by Mustafa Ali
(IPS) JAKARTA --
many, the presence of Indonesian top brass at the March 19th resumption of the trials of 18 officials and army officers implicated in gross human rights abuses in East Timor brought a heavy air of intimidation into court.
The officers said they showed up to give moral support to three subordinates, who are among those accused of human rights violations in the violence after the independence vote of August 1999.
But rights activists took this as nothing less than a confirmation of their doubts about the credibility of the justice system and the trial's potential for bringing about justice.
The closely watched East Timor human rights tribunal does not only hold high stakes for Indonesia's international image, but also for its own political development.
Activists, however, warn against putting too much hope on the trial, citing the lack of transparency and the presence of several loopholes in Indonesia's legal system that has functioned for a long time under an authoritarian set-up.
"Everybody in Indonesia has doubts about its (the trial) credibility," said Nursyabani Katjasungkana, secretary general of the Indonesian Women's Coalition for Justice and Democracy.
Skepticism is the dominant attitude among most Indonesian rights activists. They say that a corrupt judicial system, along with inexperienced judges and state prosecutors, are potential obstacles in the country's first ever human rights tribunal, not to mention the lack of understanding of rights issues among Indonesians.
Indonesia's image was marred after its troops were accused of involvement in the mass executions before and after the UN-sponsored ballot of Aug. 10, 1999 that resulted in a vote to break away from Jakarta's rule.
Since the carnage of the post-vote period, Jakarta has been under pressure to create rights tribunals to bring errant solders and pro-Jakarta militia to justice. The United States, which took the lead in the campaign, stopped all military cooperation, including the sale of weapons, until a trial takes place.
Indonesia, however, had rejected the idea of an international tribunal and insisted that it conduct the trial under its own law. It took two and a half years to establish an ad hoc human rights court, pass a human rights law and the necessary legal instruments.
But these steps do not seem to be the right answer for critics. Activists from organizations like Indonesian Legal Aid and Human Rights Association (PBHI) and the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) echoed the same opinion: the loopholes were many, and transparency was far from adequate.
"It is better to be not too optimistic," Asmara Nababan, secretary general of the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) told the press.
According to rights experts, the Law No. 26/2000 on Human Rights, which is being used as the main legal basis for the tribunal, excludes the possibility of using any law other than Indonesia's criminal code.
The code, however, has fundamental weaknesses when dealing with gross human rights violations -- such as the absence of international standards on admissible evidence, testimony and medical evidence.
There are also fears that the charge of genocide will be dismissed, because the term is taken to refer to the annihilation of a population. The suspects are charged in the deaths of dozens of people in separate incidents, and could argue that this does not constitute genocide.
The new law also neglects the "forced displacement of people," which in the case of East Timor means more than 100,000 people living as refugees across the border in Indonesia-ruled West Timor.
Doubts also surround the issue of the selection of the 17 judges. Because the process was done quietly, the public was not informed of their records and affiliations.
"The doubt is understandable because the process of selecting the judges was not very transparent," said Mulya Lubis, a well-known human rights lawyer.
According to Nusryabani, most of the judges are university lecturers who were not known in human rights circles and have no experience in human rights issues. "We don't know who they are," she said.
Among the 24 ad hoc state prosecutors appointed by the attorneygeneral's office are two active military officers.
The series of trials, which began on Mar. 14, involve 18 defendants accused of gross human rights violations, among them three army generals, a police general, and a former governor of East Timor.
The crimes include massacres in two churches in Suai and Liquica districts, attacks on the residence of Dili Bishop and Nobel laureate Carlos Filips Ximenes Belo and pro-independence leader Manuel Carrascalao, and the killing of a group of nuns and civilians in Los Palos. Each incident resulted in many deaths.
The 18 accused could face 10 to 20 years in prison or a maximum sentence of death.
In an editorial, the English-language Jakarta Post said the tribunal should address many of the questions waiting to be clarified for the last two and a half years.
"We know what happened in 1999," it wrote. "But we are short of explanations as to why these events happened at all."
The daily also expressed concern that the pressure on the Indonesian government to hold the East Timor tribunal has come mostly from foreign governments -- while domestic pressure for accountability by the Indonesian government was "nearly non-existent."
Therefore, according to this argument, the tribunals might turn out to be only an attempt to please the international community instead of a genuine attempt to find the truth and uphold justice.
"For most Indonesians, East Timor was not just a mistake," the editorial pointed out, "but a nightmare they would rather forget, especially now that the territory is no longer part of the republic."
Apart from the silence from Indonesians about the trial, Nursyabani also expressed concern about the reaction from the Indonesian military thus far.
She said the presence of top ranking military officers in court was intimidating both the judges and the public. For her, a successful military influence at the trial means a stronger military role in politics as a whole.
Prior to the trial, local media also reported that Maj. Gen. Timor P. Manurung, head of the Indonesian military's legal department, said the army headquarters fully supports its officers in the trial. Timor also insisted that the officers "were only doing their duty."
"It remains to be seen how well the judges can fulfill their duties," said Mulya. "For me it is still a good start since it is the first time that Indonesia can bring army generals to court."
Meantime, activists say that an international tribunal is still an option. Nursyabani says that if the domestic justice system does not work, rights groups would demand proceedings at an international court.
March 24, 2002 (http://albionmonitor.net) All Rights Reserved. Contact email@example.com for permission to use in any format.
All Rights Reserved.
Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.