Truth Commission: Timor-Leste (East Timor)
Truth Commission: Commission for Reception, Truth, and Reconciliation
Duration: 2002 – 2005
Charter: UN Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) Regulation 2001/10
Report: Public report
Truth Commission: Commission for Reception, Truth, and Reconciliation (Comissão de Acolhimento, Verdade e Reconciliação de Timor-Leste, CAVR)
Dates of Operation: February 7, 2002 - October 31, 2005 (45 months)
Background: East Timor had taken steps toward decolonization from Portugal in 1974 after a revolution and change of administration in Lisbon. Several political parties were emerging, and there was disagreement regarding who would control East Timor. An internal conflict erupted between the Timorese Democratic Movement (UDT) and the Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor (FRETILIN) in November 1975. FRETILIN proclaimed independence, while a few days later Indonesia convened the parties apposed to FRETILIN, and they all agreed to annexation by Indonesia. Indonesia invaded East Timor on December 7, 1975 and maintained a repressive occupation for the next 24 years.
By the early 1990s, organization of resistance groups, increased media coverage and mounting international pressure to end the abuses led to a referendum in which seventy-eight percent of the Timorese voted for independence. Widespread violence broke out within hours, displacing over 200,000 and burning most buildings in the major cities. Many political groups siding with Indonesia fought alongside the Indonesian army. International peacekeeping troops were called in to quell the violence, and the United Nations Transitional Authority in East Timor was given official control. The Serious Crimes Unit was established in 1999 to address crimes that took place from January 1 to October 25, 1999, and in early 2002, UNTAET established the Commissions for Reception, Truth, and Reconciliation.
Charter: UN Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) Regulation 2001/10, July 13, 2001. The commission was established as an independent statutory authority by the Conselho Nacional da Resistencia Timorense (CNRT) government.
Mandate: The Commission for Reception, Truth, and Reconciliation’s mandate was to investigate human rights violations committed there between April 1974 and October 1999, which resulted in the death of an estimated 200,000 East Timorese. It was also to facilitate reconciliation and reintegration of minor criminal offenders who submit confessions, through local "Community Reconciliation Processes"; and to recommend further measures to prevent future abuses and address the needs of victims.
Commissioners and Structure: The commission was comprised of seven members: five men and two women. It also included twenty-nine regional commissioners. Aniceto Guterres Lopes, a lawyer and human rights activist, chaired the commission.
Report: The Commission for Reception, Truth, and Reconciliation’s final report (in English) was handed over to the President Xanana Gusmao in October 2005 and released to the public in November of that year. It was entitled “Chega!” (“No more, stop, enough!”).
- The commission held 8 national hearings, conducted 1,048 research interviews, and received 7,760 victim statements.
- It concluded that 102,800 Timorese deaths were directly attributable to the Indonesian occupation, including those who were killed and those who died from conflict related causes such as starvation, illness, etc.
- The highest levels of government were implicated. Indonesian General Wiranto, Minister of Defense, and Chief of the Armed Forces, was specifically named in the report.
- The Commission for Reception, Truth, and Reconciliation recommended that the government set up a reparations program and memorials to remember the victims as well as conduct further inquiry into mass graves and the fate of the disappeared.
- In June 2008, the Parliamentary Committee for Constitutional Issues, Justice, Public Administration, Local Power, and Government Legislation unanimously approved a Resolution on the implementation of the CAVR "Chega!" Report. The assembly of the parliament, however, still has not considered the report formally as of May 2009.
- The government established a secretariat with the purpose of distributing the finding of the report, educating the public, and pushing for reform and follow-though on the recommendations.
- The work of the truth commission was complemented by a Serious Crimes Unit (SCU), a prosecutorial body within the UN mission in East Timor. Moreover, the Special Panels for Serious Crimes, a hybrid court, was authorized to investigate and prosecute the most serious offenders. The Special Panel convicted 84 individuals. Most of them were low-level defendants and 75 percent of the people indicted remain at large.
- The Serious Crimes Unit issued a warrant for General Wiranto's arrest in 2004, but the Timorese leadership objected to the arrest warrant which was not forwarded to the International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol).
- In December 2004, the governments of Timor-Leste and Indonesia agreed to establish a Commission of Truth and Friendship (CTF), rather than pursuing a judicial process. This bilateral commission issued its report in July 2008 and acknowledged that the Indonesian military and police as well as the civilian government and militia groups bore responsibility for crimes against humanity committed in 1999.
- The SCU was dissolved in 2005. However, in August 2006 the Security Council decided to reopen the serious crimes process to investigate crimes committed in 1999 (SC/Res/1704). The UN Serious Crimes Investigation Team began its work February 2008 but leaves the prosecution in the hands of the Timorese prosecutor-general.
- Civil society and parliamentarians are currently examining the establishment of a national reparations program. In early 2011, the debate of two bills that would establish such a program was further delayed after opposition from legislators.
- Center for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation. "Justice in Perspective - Truth and Justice Commission, Asia & Australasia - East Timor." Available at http://www.justiceinperspective.org.za/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=44&Itemid=82 (accessed June 24, 2008).
- "Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation in East Timor (CAVR)." Available at http://www.cavr-timorleste.org/ (accessed June 24, 2008).
- Confronting the Truth: Truth Commissions and Societies in Transition. Directed by Steve York, York Zimmerman Inc., United States Institute of Peace and International Center on Nonviolent Conflict. United States: York Zimmerman Inc., 2006.
- Hayner, Priscilla B. Unspeakable Truths: Facing the Challenge of Truth Commissions. New York: Routledge, 2002.
- International Center for Transitional Justice. "Timor-Leste: ICTJ Activity." Available at http://ictj.org/our-work/regions-and-countries/timor-leste (accessed May 12, 2011).
- Hirst, Megan, Howard Varney, and International Center for Transitional Justice. Justice Abandoned?: An Assessment of the Serious Crimes Process in East Timor. [New York, N.Y.]: International Center for Transitional Justice, 2005.
- International Center for Transitional Justice. "Timor-Leste: Parliament Denies Victims Justice Again." Press Release, February 16, 2011. Available at http://ictj.org/news/timor-leste-parliament-denies-victims-justice-again (accessed May 12, 2011).
- Lloyd Parry, Richard. “Indonesia admits army organised East Timor murders but fails to apologise”. Times Online, July 15, 2008.
- Open Society Justice Initiative and Coalition for International Justice. Unfulfilled Promises Achieving Justice for Crimes Against Humanity in East Timor Open Society Justice Initiative; Coalition for International Justice, 2004. Available at http://www.globalpolicy.org/images/pdfs/1104unfulfilled.pdf (accessed June 11, 2009).
- Peterson, Trudy Huskamp and United States Institute of Peace. Temporary Courts, Permanent Records. Washington, DC: U.S. Institute of Peace, 2006. Available at http://www.usip.org/resources/temporary-courts-permanent-records (accessed July 1, 2008).
- Pigou, Piers, Paul Seils, and International Center for Transitional Justice. Crying without Tears: In Pursuit of Justice and Reconciliation in Timor-Leste: Community Perspectives and Expectations. New York, NY: International Center for Transitional Justice, 2003.
- Roughneen, Simon. “East Timor: Justice in the Dock”. International Security Network, July 16, 2009. Available at http://www.isn.ethz.ch/isn/Current-Affairs/Security-Watch/Detail/?lng=en&id=103345 (accessed January 14, 2010).