesses in any trial of senior military officers in Indonesia.
The case of East Timor has important implications for the Wahid Government. If the Government continues to fail to hold the military to account, human rights abuses are unlikely to be curbed in other conflict areas such as West Papua and Aceh. The international community must continue to press Indonesia and set a deadline for action. If Jakarta fails to act, it will increasingly risk the humiliation of having an international tribunal - one which can force extraditions - imposed on it.