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Indonesian Ad Hoc Court
Tries East Timor Abuse Suspects

The people of East Timor voted for independence from Indonesia on August 30, 1999, in a United Nations-supervised referendum. Indonesia had invaded the country in 1975 after the Timorese gained independence from Portugal, and during the 24-year occupation that followed, an estimated 100,000 to 250,000 people had been killed.

In the period surrounding the referendum, more than 1,000 civilians were killed in violence instigated by pro-Jakarta militias. Some 250,000 people were forced to flee their homes. Following the referendum and surrounding bloodbath, the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor oversaw the nation until it became independent on May 20, 2002.

United Nations investigators and an Indonesian human rights commission found that the militia violence was planned, supported and directed by the Indonesian military in an effort to prevent independence for the territory. A United Nations International Commission of Inquiry recommended in a January 2000 report that an international tribunal be created to try war crimes suspects, calling such a move "fundamental for the future social and political stability of East Timor." No such tribunal was created, largely due to strong resistance from the Indonesian government. Instead, East Timor created special panels in the capital, Dili, to try suspected war criminals domestically, and Jakarta established an Ad Hoc Human Rights Court to prosecute Indonesian suspects.

The Ad Hoc court in Jakarta proposed to try 18 suspects on charges of crimes against humanity. As of mid-January, 2003, 10 military and police officers had been acquitted. One military officer was convicted and sentenced to five years in prison, pending appeal, and two civilians had been convicted.

The number of acquittals, the failure of the prosecution to seek maximum penalties, the appointment to the court of judges with close ties to the Indonesian military, and other factors, have discredited the Ad Hoc court in the eyes of many foreign governments. These include the United States, which had considered the trials a benchmark for re-establishing military ties with Indonesia. Human Rights organizations including the East Timor Action Network,the Judicial System Monitoring Programme, and Human Rights Watch have also criticized the trials.

  • Desmond Ball et al., Masters of Terror, Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, Australian National University, Canberra, (2002). This book contains a comprehensive list of profiles of the key suspects in the 1999 violence in East Timor. This list is also available on the Masters of Terror website.

Written Janyary 14, 2003; Last updated Feb 5, 2008.

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