June 29 (AFP) — People who committed war crimes in East Timor during Indonesia’s 1975-1999 occupation are going unpunished because of a loophole in the country’s penal code, Amnesty International said Tuesday.
East Timorese President Jose Ramos-Horta has rejected pressure from the United Nations and rights groups such as London-based Amnesty to prosecute war crimes suspects, saying such trials are not in the country’s interests.
But Amnesty again called on Dili to stop giving amnesties to war criminals and agree to the establishment of an international tribunal to provide justice to the victims.
“Survivors of decades of human rights violations in Timor-Leste are demanding justice and reparations, but the authorities’ routine use of amnesties, pardons and similar measures has created a culture of impunity,” Amnesty researcher Isabelle Arradon said in a statement.
Arradon helped research an Amnesty report released Tuesday about the culture of impunity in East Timor, or Timor-Leste as it is formally known, entitled “Timor-Leste: Justice in the Shadow”.
“The authorities in Timor-Leste are compromising on justice to seek peace — but trading away justice for such serious crimes only undermines the rule of law, and cannot resolve the trauma of the past,” Arradon said.
Amnesty says the legal loophole is the absence of a ban on amnesties, while the penal code also lacks provisions on co-operation with the International Criminal Court.
Indonesia ended its brutal 34-year military occupation of East Timor in 1999 after granting the former Portuguese colony a referendum on independence which resulted in an overwhelming vote to split from Jakarta.
More than 100,000 East Timorese were killed or starved to death during the occupation, and the weeks surrounding the referendum were marred by crimes against humanity committed by Indonesian forces and their militia proxies.
East Timor and Indonesia formed a truth and reconciliation commission which lay the blame for such crimes squarely at the feet of the Indonesian military, but few of the perpetrators have faced justice.
Ramos-Horta says justice must be weighed against the fledgling democracy’s economic and political destiny as the tiny eastern neighbour of Indonesia, the world’s fourth most populous country.
The president pardoned and freed militia leader Joni Marques in 2008 after his 33-year sentence for crimes against humanity was substantially reduced.
And last year Dili sent another militia leader, Maternus Bere, to Indonesia before he faced trial over alleged massacres of civilians in 1999.