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East Timor Gives U.S. Soldiers Impunity, Quietly

By Charles Scheiner, La'o Hamutuk
Printed in Suara Timor Lorosa'e, 27 November 2003

During the last week of October 2003, East Timor's Council of Ministers approved an "Article 98 Agreement" with the United States which promises that East Timor will never transfer "current or former government officials, employees (including contractors), or military personnel or nationals" of the United States to the new International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Netherlands.

The impunity agreement had been signed by Foreign Minister Jose Ramos-Horta in August 2002. At that time, East Timor's government had said that it required parliamentary ratification before it would go into effect.

The United States threatened to terminate military aid to any ICC signatory countries which did not ratify such an agreement by 1 July 2003, and the deadline was extended to 1 November for countries which had signed an agreement but not yet ratified it.

As that deadline approached, three U.S. warships were on their way to Dili for a courtesy visit, and U.S. special forces troops were training East Timor's military in the eastern district of Los Palos.

East Timor's Government decided that an open parliamentary debate on the impunity agreement might be embarrassing for Dili and/or Washington, and that the agreement therefore did not need parliamentary ratification. It was approved at a closed Council of Ministers meeting around October 27, and Washington was informed.

On 1 November, President George W. Bush determined that "... East Timor (and five other countries) have each entered into an agreement with the United States pursuant to Article 98 of the Rome Statute preventing the International Criminal Court from proceeding against U.S. personnel present in such countries..."

No press release or announcement was made in Dili, and nothing appeared in the media in East Timor.

The special forces training in Los Palos and the port visit to Dili went ahead as planned. United States Ambassador Joseph Rees assured the East Timorese that the Pentagon stands ready to help train East Timor's military at any time in the future.

East Timor, the victim of countless crimes against humanity between 1975 and 1999, became independent on 20 May 2002. On 13 August 2002, East Timor's parliament ratified the statute for the International Criminal Court, which can try such crimes committed from 2002 on. Ten days later, East Timor became the third country in the world to sign an impunity agreement with the United States. These agreements are part of a global campaign by the United States government to undermine the International Criminal Court.

For background information, see October 2002 LH Bulletin

For the text of the agreement, see www.etan.org\et2002c\september\01-07\02us-et.htm