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UN Rights Chief Concerned About Handling of E. Timor Abuse Cases - 2002-08-23

U.N. Human Rights chief Mary Robinson remains dissatisfied with Indonesia's handling of East Timor human rights cases. Ms. Robinson condemns the recent acquittals of several Indonesian officials charged with abuses in East Timor. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights says she will take her concerns to the U.N. Security Council. Mary Robinson made her comments upon arriving in East Timor's capital Dili on Friday. Indonesia's human rights tribunal was at the top of the agenda in a meeting Friday between Ms. Robinson and East Timor's president, Xanana Gusmao. "She expressed her concerns about the trial and the sentence that were given to those people, and she's very concerned about that," reported Veronique Taveau, a U.N. spokeswoman. Under international pressure, Jakarta formed a special human rights court this year to try those thought to be responsible for abuses in East Timor in 1999. In the weeks surrounding East Timor's vote to separate from Indonesia, anti-independence militias rampaged through the territory, killing an estimated 1,000 people.

Last week, the tribunal acquitted six police and military officers, and gave a light sentence to one person it convicted. The rulings prompted new international criticism of Jakarta. Ms. Robinson and Mr. Gusmao also discussed possibly forming an international tribunal to try abuse cases. After his meeting with Ms. Robinson, Mr. Gusmao said his government is assessing whether an international court is necessary. Indonesian officials say the international community should not jump to conclusions about the tribunal's credibility. Marty Natalegawa is a spokesman for the Indonesian Foreign Ministry. "We have all along stated that our position, which respects the legal process that is ongoing, and, therefore, for us not to reach to any hasty conclusions, or even judgments, on what is still, after all, going on," said Marty Natalegawa, a spokesman for the Indonesian Foreign Ministry. "We note, in particular, the fact that the prosecutors have submitted appeals against the decision, and, therefore, it is an on-going process." Mr. Natalegawa says the case against the defendants was not as clear-cut as outsiders might think. And, in fact, many of the so-called evidence and the like that is now often referred to, would not, on closer inspection, stand up in the legal process. We found that many are in the nature of hearsay, in the nature of allegations, which cannot be corroborated or supported by more than one individual. It is Ms. Robinson's second visit to East Timor since its independence vote. She has been visiting Asia this week before she steps down from her post next month.