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'Justice on the cheap' revisited : the failure of the serious crimes trials in East Timor

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Publication Date: January 2006

Publisher(s): East-West Center

Author(s): David Cohen

Series: AsiaPacific issues ; no. 80

Topic: Human rights (Human rights promotion and violations)
Politics (Political status)

Type: Report


From 2000 to 2005, a UN-sponsored tribunal in East Timor sought to achieve accountability for violence associated with the 1999 vote for independence from Indonesia. Despite criticism of the tribunal's performance, the UN has maintained that it was a success. In fact, the East Timor tribunal represents a virtual textbook case of how not to create, manage, and administer a "hybrid" justice process. It was handicapped from the beginning by a debilitating lack of resources, an unclear mandate, inadequate recruitment, ineffective management by a peacekeeping mission that had other priorities, and above all a lack of political will both at UN headquarters and at the mission level. Trial practices and jurisprudence were too often deeply flawed, in important respects did not meet international standards, and, in a significant number of cases, undermined the rights of the accused to a fair trial. Because the UN risks repeating some of the same mistakes in Cambodia, it is particularly important now to assess the failings of the East Timor trials.