Almost trembling as he awaits a decision, Joao Fernandes, barely
literate and desperately poor, looked nothing like the cold-blooded
killer described in the indictment against him.
Last Thursday, Mr. Fernandes became the first person to be
brought to justice for the violent rampage by the Indonesian
military and its militia proxies after East Timor's vote for
independence in 1999.
His 12-year sentence - as opposed to the 25-year maximum - came
in exchange for a guilty plea and a promise to provide evidence
against his commanding officers. He admitted to killing one man,
whose wife and daughter witnessed the act, and to participating in
one of the worst massacres of the post-referendum violence.
But no one in East Timor, thirsty for justice after a 24-year
occupation, is satisfied with the result. "We reject this verdict,"
said Catalina Pereira, the victim's daughter, outside the
courthouse. "So many men were slaughtered, and this is it?"
The dissatisfaction of Ms. Pereira and thousands of other East
Timorese illustrates how the effort to build a credible
international justice system is faltering across the globe. A
combination of weak political will, high costs, and poor
coordination are hampering justice efforts from East Timor to the
UN member states have historically been reluctant to build human
rights components into the first stages of peacekeeping missions.
When an Australian-led force arrived in East Timor in September
1999, it did not bring forensic investigators or orders to seek out
and arrest perpetrators of the crimes that had been committed
during the month.
The arriving peacekeepers' first priority was to avoid
casualties. In some cases they even escorted Indonesian soldiers
and militia leaders to the border with Indonesian West Timor -
where they are now beyond the reach of the prosecution.
"This is a mistake that can't be corrected," says Aniceto
Gutteres, director of the East Timor Human Rights Foundation.
Indeed Battalion 745, the Indonesian Army unit that UN
investigators believe murdered former Monitor contributor Sander
Thoenes and at least 20 other people in the two weeks before it
pulled out of the territory, continued the killings even after
Australian troops had landed in Dili.
It's a familiar pattern: A reluctance to expose peacekeepers to
danger allowed criminals to escape in the former Yugoslavia and in
Rwanda. International tribunals on the crimes in those countries
have since handed down indictments, but many of the worst offenders
are at large, either in friendly countries or in hiding.
Fernandes is in custody because he came home after, he says, his
wife was raped by a fellow militia member. All of the men he has
promised to testify against are in Indonesia, unlikely to make the
same mistake and return. Leaders of the more than two dozen militia
groups, with one exception, are likewise in Indonesia.
"Joao killed and he admitted it," says Olga Barreto, his court-
appointed lawyer. "But he's just a small fry. He didn't have a plan
to destroy East Timor. The ones who had a plan to destroy this
country were the Indonesian military."
Dozens of survivors of the massacre Fernandes participated in
have provided evidence. …