Holding security sector institutions responsible for international crime

Presented by ANU College of Asia & the Pacific

Security sector institutions were implicated in international crimes in the conflict in Timor-Leste. This phenomenon is not confined to Timor-Leste; it recurs in both developing and developed states. Individuals who commit international crimes often do so due to the spectrum of influence security sector institutions apply. It follows that these institutions should be held accountable to avoid the repetition of atrocities.

Currently the dominant paradigm for responding to international crimes involves prosecuting responsible individuals. Alternatively, states are targeted through judicial or political mechanisms. Individuals were prosecuted for the international crimes committed in Timor-Leste. Indonesia’s state responsibility was also considered. In addition, the Timor-Leste conflict spawned other transitional justice responses, particularly truth commissions. Despite these efforts, the Indonesian security sector institutions have been slow to reform and individuals within them continue to perpetrate offences reminiscent of the behaviour exhibited in Timor-Leste.

An examination of the bodies before which individuals were prosecuted for international crimes committed in the Timor-Leste conflict divulges that this approach was not conducive to institutional accountability. Nor did the endeavours aimed at states succeed in that regard. The failure can be attributed to issues of capture evidenced in these processes and the misdirected targeting of accountability efforts. Comparative studies reveal the replication of these problems; they are not limited to the Timor-Leste case study.

Truth commissions better assess the spectrum of influence of security sector institutions in their local context. Truth commissions can hit the target. As a result, their recommendations are better suited to holding institutions accountable. However, the grounding of truth commissions domestically means that they too can be captured. To bolster the capacity of truth commissions to achieve institutional accountability a level of vertical oversight needs to be attached to truth commissions.

This study builds on and contributes to work in the regulation of international crimes in transitional justice. Although regulatory and legal studies have examined the effectiveness of transitional justice mechanisms to provide accountability for individuals who have engaged in international crimes and the effectiveness of various international bodies and mechanisms at holding states responsible, there has not been a sustained examination of whether security sector institutions are effectively held accountable for their involvement in international crimes. As such, this study provides additional insight into whether security sector institutions are currently held accountable through the available transitional justice mechanisms.

This seminar is Jodie’s PhD Completion seminar, in which she outlines the major objectives, content, results, and conclusions of her doctoral research.

About the Speaker

Prior to entering academia, Jodie O’Leary practised as a barrister with Legal Aid Queensland in the field of criminal law, with a particular focus on juvenile justice. While at Legal Aid, Jodie took the opportunity to work at a Community Legal Centre in Timor Leste as an Australian Youth Ambassador for Development and this sparked her interest in transitional justice. She currently lectures at Bond University, mostly in subjects such as criminal law and international criminal law. Visit her RegNet profile for more detail.