UNMIT: Press Briefing 26 September 2008 on 1999 serious crimes
Press Briefing 26 September 2008
Speakers: Marek Michon, Chief of Serious Crimes Investigation Team, UNMIT
Longuinhos Monteiro, Prosecutor-General of Timor-Leste
Allison Cooper, UNMIT Spokesperson
Hipolito Gama, UNMIT Spokesperson
This is a near verbatim transcript of UNMIT’s weekly press briefing. The views expressed by those external to the United Nations do not necessarily reflect the views of UNMIT.
Allison Cooper. Good morning everybody. Thank you for coming. Today we are joined by the Prosecutor-General Longuinhos Monteiro and also by the head of UNMIT’s Serious Crimes Investigation Team, Marek Michon. We will be giving you an overview of how the UN is working with the Prosecutor-General in investigating crimes allegedly committed in and around 1999. I would ask all of you to limit your questioning of both speakers to crimes about these times.
Marek Michon. Good morning and thank you for coming. Let me start by presenting our mandate of the Serious Crimes Investigation Team. The SCIT was established in order to assist the Office of the Prosecutor-General with outstanding investigations into crimes committed in 1999. By outstanding I mean cases that were not investigated by the former Serious Crimes Unit that was in Timor-Leste until 2005. Our team consists of 51 staff members, we have 11 investigators, five international coordination officers, five national legal officers, and of course administrative and supportive staff. In the brochures you received, our structure is more elaborated. We are divided into five regional investigation teams. All the teams are investigating cases in at least two of the districts of Timor-Leste. We commenced our work in February 2008, after the agreement between the Office of the Prosecutor-General and UNMIT was signed. At the beginning there were 396 cases pending, and we have prioritized 50 cases to investigate in the next coming months. It is obvious that 11 investigators cannot investigate 396 cases at the same time. We hope to complete investigations within three years. Recently we received an information management system similar to those used in other tribunals such as the International Criminal Tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia and the one in Cambodia. So we hope that we will be able to create a fully searchable database that will also benefit the office of the Prosecutor-General. Thank you very much.
Prosecutor-General Longuinhos Monteiro: Good morning, I will speak in Tetum. After the signing of the agreement with UNMIT in February on the establishment of the Serious Crimes Investigation Team, that it will focus on the conclusion of outstanding cases investigated by the previous Serious Crimes Unit. The difference between the previous and current unit is that the previous Unit also had the mandate to indict, but the current SCIT can only investigate and recommend the cases for indictment to my office. So my office supervises the work of the SCIT and based upon that we have a weekly meeting to facilitate the process. So after concluding investigations, they submit the documents and we’ll analyze and determine if the cases are strong enough to be dealt with by the Courts. Marek mentioned there were 396 pending cases so 20 cases have been submitted to me and we are analyzing those 20 cases and we are hoping to process these soon.
So we hope with the establishment of SCIT the institution will be able to conclude the investigations and that will give the family members a relief that the cases have been dealt with and solved.
TVTL: In regards to the SCIT investigation, this is a continuation process of prior work; is there any chance to indict anyone in Indonesia alleged to be involved?
Marek Michon: Thank you for the question. Many perpetrators of 1999 remain at large in Indonesia. The Courts of Timor-Leste and the Prosecutor General are free to prosecute those perpetrators. However, bringing them back from Indonesia depends upon bilateral agreements of extradition and it depends on the will of Indonesian authorities to prosecute those. To my best knowledge, but maybe Mr. Monteiro can confirm, an agreement on extradition has not been reached at this time. Thank you.
Stephanie March: The first question is what progress has been made by the Prosecutor-General Office with the cases brought up by the Serious Crimes Investigation Unit and put forward by the CAVR report?
Marek Michon: The Serious Crimes Unit filed more than 90 indictments for crimes committed in 1999. Close to 400 perpetrators were indicted. More than 80 of them were convicted. Of course the vast majority is still at large in Indonesia, however the indictments remain in the Courts of Timor-Leste seeing as there is not time limitation on bring people to court for crimes against humanity. Crimes against humanity also enjoy universal jurisdiction which means the perpetrators do not necessarily need to be brought to justice in Timor-Leste. So this is the progress made so far since 2005.
