The Guardian 13 April, 2005

Liquica Church massacre —
UN must press for justice

On April 6, 1999, hundreds of East Timorese and Indonesian militia, soldiers and police attacked several thousand refugees sheltering in the Catholic church in Liquica, after slaughtering several civilians nearby the day before. According to an unpublished report commissioned by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the attack left up to 60 people dead, although the precise death toll is still unknown. The refugees had sought shelter in the churchyard from earlier militia attacks. According to the report, "The systematic disposal of corpses... [t]ogether with the substantial evidence of TNI [Indonesian military] and Police involvement in the massacre itself, the presence of key officials at the scene of the crime, and the responsibility of those officials for creating and coordinating the BMP [militia],... makes it a virtual certainty that the Liquica church massacre was planned by high-ranking TNI and civilian authorities."

This year the sixth anniversary of the outrage comes as the UN Commission of Experts (COE) is visiting the now independent East Timor to evaluate existing judicial processes and propose next steps to hold accountable those responsible for serious crimes in East Timor in 1999. The Commission is to evaluate the temporary courts set up in both Indonesia and East Timor to try serious crimes committed in East Timor in 1999. So far higher-level perpetrators have not been held accountable. The government of Indonesia is refusing to allow the COE to enter Indonesia.

Several Indonesian officers accused of failing to prevent the Liquica massacre were tried in Jakarta but acquitted. Only one East Timorese has been convicted in East Timor’s Special Panels court for his involvement in the massacre; many other Indonesians and East Timorese indicted for this massacre and other crimes remain free in Indonesia.

Indonesia and East Timor recently established a Commission of Truth and Friendship which, according to John M Miller of human rights advocacy group East Timor Action Network, is intended to pre-empt the work of the Commission of Experts and block any effective steps toward accountability and justice. "The truth of what happened in 1999 is well-established: Indonesian officials — working with militia they created, funded and directed — committed heinous crimes, including more than a thousand murders, in a systematic campaign to terrorise and destroy East Timor. The organisers and perpetrators of the violence are well-known", Mr Miller said recently.


All of the security officials tried in Indonesia’s Ad Hoc Human Rights Court for their involvement in the massacre and other crimes were acquitted either at trial or on appeal, including police chief Timbul Silaen, regional military commander General Adam Damiri and East Timor military commander Tono Suratman.

Last month, the governments of Indonesia and East Timor agreed to establish a Commission of Truth and Friendship (CTF). The Commission will include people from both countries and is to establish a "shared historical record" of the violations of human rights before and after East Timor’s independence ballot in 1999, and will recommend amnesty for those who "cooperate fully" and propose people-to-people reconciliation efforts.

Indonesian and East Timorese NGOs and international human rights groups have strongly criticised the CTF, fearing that it will institutionalise impunity and is not capable of identifying perpetrators. Indonesia invaded East Timor in 1975 and brutally occupied the territory until October 1999. The international community never recognised Indonesia’s claim, and approximately 200,000 East Timorese were killed as a result of the Indonesian occupation.

In 1999, Indonesia agreed to a UN-administered referendum on East Timor’s political status. After the referendum, in which East Timorese people voted overwhelmingly for independence, Indonesian security forces and the militia they controlled laid waste to the territory, displacing three-quarters of the population, murdering approximately 1400 civilians, and destroying more than 75 per cent of the buildings and infrastructure.

In November 2001, the UN Security Council established the Serious Crimes Unit (SCU) in Dili to conduct investigations and prepare indictments to assist in bringing to justice those responsible for crimes against humanity and other serious crimes committed in East Timor in 1999. It also created hybrid Timorese-international Special Panel courts to try these cases. The SCU filed its final indictments late last year. Approximately 76 per cent of the nearly 400 people indicted by the SCU are living free in Indonesia, which has refused to honour its promise to cooperate with the SCU. It indicted nine Indonesian officers and 12 local militia for the massacre. All are believed to be in Indonesia, and INTERPOL has issued arrest warrants for them. The massacre is also cited in a wide-ranging indictment issued in 2003 accusing General Wiranto, former Indonesian defence minister, and other senior officials of crimes against humanity throughout East Timor in 1999.

The SCU in Dili convicted and jailed one militia member, who had been indicted separately of three murders, including one during the massacre.

No judicial process has yet been established to investigate and prosecute those responsible for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity prior to 1999, when more than 99 per cent of the deaths resulting from the Indonesian military occupation took place.

"We urge the [UN’s] COE to listen carefully to the victims and explore all possibilities, including an international criminal tribunal. In February 2000, UN Secretary-General stood in the Liquica church yard and called for ‘justice to prevail over impunity’. The COE must find ways to fulfill that pledge", East Timor Action Network ETAN spokesman John Miller said.

Acknowledgements: East Timor Action Network.

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