Companion to East Timor - Indictments by the Serious Crimes Unit

Indictments by the Serious Crimes Unit

The UN Security Council established the UN Transitional Authority in East Timor (UNTAET) in October 1999 in order to prepare East Timor for its transition to independence.

Instead of conducting the prosecutions of suspected Indonesian war criminals at an international tribunal in an established venue such as The Hague, the United Nations left it all to UNTAET, which created an under-resourced organisation in Dili as part of the impoverished local court structure.

It established the Serious Crimes Unit (SCU) to conduct investigations and prepare indictments, and it established the Special Panels for Serious Crimes within the District Court in Dili to hear cases involving ‘serious criminal offences’, namely genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, murder, sexual offences and torture.

After independence on 20 May 2002, the SCU functioned under the legal authority of the General Prosecutor of Timor-Leste, Dr Longuinhos Monteiro. Siri Frigaard, a Norwegian prosecutor, was Deputy General Prosecutor for Serious Crimes and chief of the SCU. She reported functionally to the General Prosecutor.

To maximise her limited resources, Siri Frigaard prioritised military and political leaders who were allegedly the architects of these serious crimes or who failed to take reasonable measures to prevent the crimes or punish the perpetrators. Accordingly, on 24 February 2003, she filed an indictment with the Special Panels for Serious Crimes against:

General Wiranto (Indonesian Minister for Defence and Security, and Commander of the Indonesian Armed Forces).

Major-General Zacky Anwar Makarim (Head of Special Team, Member of Task Force to Oversee the Popular Consultation in East Timor).

Major-General Kiki Syahnakri (Assistant for Operations to the Army Chief of Staff and Commander of the Martial Law Operations Command in East Timor).

Major-General Adam Damiri (Commander of Military Area IX, which included East Timor).

Colonel Tono Suratman (Military Commander of East Timor).

Colonel Mohamed Noer Muis (successor to Suratman).

Lieutenant-Colonel Yayat Sudrajat (the military intelligence chief in East Timor)

Abilio Soares (Governor of East Timor).

In international criminal law, an indictment is the primary accusatory instrument and establishes the frame for the criminal trial. The indictments alleged that the defendants were responsible as individuals and as persons having command responsibility over others. On the same day, Frigaard also applied for arrest warrants for all defendants, including Wiranto.

On 25 June 2003, a single judge of the Special Panels dismissed the request for warrants for lack of supporting evidence.

The next day, the Deputy General Prosecutor filed a new request for arrest warrants, and proceeded, between 26 June and 17 September 2003, to file 34 binders of evidence containing 13,000 pages and the statements of 1,500 witnesses with the Special Panels.

In mid-January 2004, the matter was transferred to an international judge in the Special Panels. The General Prosecutor, Dr Longuinhos Monteiro, gave several press interviews criticising the international judges on the Special Panels for failing to act on the arrest warrant against Wiranto. He urged them to issue the warrant, saying that he would submit it to Interpol.

On 10 May 2004, Judge Philip Rapoza issued a 20-page warrant authorising ‘the arrest of the defendant Wiranto’ for:

  1. Crime against humanity – Murder
  2. Crime against humanity – Deportation or Forcible Transfer of Population
  3. Crime against humanity – Persecution

President Xanana Gusmao immediately called the General Prosecutor to his office. The next day, the General Prosecutor personally filed an application with the Special Panels to retrieve the Wiranto et al indictment in order to ‘review’ it. He later said that the Wiranto warrant was ‘premature’ and that the SCU had ‘jumped the gun… I’ve filed a letter, not to close the case, but to revise it.’1

On 17 May 2004, the Special Panels rejected the application for lack of grounds – understandably, since the case against Wiranto and his accomplices was so overwhelming. President Gusmao also criticised the issuance of the Wiranto warrant. He subsequently went to Bali where he met Wiranto, gave him a much-publicised ‘bear hug’ in public, before the media.

However, although the East Timorese General Prosecutor may not have forwarded the warrant to Interpol, that omission has no legal effect.

1 Press Report, Associated Press Worldstream, 13 May 2004.