Call for International Tribunal, Regardless of Indonesian Court Verdicts

May 26, 2003 More than ninety leading religious leaders and organizations from across the U.S. released a statement today urging the U.S. government to support the establishment of an international tribunal for East Timor. The statement follows the last week's acquittal by an Indonesian court of former Indonesian military commander Brigadier General Tono Suratman for crimes against humanity committed in East Timor in 1999.

The religious figures called the Indonesian ad hoc Human Rights Court for East Timor a "sham" and said: "The U.S. and other governments must not pretend the Indonesian judicial process is in any way acceptable. We call on the U.S. Mission to the UN to actively work with its Security Council colleagues to pass a resolution establishing an international tribunal for East Timor. The world's powers must not again turn a blind eye to East Timor's suffering."

"The Indonesian court's recent acquittal of Brigadier General Suratman dramatically highlights the failure of the process to meet international standards of justice," said John M. Miller, spokesperson for the East Timor Action Network (ETAN).

The Indonesian trials, which began in March 2002, have been widely criticized. The UN Special Rapporteur on judicial issues said the Indonesian court has violated "the principle that prosecutions are to be undertaken in good faith." The court has thus far acquitted 12 of 16 Indonesian defendants. The last verdict, in the case of former regional military commander Major General Adam Damiri, is expected shortly. Damiri, the highest-ranking military figure indicted by the court, is currently active in the Indonesian military assault on Aceh.

The U.S. religious community statement noted the strong advocacy for an international tribunal covering the entire period of Indonesia's illegal occupation by churches in East Timor. It stressed: "The Indonesian military committed countless atrocities in East Timor, including torture, rape, forced sterilization, disappearance and murder. Justice for such egregious crimes cannot be denied without serious repercussions. Indeed, peace in East Timor and the rule-of-law in Indonesia have already been seriously compromised."

"Our call for the U.S. government to serve justice and uphold human rights by working towards the establishment of an international tribunal for East Timor exemplifies the vital and proud tradition of communities of faith in action," said Reverend John Chamberlin, National Coordinator of East Timor Religious Outreach. "In regard to East Timor, the crimes are so well documented and the suffering so great that it would be unconscionable not to take a stand," he added.

Signatories to the statement include Ambassador Raymond Flynn of the American Catholic Alliance, Bishop Thomas Gumbleton of the Catholic Archdiocese of Detroit, Ibrahim Abdul-Mohid Ramey of the Muslim Peace Fellowship, General Secretary James Winkler of the United Methodist Church, Rabbi Michael Lerner of TIKKUN, , Bridget Moix of the Friends Committee on National Legislation, Sister Helen Prejean of the Sisters of St Joseph of Medaille, Reverend Lucius Walker of the Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization and Dr. Stanley Hauerwas of the Divinity School at Duke University. In all, 92 religious community leaders and organizations representing more than 15 faiths and from 25 states joined the call for an international tribunal for East Timor. The full statement and list of signatories are on the internet at

The General Assembly of the U.S. Presbyterian Church and the General Conference of the U.S. United Methodist Church previously passed resolutions calling for an international tribunal for East Timor.

The Indonesian military was responsible for more than 200,000 civilian deaths during its occupation of the island nation of East Timor from 1975 to 1999. Following the Southeast Asian nation's 1999 vote for independence, the Indonesian military retaliated by killing more than one thousand people, raping hundreds of women and girls and destroying most of the country's infrastructure. In the months following 1999's devastation, two UN bodies called for the establishment of an international tribunal. Instead, Indonesia promised to try its own and eventually established the seriously flawed ad hoc court. The UN Security Council is expected to revisit the issue for justice for East Timor following the Indonesian court's final verdict.

The religious community statement was circulated by the East Timor Action Network, a U.S.-based grassroots organization supporting human dignity for the people of East Timor by advocating for democracy, economic justice and human rights, including women's rights. For additional information, see ETAN's website,