An Indonesian court has convicted a senior general of human rights crimes in East Timor as the former province prepared for its 1999 independence vote. The verdict came as a surprise since prosecutors had requested an acquittal.
An Indonesian judge announced in court Tuesday that Major-General Adam Damiri is guilty of violating human rights and failing to stop crimes against humanity in East Timor. He then sentenced Damiri to three years in jail.
Prosecutors convinced the court Damiri failed to prevent the violence surrounding the 1999 referendum that gave East Timor its independence. But they had given up hopes of a conviction in June, when they requested the crimes against humanity charges be dropped due to lack of evidence.
The United Nations estimates as many as 1,000 people were killed in East Timor and hundreds of thousands were displaced by anti-independence militias supported by the Indonesian military. Damiri was the regional commander of the military in East Timor at the time.
Damiri is the most senior and the last of 18 people to be tried by a special human rights court set up by the Indonesian government. Only five others have been found guilty and most received light sentences.
Indonesia says the existence of the court is proof it is responding to international pressure to seek justice for East Timor human rights abuses. But human rights groups criticize it as inherently flawed in its ability to prosecute war crimes and describe it as a facade that justice will be done.
They also point to what they say is the most blatant flaw of the court: that it has failed to bring General Wiranto, the overall commander of Indonesia's military in 1999, to trial.
The fear among many international observers is that leaders of Indonesia's powerful military will remain unconvinced that they will be punished for human rights abuses. That could affect the handling of ongoing campaigns like the one against separatist rebels in Aceh, which Indonesia launched in May.