East Timor: UN dragging its heels while perpetrators walk free

Amnesty International UK Media Director Lesley Warner said:

“While the UN is dragging its heels, those responsible for grave crimes in East Timor are free and, in many cases, are in active military or police service. It is therefore no surprise that the patterns, if not the scale, of violations witnessed in East Timor have since been repeated elsewhere in Indonesia.”

The report, Justice for East Timor: The way forward, criticises the two processes set up to prosecute the human rights crimes committed in East Timor in 1999, saying the Indonesian court has been totally unsatisfactory and the East Timorese parallel process crippled by lack of Indonesian and UN support. It concludes by calling on the UN to consider setting up an international criminal tribunal like those for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia.

The report says that the Serious Crimes Unit and Special Panels in East Timor is hampered by limited capacity, the uncertain commitment of the East Timor government to the process and, crucially, Indonesia’s refusal to cooperate with it. Over three quarters (281), of the 369 suspects indicted in East Timor are at large in Indonesia, which has so far refused to transfer them to East Timor for trial.

The hundreds of cases include that of retired General Wiranto, a former Minister of Defence and Commander of the Armed forces during 1999, who is currently a potential candidate for the Indonesian Presidency and one of several people vying to be a candidate for the Golkar party in the July 2004 elections.

General Wiranto was named as a possible suspect in the inquiry carried out by Indonesia’s National Commission on Human Rights into the 1999 events, but he was never the subject of a criminal investigation in Indonesia. In February 2003, he was charged by the Serious Crimes Unit in Timor-Leste with murder and forced deportation as crimes against humanity.

Problems with the specially established ad hoc Human Rights Court in Indonesia have been so serious, and the outcomes of the few trials held so unsatisfactory, that there should be no further proceedings in Indonesia until fundamental reforms have taken place. In the meantime other measures must be taken by the UN to ensure there is no impunity.

Lesley Warner continued:

“In 1999 the UN and many governments expressed horror at the violence in East Timor, but four years on interest in supporting investigations and prosecutions has waned. In particular Indonesia appears to be under little pressure to cooperate.”

Amnesty International and the JSMP are calling on the UN to:

  • increase its support for the serious crimes process in East Timor;
  • investigate alternatives to the Indonesian process;
  • seriously consider the establishment of an international criminal tribunal as recommended by the UN’s own International Commission of Inquiry on East Timor (ICIET) in January 2000.

Amnesty International and JSMP are also urging individual governments to take action by providing technical and financial support to the Serious Crimes Unit and Special Panels in East Timor. Governments should be prepared to arrest and extradite East Timorese individuals indicted by the East Timorese General Prosecutor or bring them to trial in their own courts.


On 30 August 1999, the population of the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste (formerly known as East Timor) voted for independence from Indonesia in an UN-organised ballot.

In the months before and immediately after the ballot, militia supported by the Indonesian security forces mounted a systematic campaign of murder, violence and intimidation.

Around 1,400 people, mainly independence supporters, are believed to have been killed, and an unknown number of people were tortured and raped. More than a quarter of a million people, or some 30 per cent of Timor-Leste’s population, were forcibly deported or fled across the border to West Timor in Indonesia where around 28,000 remain today.

The ICIET, established by the UN, concluded that gross violations of human rights and breaches of humanitarian law had taken place, and recommended the establishment of an international criminal tribunal.

However, assurances given by Indonesia in early 2000 that suspects would be prosecuted through the national system were accepted by the UN Secretary-General and Security Council.

Eighteen people were brought to trial in Indonesia in the ad hoc Human Rights Court on East Timor. Six were found guilty and sentenced to prison terms of between three and 10 years. The six are all free pending appeal. A number remain in active military or police service.

In the meantime, a parallel process was established in 2000 in East Timor by the UN Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET). To date, 81 indictments have been issued against 369 people. Fifty-five of the indictments contain charges of crimes against humanity against 339 persons. A total of 49 defendants have been convicted by the Special Panels and one defendant has been acquitted.

The mandate of the current peacekeeping operation in East Timor, the UN Mission of Support in East Timor (UNMISET) is due to expire in May 2004. It is likely that it will be extended and that there will be continued but limited support to the serious crimes process, focussed primarily on the defence and judiciary. Lack of investigative capacity means that hundreds of killings and other grave human rights violations will not be investigated.

(1) JSMP was set up in early 2001 in Dili, East Timor. It undertakes court monitoring and provides legal analysis and thematic reports aimed at contributing to strengthening Timor-Leste’s judicial system.

Further information

A full copy of the report Justice for Timor-Leste: The way forward, is available online at: http://news.amnesty.org/library/index/engasa210062004

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