Fri, 23 May 2003

Army general skips court session for fourth time

The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

For the fourth consecutive time, Maj. Gen. Adam Damiri, the former chief of the Udayana Military Command overseeing Bali, West Nusa Tenggara, East Nusa Tenggara and East Timor, has skipped his trial at the ad hoc human rights tribunal in Jakarta.

Citing the same excuse, lawyer Hotma Sitompoel told Thursday's hearing that Damiri could not attend the trial because of his duties in Aceh, where the government on Monday launched an "integrated operation" to crush the separatist Free Aceh Movement (GAM).

Adam is the highest military officer to be tried for gross human rights violations in East Timor in 1999.

His defense lawyers said Thursday that Indonesian Military (TNI) chief Gen. Endriartono Sutarto had not allowed Adam to leave his duty in Aceh. He is currently the operational assistant to the Indonesian Military (TNI) chief of general affairs.

Under prevailing laws, a defendant may skip court three times. After that, judges are supposed to issue a letter ordering the defendant be brought to court by force.

The judges in Adam's trial, however, issued no such order for the next hearing on June 5.

"The defendant should be present to hear the sentence recommendation in a bid to defend himself in court. To maintain the integrity of the law, because enough time has been accorded to the defendant, the panel of judges will come out with a ruling within two weeks," said Presiding Judge Marni Emmy Mustafa.

After the hearing, Marni refused to say whether the court would ask prosecutors to present Adam by force, would hear the sentence recommendation in his absence, would postpone the hearing until he returned from Aceh or would reach a verdict.

The military says its operation will take six months, at the earliest.

To the surprise of many chief prosecutor S. Hozie did not present any argument over using force to get Damiri to testify. His fellow prosecutor, who refused to be named, said the prosecutors had supposedly asked the judges to present the defendant by force.

The sentence recommendation, due to be presented on April 10, has been postponed five consecutive time. One of the postponements was due to the prosecution's lack of preparedness.

None of the defendants have skipped their hearings as many times as Adam. The situation rarely happens even in a district court.

According to the law, ad hoc human rights tribunal hearings, which are financed by the state, must conclude within six months of the date they are first taken to court. Adam's case was first presented on July 10, last year.

Adam is one of 18 security personnel and civilians brought to court for gross human rights violations in East Timor in 1999. Twelve have so far been acquitted. The hearings are widely regarded as shams.