Victims Hearing Dili 11 & 12 November 2002

Background Paper for International Media

An introduction to Public Hearings as part of the CAVR

Public hearings are an important part of the activities of the Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation in East Timor. Commissioners are committed to conducting the Commission in an open and participatory way, to ensure that all Timorese have the opportunity to share their stories of the past and together contribute to building a spirit of reconciliation for permanent peace in East Timor.

Public hearings aim to officially and publicly recognise the suffering of victims. In this way too they aim to promote and understanding of and respect for human rights throughout East Timor. Some public hearings will also have a more investigative character, looking into particular themes and events to seek the truth behind them.

Objectives of the CAVR public hearings

To promote social healing and the rehabilitation of victims through public recognisition of their suffering;  in relation to CRP Hearings, social healing includes the reintegration of perpetrators of lesser crimes back into their community

Public education on human rights, particularly the human cost of human rights violations

Clarification of human rights violations of the past –the causes and patterns

To promote reconciliation through truth

Hearing of 11 & 12 November

This hearing will hear from 13 victims of human rights abuses, one person from each of the 13 districts of East Timor, creating a truly national event.

People will bear testimony in relation to abuses that occurred throughout the whole period of the Commission’s mandate: 25 April 1974 (the time of the Revolution of Flowers in Portugal, which set in train the decolonisation of East Timor) until 25 october 1999 (when the United Nations took responsibility for completing the decolonisation of East Timor under the UNTAET mandate).

Abuses being testified to will include a whole range, from murder of family members, death by starvation in the mountains during the years of war with Indonesian forces in the 1970s, sexual violation and forced sexual slavery in 1999 during the September violence, illegal imprisonment and torture.

For example, one survivor from Suai atrocities in 1999 is a young woman who was present at the Church when the September massacre took place. Along with other women she was taken to a nearby school and raped. She was then taken over the border to West Timor and kept as a sex slave. She managed to escape this situation and return to East Timor. She has a child as a result of the violations. She has also recently married. She will come with her new husband and her child to give testimony to the hearing.

Individual victims/witnesses will stand before the National Commissioners and tell their story. The aim is not so much an investigation or a full legal process, but more a recognising of the people’s suffering by an official body and through this to help victims come to terms with this suffering and their healing. Through hearing of a wide range of violations, and by projecting this across the country by local media, the aim is also to help the national healing: people will recognise their own experiences in these stories – “yes, this too happened to me, to my family. It is no longer a secret, forced silence. We are being recognised, and respected in this process.”

How do these statements and hearings relate to prosecutions?

The Commission is not a tribunal or court. It is a human rights institution established to listen to and recognise victims of human rights violations over a 24-year period, and to investigate the truth of what happened in this time. It also conducts processes at the community level aimed at assisting the reintegration of low level offenders into their communities, and so promoting a spirit of reconciliation in the new nation.

However, National Commissioners are committed to achieving reconciliation with justice.

The first step to justice is to openly tell and find the truth of what occurred.

At the end of the Commission’s two year mandate, National Commissioners will complete a final report with recommendations for future action to protect human rights in East Timor. This may include recommendations for future prosectutions, based upon evidence collected by the Commission inluding testimony by victims in their statements and at these hearings (as well as other research and investigations).

The Commission is not directly related to the Indonesian Ad Hoc Tribunal. It has not been contacted by the Tribunal, seeking evidence in any of its cases.

What other hearings will the Commission be holding?

There are a number of kinds of hearings the Commission holds or facilitates.

At the National level, the Commission will be holding Victims’ Hearings like this one throughout the mandate of the Commission*. We will also hold a number of thematic or event based national hearings throughout 2003 and into 2004, which will be more investigative in character.

5 Thematic Hearings and 2 events-based Hearings are planned:

January 2003 - Political Prisoners

April 2003 - Women

July 2003 - International Actors

17 September 2003 - Kraras Massacre

12 November 2003 - St Cruz Massacre

December 2003 - Displacements / Famine

January 2004 - Civil war / Political parties

*The CAVR mandate runs till April 2004: it includes investigating human rights violations that occurred within East Timor from 25 April 1974 until 25 October 1999 in the context of political conflict.

In addition the Commission will be holding and facilitating meetings in villages and sub-districts all over the country throughout the mandate period. Community reconciliation hearings are being held in villages to assist the reintegration of people who have harmed their communities and support the process of reconciliation. The Commission expects to hear over 1000 cases in these hearings.

Further, every three months a hearing will be held in each district, similar to the national level victims’s hearing being held in Dili. At the local level communities will listen to and recognise the suffering of community members, and through this process help to heal the dignity of victims – their will be 65 such hearings over the life of the Commission.

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: +61 407 884 900

Email: and (please use both)

And check out the CAVR website at