East Timor celebrates first year of independence today

 The people of East Timor are celebrating their first year of freedom today. It took them 26 years to win their independence, at the cost of more than 200,000 lives. But that victory was only half the battle. One year later, they are working to rebuild a country disfigured and broken by war. The Indonesian military - the perpetrators of countless crimes against humanity in East Timor - are yet to be held accountable for their actions. Since enquiries by the United Nations into the violations took place three years ago, the Catholic Institute for International Relations has been calling for those alleged to have committed crimes against humanity to face justice according to international standards. Former Bishop of Dili and Nobel Laureate Carlos Ximenes Belo backed these calls in January 2000 and recommended that an international tribunal for East Timor be established. But the international community has chosen for political reasons to give Indonesia the chance to deliver its own justice through its ad hoc human rights court. These are taking place in Jakarta, but have failed to bring top-ranking officials from the Indonesian army to justice. Human rights groups have dismissed them as a farce, with extremely lenient sentences for the few who have been convicted. Many of those accused of abuses continue to occupy positions of responsibility in Indonesia. Major General Adam Damiri has missed two recent sessions of his trial before the ad hoc court. He was instead reported to be preparing for military operations in Aceh, in northern Indonesia, which were launched late on 18 May 2003. Human rights organisations estimate that as many as 10,000 people, most of them civilians, have been killed in Aceh since the separatist movement began its fight there 27 years ago. The British government, and many others in the West, has backed the position of the East Timor's president and foreign minister who favour good relations with their powerful neighbour, Indonesia, and signal that justice is no longer a priority in East Timor. But East Timor's prime minister Mari Alkatiri has stated that 'crimes against humanity must be judged and the international community has primary responsibility'. He added: 'We cannot just ignore crimes against humanity, which are the gravest of crimes, yet take petty thieves to court. It would be a travesty of justice.' The international community should put pressure on Indonesia to hand over immediately military officers indicted in East Timor to the East Timorese authorities. To date, Indonesia has refused to do so. CIIR joint programme manager for Asia Catherine Scott said: "justice in East Timor should not be just about the views of the East Timorese government or any other government. It should also be about those of the East Timorese people, the victims and their families. It should be about the need to uphold human rights and the supremacy of international law." Source: CIIR - www.ciir.org

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