Indonesia war crimes trials 'travesty of justice'

The last Indonesia-backed governor of East Timor, Abilio Soares, received the first -- and so far only -- guilty verdict in Indonesia's ad hoc trials for war crimes committed during and after the new UN member's August 1999 independence referendum.

For his role in failing to prevent militia violence during the last months of Indonesia's 24-year occupation of East Timor, Soares was sentenced to three years -- less than one-third of the minimum sentence for this crime under Indonesian law.

The chief of Indonesian police forces in East Timor, Brig. Gen. Timbun Silaen, was acquitted of similar charges. Five lower-ranking officers, implicated in a massacre at a church in the southern town of Suai, were also acquitted.

Following East Timor's vote for independence in August 1999, pro-Indonesian militias carried out a two-week terror campaign, in which 90 per cent of the territory's buildings were damaged or destroyed.

A UN-appointed International Commission of Inquiry on East Timor, and the UN Special Rapporteurs on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, torture, and violence against women recommended, after thorough investigations in East Timor, that an international criminal tribunal should be established.

Indonesia's decision to stage war crimes trials was apparently a reaction to the threat of just such an international court. It has, however, been an unconvincing exercise, with the prosecution ignoring evidence from the UNcommissions of enquiry and from other sources, including Indonesian sources.

The court has tended to present the violence of August-September 1999 as a conflict among Timorese which the Indonesian authorities failed to stop, rather than -- as the UN commissions of enquiry, foreign media, and NGOs have concluded -- as a campaign under the direct command of the Indonesian military.

The tribunal offers no protection measures for witnesses, who can realistically fear violence from pro-military protesters. Even Bishop Felipe Ximenes Belo, head of the Roman Catholic Church in East Timor, declined to go to Jakarta to testify.

Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and other agencies have voiced their concern over the failure of the prosecution to present its case adequately.

The cases of militia chief Eurico Gutteres and district military commander Adam Damiri were still in process as Peace Magazine went to press.

Israeli students pledge refusal to serve

On September 20, a letter signed by more than 210 Israeli high school youths aged 15-19 was sent to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, declaring their refusal to be "soldiers of the occupation."

Of the approximately 70 students who signed a similar letter a year ago, some have been exempted from compulsory military service, some have joined up but refuse to serve outside Israel's 1967 border, while others are resisting the draft.

This year's students substantially updated the original "seniors' letter" to reflect changing situations. The full text is reproduced below:

To Prime Minister, Mr. Ariel Sharon,

It has been a year now since we, 62 young people raised in Israel, sent you a letter announcing that we will not take part in the continuing oppression of the Palestinian people. Today, as the situation in Israel and in the Territories deteriorates, we say it again, together with many who have joined us: we refuse to be soldiers of the occupation.The state of Israel commits war crimes and tramples over human rights, destroying Palestinian cities, towns and villages; expropriating land, detaining and executing without trial, conducting mass demolitions of houses, businesses, and public institutions; looting, closure, curfew, torture, prevention of medical care, construction and expansion of settlements. All these actions are opposed to human morality, and violate international treaties ratified by Israel. In these and other actions Israel systematically prevents Palestinians from carrying on their day-to-day lives. This reality leads to suffering, fear, and despair, which yield terror attacks. Therefore, the occupation is not only immoral, but it also damages the security of Israel's citizens and residents. Such security will be achieved only through a just peace between Israelis and Palestinians.When the elected government tramples over democratic values and the chances for a just peace in the region, we have no choice but to obey our conscience and refuse to take part in the attack on the Palestinian people. As youth about to be called to serve in the military we pledge to do all that we see fit so as not to serve the occupation. Some of us will refuse to enlist; others will refuse to serve beyond the green line, and others yet will avoid military service in other ways ... we view all these means as legitimate and necessary, and we call on other youth, conscripts, soldiers in the standing army, and reserve service soldiers to do the same.

Shministim, PO Box 70094, Haifa 31700, Israel; email

Peace Magazine Oct-Dec 2002

Peace Magazine Oct-Dec 2002, page 31. Some rights reserved.

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