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Timor-Leste Law Allows Amnesties for War Criminals
WASHINGTON - Amnesty International is urging Timor-Leste to close a legal
loophole that is allowing war crimes and crimes against humanity
committed during the 1975-1999 Indonesian occupation to go unpunished.
‘Timor-Leste; Justice in the Shadow’, an Amnesty International report
released today on the country’s latest Penal Code, documents how the
law allows amnesties that would prevent trials of people suspected of
war crimes or crimes against humanity.
Without a ban on such amnesties, Timor-Leste is not fulfilling its
obligations under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court,
to which it acceded in 2002.
“Survivors of decades of human rights violations in Timor-Leste are
demanding justice and reparations, but the authorities’ routine use of
amnesties, pardons and similar measures has created a culture of
impunity,” said Isabelle Arradon, Amnesty International’s Researcher on
Amnesty International fears that the Timor-Leste authorities’
potential use of amnesties due to the gap in its new Penal code, will
damage the young nation’s ability to develop a strong deterrent to
violence, maintain an independent and trusted judiciary, and hold armed
groups and security forces accountable for their actions.
People indicted and convicted by the UN Special Panels for Serious
Crimes for crimes against humanity committed during Timor-Leste’s 1999
transition to nationhood, have been among those released by presidential
pardons or commutation of sentences.
In 2008, militia leader Joni Marques was set free after his sentence
was substantially reduced by the President. He was originally sentenced
to 33 years’ imprisonment for crimes against humanity.
“The authorities in Timor-Leste are compromising on justice to seek
peace – but trading away justice for such serious crimes only undermines
the rule of law, and cannot resolve the trauma of the past,” said
In 2009, the Timor-Leste government allowed Maternus Bere, indicted
by the United Nations Serious Crimes Unit, to avoid prosecution by
transferring him to Indonesia before he faced trial. Bere had been a
militia leader involved in massacres of civilians in 1999.
‘Timor-Leste: Justice in the Shadow’ acknowledges important steps
that the country has taken to include many of its obligations under the
Rome Statute into its Penal Code. However, as well as the lack of
explicit ban on amnesties for crimes under international law, the Penal
Code lacks provisions on co-operation with the International Criminal
Amnesty International supports a long-term comprehensive plan to
address impunity in Timor-Leste.
This would include the establishment of an international tribunal to
investigate and prosecute those responsible for the crimes committed
under Indonesian occupation; a search for the disappeared; reparations
for the thousands who suffered and the relatives of those who died; and
an approach to amnesties, pardons or similar measures that does not
undermine the rule of law.
In August 1999, the people of Timor-Leste (then East Timor) voted
overwhelmingly in favour of independence from Indonesia in a
UN-sponsored referendum. The lead-up to the polls and its aftermath were
marred by crimes against humanity and other serious human rights
violations. Most of those suspected of such crimes are still at large in
Between 1974 and 1999, 100,000 people are estimated to have been
killed or starved to death in Timor-Leste, according to the report of
the Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation in East Timor
Crimes against humanity and other human rights violations were most
acute during the 24 years of Indonesian occupation from 1975. They
included unlawful killings; enforced disappearances; arbitrary
detention; torture and other ill-treatment; war crimes; sexual violence;
violations of the rights of the child; and violations of economic,
social and cultural rights.
The overwhelming majority of the past crimes, mostly at the hands of
the Indonesian security forces and their auxiliaries, have yet to be
More information is available in Amnesty International Report 'We cry for justice’: Impunity persists 10 years on in
Timor-Leste’, (AI Index ASA 57/001/2009, 27 August 2009).
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