Radio Australia Updated August 25, 2010 20:14:20 The decision by East Timor's president, Dr Jose Ramos Horta, to pardon 23 rebels involved in his attempted murder in 2008 has been welcomed by some. But there are fears that the move could encourage a 'culture of impunity' in a country that some say suffers under political interference in court decisions.
Presenter: Claudette Werden
Speakers: Jim Dunn, author and former adviser to UN Mission in East Timor; Silas Everett, country representative for East Timor, The Asia Foundation
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WERDEN: In February 2008, president Jose Ramos Horta was shot several times outside his home on the outskirts of Dili and airlifted to Australia for emergency surgery. Dr Ramos Horta says he's decided to pardon those responsible because he says the rebels were also victims. They include Marcelo Caetano, sentenced to 16 years jail and Gastao Salsinha, who was jailed for ten years. Jim Dunn, veteran diplomat and former adviser to the UN mission in East Timor, says he understands why the president granted the amnesty.
DUNN: This is consistent with his view, the one I know [...] he's a great one for thinking to exercise pardon on the basis of people being involved of being caught up in situations and that sort of abnegate some of their responsibility. I believe as you know Reinado was shot at first, 50 minutes before Horta was shot, Horta was coming back when he heard the shooting, he was walking along the beach and he raced back to see what was happening, the men under Reinado were outraged their beloved leader, who they adored, had been shot and of course Horta comes and he was given a blast. I don't think there was anything planned about it.
WERDEN: The Dili District Court ruled that there had been no plan to assassinate Dr Ramos Horta, but it failed to determine who was responsible for firing the shot that injured him. Silas Everett, from the Asia Foundation in East Timor, that's still a mystery.
EVERETT: I think the question does raise a lot of issues actually about the details of the event itself which are as of yet unclear, there was nobody who was actually tried for pulling a trigger, for example, and so without that, it's fairly hard to actually place or blame or intent to kill or what not, but the fact is the president was shot.
WERDEN: There is concern that the president's decision to pardon the rebels will heighten community anger over the release of pro-Indonesian militia leaders indicted by the United Nations over the massacre of hundreds of innocent people in the lead up to East Timor's independence from Indonesia in 1999. But former UN adviser Jim Dunn says the cases are totally different.
DUNN: I don't think that is about impunity because there was a level of punishment, they'd been in detention for sometime, but my concern as a UN investigator for crimes against humanity in East Timor was the total impunity of those responsible for major atrocities, those who either ordered them or certainly when they began did nothing to stop them, they were never charged, they were never brought before any court, that's the impunity I am concerned about.
WERDEN: Mr Dunn says some of those wanted by the UN are now working in senior military and administrative positions for the Indonesian government.
See also: Lawyers condemn pardoning of criminals in East Timor as an erosion of democracy and the rule of law