Global perspective Human stories

Robinson concerned by Indonesia's first verdict on crimes committed in East Timor

Robinson concerned by Indonesia's first verdict on crimes committed in East Timor

The top United Nations human rights official today voiced concern over the first verdict handed down by an Indonesian court dealing with crimes committed in East Timor and urged Jakarta to take all steps necessary to ensure that thorough investigations are conducted into alleged human rights violations committed during the 1999 popular consultation.

On Wednesday, the Ad Hoc Human Rights Tribunals in Indonesia found Abilio Soares, a former Governor of East Timor, guilty of crimes against humanity and sentenced him to three years in prison, below the statutory minimum of 10 years.

Reacting to the verdict, Mary Robinson, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said she was concerned that the prosecution had not put before the court evidence that portrayed the killings and other human rights violations as part of a widespread or systematic pattern of violence.

"Rather, the indictments present the killings and other abuses as the result of spontaneous conflict between armed factions within East Timorese society," she said in a statement. "This seriously undermines the strength of the prosecution's case and jeopardizes the integrity and credibility of the process."

That approach also contradicted the conclusions of several international and national inquiries into the violence that occurred prior to and in the aftermath of East Timor's vote on whether to remain a part of Indonesia or to take steps towards eventual independence, Mrs. Robinson said.

Those investigations found "patterns of gross violations of human rights and breaches of humanitarian law" which took the form of systematic and widespread intimidation, humiliation and terror, the High Commissioner said.

Mrs. Robinson also noted that the defendants appearing before the Indonesian tribunal are all charged with crimes of omission, based on a failure to take action to prevent, repress or investigate and punish acts committed by others. "None of the defendants is accused of personally committing, commanding, or assisting in the commission of crimes against humanity," she said.

She repeated the UN's previous reservations over the tribunal's limited jurisdiction, which extends only to crimes committed in three districts from April to September 1999, saying that it prevented a full airing of all crimes committed in the country from January to October of that year.

"The United Nations urges the Indonesian authorities to urgently take all possible measures to ensure that they investigate fully the violations of human rights and international and humanitarian law perpetrated in East Timor in the period lead up to and immediately following the popular consultation held in August 1999 and that the ad hoc human rights tribunals function in full respect of international human rights standards," the statement said.