UN commission of inquiry issues report on violent crisis that shook Timor-Leste

17 October 2006 – Timor-Leste’s then interior and defence ministers and defence force chief acted illegally in transferring weapons to civilians during the violence that shook the small South-East Asian country early this year and should be prosecuted, according to a United Nations report on the crisis released today.

But Chief of Defence Force Taur Matan Ruak cannot be held criminally responsible for the shooting of unarmed police officers by defence force soldiers after a ceasefire had been established in May, although he failed to exhaust all avenues to prevent or stop a confrontation, the UN Independent Special Commission of Inquiry for Timor-Leste says in the report submitted to the National Parliament.

The Commission was set up at the invitation of then Senior Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs José Ramos-Horta to establish the facts and circumstances of the incidents on 28-29 April and 23-25 May that shook the small country which the UN shepherded to independence from Indonesia just four years ago.

The crisis, attributed to differences between eastern and western regions, erupted in late April with the firing of 600 striking soldiers, a third of the armed forces. Ensuing violence claimed at least 37 lives and drove 155,000 people, 15 per cent of the total population, from their homes.

Other findings of the Commission include:

  • The Government failed to follow the requisite legislative procedures in calling out the defence force on 28 April, a matter for which members of the Crisis Cabinet and in particular former Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri bear responsibility, but there was no massacre by the defence force of 60 people at Taci Tolu.
  • Evidence establishes that Major Reinado and his group are reasonably suspected of committing crimes against life and person during an armed confrontation in Fatu Ahi on May 23.
  • Although President Xanana Gusmão should have shown more restraint and respect for institutional channels in communicating directly with Major Reinado after his desertion, he did not order or authorize the armed group under Major Reinado’s command to carry out criminal actions.
  • Both police and defence force weapons were distributed to civilians and there was an absence of systematic control over weapons and ammunition within the security sector, particularly within the police. Interior Minister Rogerio Lobato and General Commander Paulo Martins bypassed institutional procedures by transferring irregularly weapons within the institution.
  • In arming civilians, Mr. Lobato, Defence Minister Roque Rodrigues and Defence Force Chief Taur Matan Ruak acted without lawful authority, created a situation of significant potential danger and should be held accountable for illegal transfer of weapons.
  • Former Prime Minister Alkatiri failed to use his firm authority to denounce the transfer of security sector weapons to civilians in the face of credible information that such transfer was ongoing and involved members of the Government.
  • While there is no evidence that could lead to recommending that Mr. Alkatiri be prosecuted for being personally involved in the illegal movement, possession or use of weapons, the Commission received information giving rise to a suspicion that he knew about the illegal arming of civilians by Mr. Lobato and has recommended further investigation to determine whether he bears any criminal responsibility with respect to weapons offences.
  • The Commission identified numerous persons reasonably suspected of direct participation in criminal activity during the crisis, and recommended they be prosecuted.
Citing ongoing threats to stability, the Security Council created a new UN Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT) in August to help reorganize the police force and other institutions and assist with next year’s presidential and parliamentary elections.

In its report, the Commissions concluded that the fragility of various State institutions and the weakness of the rule of law were the underlining factors that contributed to the crisis.

In a message to the people of Timor-Leste, Secretary-General Kofi Annan urged them to accept the report’s conclusions and recommendations. “We know that a peaceful, democratic and prosperous Timor-Leste can be built only on the foundations of good governance, accountability, human rights and the rule of law,” he wrote.

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