Who will investigate atrocities?
The remains of 10 East Timorese were discovered in the back of a pickup
DILI, EAST TIMOR
As evidence mounts of grievous human-rights abuses in East Timor, it is also growing clear that the Australian-led peacekeeping forces and the UN mission here have neither the means nor the authority to track down those responsible.Skip to next paragraph
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Yesterday, Reuters correspondents discovered 10 charred bodies in the back of a small white pickup truck that had been set afire in a field on the coastal road west of Dili. Severed limbs and heads indicated that the victims had met a violent end.
This grim scene is the most persuasive evidence of mass killing yet found in East Timor since the international community stepped in to restore order. But in contrast to Kosovo, where human-rights investigators began work as NATO forces took control on the ground, the UN in East Timor has no such capability.
UN police officers and Australian military police yesterday took photographs and made notes at the scene, but left after a half hour. Australian Capt. Justin Roocke, a UN civilian police officer, shook his head. "When you actually look at this sort of situation and our ability to investigate these things - it'll be when somebody comes forward."
Earlier this week, the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva established a commission to investigate abuses in East Timor in 1999, over the objections of Indonesia and other Asian countries. The commission will be able to recommend to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan that an international tribunal be established to hold people accountable for the violence that has surrounded East Timor's Aug. 30 vote for independence from Indonesia.
But while diplomats talk, corpses are turning up here with increasing regularity. Across the street from Dili's trashed and abandoned Toyota dealership, a body lies in a drainage ditch.
People have dropped bougainvillaea blossoms and some money onto the corpse, offerings that mask most of it from view. Those in the neighborhood say a machete wound was visible earlier. Armed, anti-independence militia groups used machetes in their vengeful rampage after the results of the vote were announced Sept. 4.
"As we come across more and more of these examples, the best we can hope for is that there will be a reasonable record of what is physically present," says a Western legal expert who spoke on condition of anonymity. " 'Best' because there's no domestic jurisdiction to even contemplate any additional measures now."
The problem is that Indonesia remains the legal authority in the territory. That creates a quandary, the expert says, where Indonesia claims authority but doesn't exercise power. And the other side - the Australian-led forces and the United Nations Mission in East Timor (UNAMET) - "has the power but not the full legal authority, and doesn't want to exercise power at the barrel of a gun."
Legal and judicial vacuum
So far the international forces here have found about 30 bodies - including yesterday's discovery - that bear evidence of violence, according to UNAMET spokesman David Wimhurst. Like the corpse in front of the Toyota dealership, many of the human remains are being virtually ignored in what Mr. Wimhurst calls a "juridical and legal vacuum."
"What we urgently need to see," he adds, "are experts ... who can come in and conduct a systematic investigation."