INDONESIA: Attorney General’s Office Providing a ‘Fountain of Impunity’

INDONESIA: Attorney General’s Office Providing a ‘Fountain of Impunity’ 

Weeks after Indonesia’s ad hoc human rights court handed down a \”not guilty\” verdict to six officials suspected of aiding a slaughter in the Ave Maria Church in Suai, East Timor, the attorney general of Indonesia has finally turned his extreme embarrassment into action. Attorney General M. A. Rachman filed an appeal with the Supreme Court on Sept. 4, 2002, after the acquittals on Aug. 14-15. 

Along with the six acquittals, the former governor of East Timor, Abilio Soares, was found guilty but sentenced to only three years in jail despite the requirements of Indonesian law for a minimum sentence of 10 years. 

The attorney general’s office has been widely criticised by local activists, international monitoring committees and human right watchdogs around the world. It is now abundantly clear that the attorney general’s failure to properly investigate, present and prosecute these cases is providing an enormous loophole for violators of human rights abuses. 

ELSAM, an Indonesian non-governmental organisation (NGO) monitoring the trials, spoke of the \”miserable failure\” of the attorney general \”in protecting the society from future crimes similar in nature with these cases,\” adding, \”there have been many irregularities in the trial process which prove, especially, the feebleness of the prosecutors.\” 

Amnesty International and the Judicial System Monitoring Programme also issued a joint statement condemning the trials, saying they delivered \”neither truth nor justice.\” 

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) was present at the opening of the trials and witnessed the presence of famed criminal Eurico Guiterres and many of his followers who comprise one of the most violent militia gangs to have ravaged the tiny nation of East Timor after it won independence. The militia members were clearly in the court to threaten any potential witnesses, dressed as they were in the military fatigues and face-paint that had been used in East Timor, and many witnesses did, indeed, stay away as their protection could not be guaranteed. 

The judges too must take some of the blame in handing down insufficient sentences and unfair judgements they too were intimidated by the presence of the highest generals in the courtroom dressed in full uniform and publicly shaking hands with the defendants. 

The inadequacies of the criminal justice system in failing to deliver justice in such an obvious case explains many other everyday abuses in Indonesia, such as the ubiquitous presence of torture in police cells, the control of the military over the lives and money of impoverished Indonesians, the impunity for corruption enjoyed by many businessmen and politicians and the presence of dozens of armed civilian militia groups operating throughout the archipelago and engineering communal conflicts. 

It is clear that the international community must focus its efforts in turning off the fountain of impunity provided by the attorney general’s department in Indonesia. One key to this solution is to take over the work of providing justice to the victims of gross human rights abuses when it proves too difficult: the United Nations must now obey the recommendations of its own International Commission of Inquiry on East Timor to establish an international criminal tribunal. 

When the local process is so clearly biased in favour of the perpetrators, the United Nations has a clear responsibility to act according to its universal principles. At the same time, the United Nations, concerned governments and NGOs around the world need to focus their efforts on reforming the sick criminal justice system left as the legacy of Suharto, a man whose own impunity for crimes against humanity is at the very heart of the battle for justice in Indonesia. 

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : MR-23-2002
Countries : Indonesia,
Issues : Impunity,