Sat, 05 Feb 2000

Compromises vital to settle debate on human rights bill

JAKARTA (JP): Political compromises are needed to settle the debate over the retroactive clause within a new bill on human rights tribunal, Minister of Law and Legislation Yusril Ihza Mahendra said on Friday.

Yusril said that political comprises by the House of Representatives would be inevitable because a retroactive term is uncommon in present Indonesian laws.

Article 1 of the Indonesian Criminal Code, for example, stipulates that an offense can only be tried under a law that has already been in place before the crime occurs.

Yusril said, however, that "inflexibility" would not solve the problem.

"If we are rigid, there will be too many past human rights abuses remaining unresolved ... therefore, I call on the public to have a thorough discussion to reach a political decision on the matter," Yusril told reporters.

Yusril's statement came as a group of legal experts were finalizing the new bill which will be the key legal instrument to try former Indonesian Military chief Gen. Wiranto for human rights abuses in East Timor.

Wiranto, who is now Coordinating Minister for Political Affairs and Security, and a number of senior military officers have been implicated in last year's violence in the ravaged territory of East Timor by the National Commission on Human Rights.

The retroactive clause will provide a basis for trying rights violations occurring before the date of the bill's enactment.

The bill, which is expected to be submitted to the House before the end of the month, also includes an article which can charge those who aided and abetted human rights violations, regardless of their presence at the scene where the offenses took place.

Separately, Director General for Law and Legislation Romly Atmasasmita, said that the retroactive clause had been implemented to try those who were involved in serious international crimes.

"Human rights violations are not regular criminal offenses so we have to use both national and international standards," said Romly, who also is a leading member of the group of experts helping to fine-tune the draft bill.

"Indonesia, as a member of the United Nations, must acknowledge and accept that," Romly added.

Skeptics have said that the government lacks a credible independent legal system to conduct prosecutions.

They said that the government at present does not have the legislation, the institutions, or the procedures to bring serious perpetrators of international crimes to justice.

The government has rejected calls for an international tribunal to try those involved in the East Timor violence, and appealed to members of the UN Security Council to allow Jakarta to handle the issue domestically. (byg)