Accessibility links

East Timor Atrocities Trials Delayed Again - 2002-01-08

In Indonesia, the long-awaited trials for atrocities in East Timor are to be delayed again. With just a week before the first case is to start - the Human Rights Court does not have judges. Indonesia's Ad-Hoc Human Rights Court was originally scheduled to open December 1. It was postponed when President Megawati Sukarnoputri failed to select the judges on time.

The new start date of January 15 is also in doubt because the tribunal still lacks justices.

A list of 30 candidates was submitted to the president last month. Her failure to approve the list has given rise to speculation that she is stalling the trials for 19 suspects, including several generals who have been implicated in the violence in East Timor in 1999. Local human-rights observers charge that the powerful Indonesian military is pressuring Ms. Megawati to stall.

Rizal Mallarangeng is a political analyst with the Freedom Institute in Jakarta. He says President Megawati must keep the military's support while still being seen as willing to uphold human rights. "She realizes that this problem, let us say, it might endanger the country's future if it is not tackled properly," said Rizal Mallarangeng. "So she wants to tackle it properly. But she has to also consider the interests of the institution of the military because we need the institution to preserve the country's stability and integrity. So that is a fine line there that she has to go through."

Three generals and other suspects are scheduled to go to trial for the part they played in the carnage that swept East Timor after it voted for independence in a U.N. sponsored vote more than two-years ago. Hundreds of people were killed in the violence and pro-Jakarta militias forced more than 200,000 East Timorese across the border into refugee camps in Indonesian West Timor. The militias, with alleged help from elements of the Indonesian military, razed most of East Timor to the ground. The international community has demanded Indonesia provide justice and is waiting to see if Jakarta has the political will to carry out the trials in a fair manner. Failure to do so could jeopardize much needed international aid and foreign investment.

The military backed Ms. Megawati in her constitutional takeover from former president Abdurrahman Wahid, who was forced from office in July for incompetence.

Since the fall of former autocratic president Suharto in 1998, the government has been reforming the military, but it still holds some of its traditional influence in politics.