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Embarrassing NZ files could play a vital role

26 April 2000

From Indonesia Human Rights Committee.

Embarrassing NZ files could play a vital role

Maire Leadbeater says New Zealand must put its weight behind calls for an international war crimes tribunal for East Timor

The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Phil Goff has taken up the challenge of talking to Indonesia's leaders about genocide and bringing the perpetrators to account. Unfortunately, he has so far accepted Indonesia's face saving formula of trying the generals 'in-house'.

What is most worrying is not so much that Indonesia may impose limp penalties on its own, but rather that those who have commited 'crimes against humanity' should be brought before a totally transparent international court.

An international tribunal along the lines of those established for people accused of war-crimes in the former Yugoslavia was strongly recommended by the UN's own commission of inquiry. But now UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan and western governments are apparently willing to trust Indonesia's legal system to produce a fair result.

At best this is naive, at worst it is evidence of the same kind of collusion and accommodation to Indonesia that last year led the United Nations to accept that Indonesia could safely be left in charge of 'security' in East Timor in the lead up to the August independence ballot.

For 35 years Indonesia's armed forces have got away with innumerable crimes against humanity, without ever being to account. There are tentative signs of change such as the recent sacking of General Wiranto from both his cabinet and military posts, but that is not enough to give confidence that the cycle of impunity has ended.

In West Timor the Indonesian military is still defies both the international community and the Government by refusing to end the intimidation of the East Timorese still trapped in refugee camps.

In Jakarta the former dictator Suharto continues to thumb his nose at the investigation set up to look into his family's abuse of power.

The corruption in the Indonesian judicial system is so notorious, that the Government has just announced that it will move two- thirds of the Jakarta judges out to the provinces.

Indonesia's efforts to set up a Human Rights Court have been mired in controversy about whether the court will have powers to try people whose crimes took place before last October.

There is international pressure to get Indonesia to accept that an in-house trial should make use of international judges and foreign observers. Instead Indonesia embarks on yet another investigation, which will recommend to the Attorney General whether or not to pursue the charges.

The international pussy-footing is in contrast to the actions of a coalition of human rights groups in the United States. In March they slapped a civil lawsuit on Lieutenant General Johny Lumintang as he landed in Washington.

The key evidence against him is in a document found in the now deserted Indonesian military headquarters in Dili. The letter, written last May, tells the local military commander to start planning 'repressive/coercive measures' and to prepare the evacuation plans should the East Timorese choose independence.

The worst that is likely to happen to Johny is that he will be sued for damages. In 1994 a Boston Court imposed punitive damages on General Panjaitan, for his leading role in the Dili massacre. New Zealand plaintiff Helen Todd, the mother of vicitm Kamal Bamadhaj, is yet to see a cent of the $US 14 million ($28 million) she was awarded.

The United States government, far from supporting the initiative of the human rights groups, has expressed its 'regret' about the situation. No wonder it is embarrassed - Lieutenant- General Lumintang has trained with the US military in the past, and was back as a guest to speak about 'reform'.

There is another reason for insisting on an international enquiry: not all the evidence is to be found in Indonesia and East Timor. Australia has come under pressure recently to come clean and open its East Timor intelligence files. Leaked foreign affairs documents indicate that Australia was well informed about the Indonesian military conspiracy to sabotage the East Timor referendum.

A whistle-blower, Detective Wayne Sievers, assigned to the United Nations police in East Timor last year, has tabled formerly secret intelligence reports before an Australian Parliamentary committee. He described how the Indonesian command in East Timor held planning meetings to set up Operasi Sapu Jagad (Operation Total Cleansing).

It is virtually certain that New Zealand also has important and revealing - if embarrassing- intelligence reports which should be shared with the international war crimes tribunal We should be offering to open our books for the tribunal.

New Zealand could play a vital role by leading the lobby in support of an independent international war crimes tribunal. It is our best hope for a full and fair accounting, and for surviving victims to receive compensation.

Maire Leadbeater is the chairwoman of the Indonesia Human Rights Committee.

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