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Rights group urges East Timor to ban amnesty for international war criminals

Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] on Monday called on the government of East Timor [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive] to close legal loopholes [press release] in that allow for national amnesties and pardons for war crimes. In a report [text, PDF] analyzing the consistency of the country's penal code with provisions of the Rome Statute [text, PDF] of the International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] and other international laws, AI accused East Timor of creating a "culture of impunity." Some convicted by the UN Special Panels for Serious Crimes [official website] of crimes against humanity during East Timor's 1999 transition to nationhood were released by pardons or commutation of sentences. Militia leader Joni Marques, originally sentenced to 33 years in prison for crimes against humanity, was released in 2008 after his sentence was commuted, and militia leader Maternus Bere [case materials], indicted for his involvement in massacres of civilians in 1999, was transferred to Indonesia before his trial to avoid prosecution. AI Researcher on East Timor Isabelle Arradon said:

Survivors of decades of human rights violations in Timor-Leste are demanding justice and reparations, but the authorities' routine use of amnesties, pardons and similar measures has created a culture of impunity. ... The authorities in Timor-Leste are compromising on justice to seek peace—but trading away justice for such serious crimes only undermines the rule of law, and cannot resolve the trauma of the past.
AI recommends that East Timor take steps to implement its cooperation obligation under the ICC and hold accountable those guilty of human rights violations. Additionally, AI recommends that East Timor amend its penal code to comply with the provisions of the Rome Statute and other international law, banning amnesties for crimes against international law.

In August 1999, East Timor voted for independence from Indonesia in the UN-sponsored East Timor special autonomy referendum [text]. The Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation in East Timor (CAVR) [official website] found [report materials] that more than 100,000 people were killed between 1974 and 1999, and severe crimes against humanity were consistent during the 25-year Indonesian occupation. Last August, East Timor President Jose Ramos-Horta [BBC profile], who won the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize for his work in attempting to resolve the Timor-Indonesian conflict, rejected a call for a criminal tribunal [JURIST report] to investigate abuses during the Timorese bid for independence, saying that such a tribunal would harm reconciliation between the two nations. AI requested a criminal tribunal [JURIST report], to be appointed by the UN, citing the lack of investigation into abuses during that period. In 2008, Indonesia accepted a truth commission report [JURIST report] that indicated it was responsible for rights abuses during the 1999 referendum for independence.

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