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Human rights NGO disturbed by released of perpetrators of crimes against humanity in Timor Leste

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timor_leste.jpgFORUM-ASIA member in Timor Leste, the Judicial System Monitoring Programme (JSMP) has expressed its concern that perpetrators of crimes against humanity are being released or granted clemency.

The human rights NGO has questioned the government on its liberal treatment of those released, as it should not disregard the rule of law although the country is in the process of moving away from its legacy of violence.

Human rights NGO disturbed by released of perpetrators of crimes against humanity in Timor Leste

This last week has seen the release of convicted militia leader Joni Marques, and others, from Dili's Becora prison. Following Timor Leste's first trial for crimes against humanity, in 2001, Marques was sentenced to 33 years 4 months jail. Marques led the Team Alpha militia who, in 1999, conducted attacks on civilians in the Lospalos area.

Militia members themselves testified they conducted a violent intimidation campaign prior to independence. Marques' crimes include torture and several murders, including those of a group of priests and nuns.

On any reading of the law, this liberal treatment of Marques and his fellow militiamen appears unorthodox. The freedom of such perpetrators may bring into question Timor-Leste's international human rights commitments.

"However laudable in spirit, attempts to move on from the country's legacy of violence must not outweigh the rule of law," said Timotio de Deus, JSMP's Director.

At a 2007 hearing of the Truth and Friendship Commission, Marques repeated his admission of militia involvement. All remaining detainees from Timor's crimes against humanity trials were recently granted clemency.

Under the broad terms of a Presidential decree, many of these sentences, including Marques', were halved. In 2004, previous clemency measures under then President Gusmão reduced his sentence to 25 years.

On 13 June 2008, a court order granting parole, or conditional release, allowed this criminal to walk free. Even given deductions for pre-trial detention and early release under penal procedure, this looks premature.

A generous calculation of Marques' time served, from his capture in 1999, would see him out of jail next year. Parole may, however, be granted to certain longstanding inmates who have displayed good prison behaviour.

By any reasonable standard, Marques, who escaped briefly in 2006, ought surely to be excluded under this condition. A 'good prison behaviour' proviso also applies to the clemency measures on which Marques' release is based.

JSMP has learned that conditional release has now been granted to others convicted of crimes against humanity. Among those reportedly released are Marques' co-accused Paolo and João da Costa, and former Sakunar militia member Mateus Lao.

The court would not comment on the rationale for these releases. JSMP has applied for copies of relevant warrants.

For further information or media interviews please contact:

Timotio de Deus Director, JSMP

Email: [email protected]

Land line: +670 3323883

Mobile Phone : +670 7292909