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8/12/04 - INDONESIAN COURT AND EAST TIMOR - 2004-08-12

An Indonesian appeals court has overturned the convictions of three army officers and a policeman on charges of crimes against humanity in connection with the massive violence in East Timor in 1999. This means that so far not a single Indonesian has been punished for attacks on East Timorese civilians that left more than a thousand people dead and caused more than two-hundred thousand people to flee their homes. The violence also resulted in the destruction of thousands of homes and businesses in East Timor.

The massacres and property destruction were perpetrated by East Timorese militias organized and supported by the Indonesian military. The militias and their backers in the Indonesian military were opposed to independence for East Timor, which had been under Indonesian control since the mid-1970s. But in an August 1999 referendum, the people of East Timor voted overwhelmingly for independence. In the wake of the violence, a United Nations peacekeeping force was deployed in East Timor. And in May 2002, East Timor became an independent nation.

As part of the process of reconciliation in East Timor and to offset efforts to launch an international tribunal, Indonesia established a tribunal to try those responsible for the 1999 violence. But despite credible evidence of wrongdoing, the tribunal has yet to secure any guilty verdicts against those responsible. Adam Ereli is deputy spokesman for the U.S. State Department:

“We are dismayed by this decision, and we are profoundly disappointed with the performance and record of the Indonesian ad hoc tribunal. In our view, as a result of this appeals decision, only two of the eighteen defendants have been convicted, and both individuals are ethnic Timorese and received sentences below the ten-year minimum set by law. We think that the overall process was seriously flawed and lacked credibility."

The U.S. is consulting with other governments and international organizations, says State Department deputy spokesman Ereli, “on how to ensure a credible level of justice” for those who have committed crimes against humanity in East Timor.