The hopes of victims and advocates for justice in East Timor were given another blow last week with the release of two notorious criminals from prison.
The former Fretilin government Interior Minister, Rogerio Lobato, and Indonesian-backed militia leader, Joni Marques, were both freed following President Jose Ramos-Horta granting them clemency as part of the nation’s sixth celebration of the restoration of independence on 20 May 2008.
Lobato was convicted of manslaughter and illegal weapons distribution during the disintegration of law and order in East Timor in 2006 and sentence to more than 7 years imprisonment. Joni Marques was convicted of crimes against humanity for leading a massacre of unarmed religious and civilians near Los Palos on the country’s eastern districts in the chaos that accompanied the 1999 independence referendum. Marques was sentenced to 33 years imprisonment.
Following their release, the United Nations Integrated Mission in East Timor sought assurances from the government for the safety of the victims and witnesses of the heinous crimes committed by these men.
“The freedom of such perpetrators may bring into question East Timor’s international human rights commitments,” said Timotio de Deus, Director of East Timor’s peak civil society law and justice group, the Judicial System Monitoring Program. “However laudable in spirit, attempts to move on from the country’s legacy of violence must not outweigh the rule of law,” he added.
Martinho Soares, a relative of one of the victims of the Los Palos massacre, said “We are sad with the leaders’ decision. We want them to stay in jail, they must pay for what they have done in the past.”