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"The commission was originally proposed by East Timor and is now being developed with the support of the UN, which is working alongside East Timorese groups, the Catholic church and the umbrella independence body, the National Council of Timorese Resistance." Mark Dodd
Jan 23 AGE: Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation  News added Jan 24

AGE: Justice plans for Timorese victims

By MARK DODD DILI

Tuesday 23 January 2001

East Timor's hopes for national reconciliation will take a step towards realisation this year with the introduction of a Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation.

The proposed commission - also aimed at encouraging the return of tens of thousands of refugees - is likely to be formally approved next month and functioning by mid-year.

The commission aims to provide some measure of justice for thousands of victims of violence committed during Indonesia's brutal 24-year occupation of East Timor.

It will also include victims of lesser crimes committed during two weeks of arson and violence that followed the referendum on independence on August 30, 1999.

"We've done consultations in 10 of the 13 districts and the reaction to the proposal of a commission has been overwhelmingly positive," said Patrick Burgess, head of the United Nations human rights office in East Timor.

The commission was originally proposed by East Timor and is now being developed with the support of the UN, which is working alongside East Timorese groups, the Catholic church and the umbrella independence body, the National Council of Timorese Resistance.

Although similar to the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission established after the fall of apartheid, East Timor's commission will have one very important difference - there will be no pardons for serious crimes.

Cases involving rape, murder, torture and responsibility for organising violence in East Timor will go to trial.

But thousands of less serious cases involving arson, destruction of private property and intimidation by pro-Indonesian militiamen, many of whom were reluctant conscripts, could be soon resolved through traditional community dispute-resolution measures.

A big challenge for the commission is how to encourage the return of an estimated 80,000 East Timorese refugees living in Indonesian West Timor, many of whom took part in the post-ballot militia violence that left about 1000 people killed and 80 per cent of the territory's infrastructure destroyed.

"The philosophy behind the commission is that in any conflict there is too much criminality for any normal court system to deal with," Mr Burgess said. "It would take more than 10 years for the courts here to deal with what happened in 1999."

Proposals being considered involve a "confession" for less serious crimes such as house burning, looting and assault. This would be followed by a meeting with the affected community, a public apology and then a form of community service or "active atonement" that could be the reconstruction of the house or payment for damage.

The commission's role would be to identify eligible candidates. These could be the perpetrators of less serious crimes, those who did not commit any crime but supported autonomy under Indonesian rule, people who benefited from a close relationship with Indonesian security forces and those who fled East Timor due to fear or intimidation.


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