Wed, 07 May 2003

Army major general skips two rights court hearings

Muninggar Sri Saraswati, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Maj. Gen. Adam Damiri still holds an important position in the Indonesia Military (TNI) despite his status as a defendant in the country's ad hoc human rights tribunal.

However, Adam irked the judges on Tuesday after skipping his second court hearing because of military duty.

During the hearing, his lawyers told the court that Adam had to accompany the TNI chief of general affairs to East Java in a bid to inspect military preparations prior to the military operation in Aceh.

Adam, who was the Udayana Military commander overseeing Bali, West Nusa Tenggara, East Nusa Tenggara and East Timor, is the operational assistant to the TNI chief of general affairs.

"We expect the hearing to be postponed until next week," said a letter presented to the judges by the lawyers.

The panel of five judges agreed to adjourn the hearing until next week, however, they condemned its postponement, as the court was supposed to hear the prosecutor's sentence demand against Adam.

"We expect all parties of this hearing to respect the court because it has been postponed several times," presiding judge Marni Emmy Mustafa told the hearing on Tuesday.

She ordered chief prosecutor S. Hozi "to do his best to bring the defendant before the court".

The prosecutors supposedly presented their sentence demand against Adam on April 10 but they asked for a postponement as they had not finished the sentence demand document.

The court hearing was then postponed to April 24, but it had to be postponed again because Adam had to go to Aceh to prepare for the military's plan to launch a military operation in the province.

No other rights defendant has skipped as many hearings as Adam, who is the highest ranking soldier brought before the tribunal.

Legal observer Luhut MP Pangaribuan said that Adam's defiance to attend the hearings could be considered contempt of court.

"Both conceptually and morally, it is a contempt of court," he said.

Although the country does not have a law on contempt of court, judges can order prosecutors to forcibly bring a defendant to court, Luhut said.

"Judges may consider a defendant's argument (to be absent), but the court's interest should be put above everything. In this case, we are talking about the court's integrity," he said.

The court usually allows a defendant to miss up to three hearings, particularly for health reasons.

However, judges may order prosecutors to use force to present a defendant if necessary. If a verdict is to be delivered at a hearing, the judges usually deliver it in-absentia.

Adam is one of 18 security personnel and civilians being brought to court for gross human rights violations in East Timor in 1999.

He is charged with crimes against humanity for failing to prevent bloodshed in East Timor in 1999. The offense carries a minimum penalty of 10 years in jail.

Eleven have been acquitted and five sentenced to between three years and 10 years in jail, although they remain free pending their appeal.