by Jim Lobe
(IPS) WASHINGTON --
human rights groups have denounced the three-year prison sentence against the most senior military officer indicted by Indonesian prosecutors for alleged abuses committed against East Timorese civilians in 1999.
Maj. Gen. Adam Damiri, who was in charge of all military operations in the former Portuguese colony at the time of the 1999 plebiscite in which some 80 percent of the population voted for independence, was found guilty by a special human rights court in Jakarta for what Judge Marmi Mustafa described as "gross human rights violations."
Damiri is now the senior military officer responsible for prosecuting a major counter-insurgency war in Aceh province in northern Sumatra.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International said he should be immediately removed from that position and called for United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan to convene a group of experts to determine whether there were other mechanisms, including an ad hoc UN tribunal, that could be used to try those responsible for the 1999 abuses, which included murder, arson, rape, and the forced expulsion of as many as half a million people.
"Indonesia's failure to heed the warnings and to respond adequately to demands to improve the process of trying the perpetrators means that the UN must now take it upon itself to follow through on its demands for justice," said Amnesty.
Damiri was the last of 18 people tried by the Indonesian court, which has sentenced six defendants, none of whom has actually served jail time. Of the 18, the governor of East Timor, a civilian, received the longest sentence -- 10 years.
The verdict caught some observers by surprise, particularly because the prosecutor, in a widely criticized move, had asked for Damiri's acquittal due to lack of evidence. But most analysts said it was unlikely that the sentence would ever be carried out.
"Damiri is the poster child for impunity in Indonesia," said Brad Adams, director of HRW's Asia division in New York. "Even the prosecution asked for an acquittal. It's clear that there is no interest in holding senior military officials accountable for their actions, no matter how heinous."
Even the State Department, which announced it intended to resume training of Indonesian military officers, expressed disappointment with the outcome. "The light sentencing of this highest-ranking defendant and others when they were found guilty, we think, has been disappointing," said spokesman Philip Reeker.
"The court has convicted only six defendants and handed only one convict a sentence that meets the country's minimum standards. The court has also permitted all of those convicted to remain free pending their appeals, and we have noted that on numerous occasions the Indonesian government failed to take full advantage of many opportunities to hold human rights violators fully accountable for their crimes in East Timor," he noted.
Damiri has also been the subject of a separate indictment by the UN-created Serious Crimes Unit in East Timor, which finally gained its formal independence last May. But Jakarta has refused to turn over any of its citizens for trial in East Timor.
Indonesia invaded and subsequently annexed East Timor in late 1975. The occupation and counter-insurgency campaign that followed the invasion is believed to have wiped out -- through violence, disease and malnutrition -- about one third of the territory's pre-war population of some 600,000 by the early 1980s.
But Jakarta failed to completely crush the resistance, and after President Soharto was ousted in 1998, the population was for the first time given an opportunity to vote on its preference in a UN-backed referendum.
During the campaign, the Indonesian military organized and armed gangs and militias that launched a reign of terror against the population.
When the vote results were made public, they went on a rampage with the backing of the military, killing between 1,000 and 2,000 people, destroying much of the territory's infrastructure and buildings, and forcing hundreds of thousands of people to flee their homes and many of those to cross over into West Timor.
Damiri was charged with responsibility for the actions of his subordinates with respect to two infamous massacres and attacks on specific houses in the capital, Dili, between April and early September 1999.
East Timor's Serious Crimes Unit also indicted him for five counts of crimes against humanity for murder, persecution, and deportation. Nonetheless, he remained on active duty and was actually promoted to the position of operational assistant to the armed forces chief of staff in Jakarta in December 1999, a post he still holds today.
His trial was deemed farcical by a number of international observers, even before the prosecutor asked for his acquittal in June. On at least four occasions, Damiri did not show up at the court, citing his responsibilities in organizing the campaign in Aceh, which was launched in mid-May.
That action has so far resulted in at least 500 killed, rising levels of malnutrition, and the displacement of tens of thousands of people, according to recent reports.
"Damiri must be removed from his position in Aceh immediately," said HRW's Adams. "A convicted human rights abuser must not be involved in conducting a war. His role in Aceh is not only an embarrassment to Indonesia but causes grave concern that the tactics used in East Timor may also be used in Aceh."
The East Timor Action Network (ETAN), which supported independence for East Timor through the 1990s, also denounced the sentence.
"The punishment does not fit the crime," said John Miller, an ETAN spokesman. He called the sentence a "joke that has done nothing to boost the laughable credibility of Indonesia's court."
Miller challenged the Bush administration, which considers the Indonesian military a key ally in the war on terrorism, to work to create an international tribunal for East Timor.
January 14, 2004 (http://www.albionmonitor.net) All Rights Reserved. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.
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