Tue, 07 Nov 2000

House approves law on human rights tribunal

JAKARTA (JP): The House of Representatives passed on Monday a law on human rights tribunals which makes it possible to try past abuses.

In a plenary session led by House Deputy Speaker Soetardjo Soerjoguritno, all 10 factions at the House endorsed the law.

The law may be key in trying those suspected of rights abuses during last year's violence in East Timor, and overcoming the controversy over a recent constitutional amendment which supports the principle of nonretroactivity.

According to Article 43 of the new law, past rights abuses can be brought to an ad hoc tribunal after receiving approval from the House and the president.

The Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI Perjuangan) faction hailed the law, but urged fairness in using the law to hear cases of past human rights abuses.

"Let the House decide what crimes in the past can be brought to the tribunal," faction spokesman Don Herdono said during the session.

Don remarked the application of the law's retroactive principle could be used in conjunction with the planned rights and reconciliation commission.

He said PDI Perjuangan also agreed with the inclusion of "omission" in Article 42 of the law, which makes it possible for superiors in military and civilian institutions to be held responsible for human rights abuses committed by their subordinates.

"There will be no more trials where only lower ranking soldiers are prosecuted while their superiors go free," Don remarked.

The Golkar Party faction also said it supported the law, which caries a maximum sentence of 25 years in prison for gross human rights violations, including genocide and crimes against humanity.

"It's a breakthrough for our Criminal Code, but it's normal since genocide and crimes against humanity should be punished with heavy sentences," Golkar faction spokesman M. Akil Mochtar said.

The Criminal Code currently carries a maximum punishment of 20 years in prison, though certain crimes such as drug trafficking can be punished with a life sentence or death.

Akil said Golkar also agreed with the law's assertion that the National Commission on Human Rights has the right to investigate rights abuses.

"The commission has the experience and professionalism, and is expected play an important role in processing human rights abuses," he contended.

The National Awakening Party (PKB) faction hailed the law for allowing for the prosecution of incidents taking place outside Indonesian territory, as stipulated in Article 5.

"The tribunal can try human rights abuses committed by Indonesians outside Indonesian territory," faction spokesman Achmad Syatibi said, apparently referring to alleged rights abuses in East Timor.

Most factions agreed that the possibility of trying past rights abuses should remain open despite the constitutional amendment.

Minister of Justice and Human Rights Yusril Ihza Mahendra said the passing of the new law should assuage fears that past human rights abuses would go unpunished.

Yusril even quipped that with the law, as long as there was approval from the House, an ad hoc tribunal could be established to investigate alleged rights abuses dating back to Adam and Eve.

Yusril also suggested cases involving foreigners be investigated, noting some former Dutch residents accused Japanese soldiers of torture during the Japanese occupation in the 1940s.(jun)