Stephanie March: What will be the future of the Serious Crimes Investigation Team when UNMIT finishes?
I don’t think I can answer this question, as we are a part of UNMIT, when UNMIT’s mandate expires, ours also expires, but I am not sure of that.
Tito from RTL: My question is to Marek, those most responsible for 1999 are General Wiranto and other Indonesian generals. So have you investigated their cases or are they still pending?
Marek: It depends from which point of view you are looking at this case. From our point of view there is an indictment against Wiranto and other high ranking Indonesian officials filed in 2003. According to Timorese law, they are still indictees. They were however also treated by ad-hoc tribunal in Jakarta and they were acquitted, so, from an Indonesian point of view, they are not indictees. But with regard to international jurisdiction, they are still indictees.
Question from Gantry – inaudible translation
My question follows Tito. If the ad-hoc tribunal in Jakarta could not indict Wiranto and others and they were acquitted, my question is which international tribunal can bring them to justice.
Marek: At the moment there is no international tribunal who can hear this case. Such a tribunal would have to be created. The existing tribunals have different jurisdictions. The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda is hearing cases from Rwanda; the Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia is taking care of cases for the former Yugoslavia. The International Criminal Court was created in 2004 but the ICC can only try cases of crimes committed after its establishment. So the answer is there is no international tribunal at the moment.
Question: The report of 20 cases submitted to your office. Who are they and if those cases are concluded in three years, when will trials commence?
Longuinhos Monteiro: According to the law, I can’t give details but we are in the process of analyzing them and we will then recommend action to be taken.
Question: So they are part of those who were indicted in 2003?
Question STL: My question is for Mr. Marek. Based on experience there are a lot of pending cases, based upon on your observation what is lacking in the Timorese legal system? Secondly, we see like in the case of Wiranto, that the major responsible were acquitted, we are concerned it will only be the small fish caught and the big fish will be let go.
Marek Michon: Thank you. I think the best person to answer the lack of something in the Timorese judicial system would be the Prosecutor-General. My personal opinion is that there is lack of people. East Timor is a very young country. And lawyers now are in university studying the law. I fully understand the concerns that with a limited number of staff you can not do everything, but I want to highlight that this is my person opinion.
In regard to the second question, of course bringing those to justice who orchestrated the violence of 1999 depends not only on Timor-Leste. It depends upon Indonesia and the international community but please do not forget that those who are indicted, as you call them, the small fish, they were directly involved in committing crimes in 1999. In murders, tortures, sexual offences so I think that those people should also be brought to justice not withstanding the accountability of the “big fish”.
Longuinos Monteiro: I would like to explain the two focuses we have at the moment. The first is on the technical aspect of the investigation; the second is on the perspective of the public accusation. It is easy to accuse someone, so this is what has happened in Timor-Leste, but proving that accusing is not as easy as we think. For example, the two things need to be taken into account into order to measure the difficulties we face. When it comes to the technical aspect, when there is a case pending, it doesn’t mean that it has stopped, however things need to be followed up. So for example, witness statements to support indictments. Secondly we may have the witness but they may be reluctant to provide a statement. So based on our civil law, when we accuse someone, we have to have evidence which includes a strong statement by the witness. So when someone was killed at short distance, we need to find out what is the “short” distance, one, meter, two meters, three meters? This is what the investigation has to prove. So when it comes to the technical factors, inaudible translation …
So when we deal with cases of serious crimes, each country has its own sovereignty and we can’t interfere with that sovereignty. When somebody stands one meter inside a different territory, that person is out of jurisdiction. Any lack we are facing on the investigation is not all the fault of the judiciary and the investigators but it can also be the fault of a lack of political will. It is not always the fault of the prosecutor and the investigators.
Question Stephanie March: The president justified his pardon on Joni Marquez because he said it wasn’t fair he is in jail and no one else is. Do you think it’s unfair to those that get convicted that some are in jail and some get off just because of where they are logistically?
Longuinhos Monteiro: From the part of judicial actors, we can’t say if this is fair or not. So we focus what we are concerned with and the work we have done and the work of other organs. I say this as the Prosecutor-General but not as an individual.
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