Tue, 29 Jul 2003

Court rejection hampers unraveling of 1998 riots

Muninggar Sri Saraswati, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Attempts to unravel the May riots in 1998 suffered a severe blow on Monday when the Central Jakarta District Court rejected the request by the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) to subpoena dozens of retired and active military and police officers.

The chief of Central Jakarta District Court, M. Saleh, said he could not grant Komnas HAM's request because it was out of the court's jurisdiction.

"The investigation conducted by Komnas HAM is for prosecution while the court may approve the subpoena if it is intended for observation only," Saleh said.

The court's rejection dealt a severe blow to attempts to solve the riots in May 1998, which led to the resignation of former dictator Soeharto.

Article 89 Paragraph 3 of Law No. 39/1999 on human rights spells out Komnas HAM's observation work to include investigating alleged human rights violations and summoning witnesses, plaintiffs, victims, or the accused for questioning.

Komnas HAM had sent summons letters to dozens of retired and active military and police personnel to shed light on the tragedy, but they rejected the summons, arguing that the commission had no authority to question them.

Article 95 of Law No. 39/1999 on human rights stipulates that the commission may ask for assistance from a district court chief to force those who refuse to answer the commission's summon.

However, according to Saleh, Komnas HAM should instead apply articles on the Criminal Code Procedure (KUHAP) regulating the subpoena issue.

Article 112 Paragraph 2 of KUHAP grants investigators to subpoena witnesses.

Saleh acknowledged that Komnas HAM was allowed to investigate cases without the approval of the House of Representatives (DPR).

The court said the investigation was needed to find evidence to approve the allegations.

The legal defense team of the military earlier claimed that Komnas HAM had no jurisdiction to investigate the May riots as it had not secured approval from the House.

Salahuddin Wahid, who led Komnas HAM's ad hoc team investigating the May riots, said they would respect the court's decision.

"The decision disappoints us for sure, but we must respect it," he said.

Salahuddin said his team would finish its report without testimony from police and military officials.

He said the team was expected to finish its report in September and give it to the Attorney General's Office who would decide whether to use the report for prosecution or not.

Human rights campaigner Hendardi said the court had avoided making any decision due to military involvement in the case.

"The court only looks for excuses to withdraw the case," he said.

Hendardi suggested that Komnas HAM finish their report without testimony from the officers.

"Komnas HAM is supposed to cross-check their information from witnesses with the officers. If the officers refuse, it's their own problem as they have no chance to reveal the chronology from their side," he said.

There are dozens of military and police officers who were to be subpoenaed by Komnas HAM for ignoring the summons, including former military chief Gen. (ret) Wiranto, and former Jakarta Military commander Maj. Gen. Sjafrie Sjamsoeddin.

Komnas HAM has concluded that the state had violated the people's rights during the May 13 and May 14 riots, which took more than 1,200 lives across the country.

No state security officers were around to prevent the crimes, except for those hired by business owners to guard their assets before the rampage started.