Media Release

23 July 2003

CAVR Public Hearing on Famine and Forced Displacement

28-29 July 2003  Dili, Timor-Leste

The Commission for Reception Truth and Reconciliation in Timor-Leste (CAVR) will hold its third thematic national public hearing in the capital, Dili, on 28-29 July 2003. Famine and Forced Displacement is the theme of this hearing, in which the CAVR will hear testimony from 11 witnesses.

While much has been written about the mass forced displacement of over half of the Timorese population after the UN-supervised Popular Consultation in 1999, little is known internationally of the massive forced displacements and terrible war-related famine in the 1970s and 1980s. This hearing will shed light on one of the darkest chapters of Timor-Leste’s history, a period when hundreds of thousands of people took refuge in the mountains and famine and sickness is thought to have taken tens of thousands of lives.

The CAVR will hear from survivors of the displacement in the mountains after the invasion, and of the camps established to control the population when they came down from the mountains. Two aid workers from this period will give testimony; a Timorese worker providing direct assistance, and an international aid worker who will testify to the wider picture in terms of international response including the virtual blockade of information of the tragedy and massive death-toll. Indonesian military tactics continued a policy of forced displacment in the 1980s and these also will be examined.

“This hearing looks at some of the hardest years of our people’s experience. Whole families have disappeared, and there is barely a family who has not lost someone in the 1970s and ‘80s. Our district teams interviewing families are told of how people had to bury others where they found them in the mountains – only later could they inform family members that their remains were buried under this tree, or that rock. Today families are finally able to make proper burials of their loved ones,” comments CAVR Chairperson Mr Aniceto Guterres Lopes, a leading human rights lawyer.

This hearing is part of a wider enquiry into these events in relation to international human rights law. It will seek to shed light on the experience of Timorese people during these years of violations. The CAVR will scrutinise the policies and practices of key players such as the Indonesian government and its military, international governments and agencies and Timorese institutions such as the Church and resistance groups.

“Until now, our society has not had the chance to recognize this terrible loss, as a nation. Especially after the 1999 violence, we have all been focused on rebuilding the daily fabric of our lives. The Commission hopes to help families, and the nation, remember and honour all those who have died in these terrible years. Their memory is a part of our liberty,” said Mr Guterres Lopes

The Foreign Minister of Timor-Leste, Nobel Peace Laureate Mr Jose Ramos Horta, has been invited to open the hearing.

More Information:

For more information, or to arrange an interview with a National Commissioner or other participant in these processes, please contact Kieran Dwyer at the CAVR

Mobile: +670 723 4705 Email:

CAVR website at