Timor-Leste is a leading country in Asia with regards to advocating for greater accountability. While many conflict and atrocity prevention initiatives have been marred by setbacks, notably serious communal violence and population displacement in 2006, important lessons have been learned on grassroots, locally-led reconciliation processes. These conflict and atrocity prevention lessons provide a valuable body of knowledge that can be shared across the region.

“After twenty-four years of systematic violations under a veil of impunity, Reformasi in Indonesia provided an opportunity to determine East Timor’s status through a referendum held by the United Nations in 1999. The referendum resulted in the majority of Timorese people choosing independence in October 1999 with the United Nations taking over as interim administrator of the territory.

UN and Timorese investigators and prosecutors conducted investigations to the 1999 crimes, resulting in more than 300 persons indicted under the Serious Crimes regime, including senior Indonesian military commanders and Timorese militia leaders. In 2002, working in parallel with the serious crimes process, a truth and reconciliation commission (CAVR) was established to investigate human rights violations that took place between 1975-1999, producing a final report entitled “Chega!” (Enough, Never Again) that documented a pattern of systematic abuse and made comprehensive recommendations. Immediately following the CAVR, the Governments of Timor-Leste and Indonesia established the bi-lateral Commission of Truth and Friendship (CTF, 2005-2008). In 2008, the CTF handed over its findings and recommendations reaffirming CAVR’s findings that crimes against humanity took place in 1999. More than a decade after the publication of these reports, a civil society working group including AJAR found that only 5% of the recommendations has been or is being implemented. In 2015, a prime ministerial decree established Centro Nacional Chega! (CNC) tasked with bridging the victims with the administration and pushing for the inclusion of the recommendations in government policies.

In Timor-Leste, AJAR works to empower local partner organisations, most notably our sister organisation Asosiasaun Chega! ba ita (ACbit) to support victims’ groups, women in particular, to raise public awareness about the importance of learning from the past and to advocate for the protection of human rights. In addition, AJAR provides technical assistance to the National Victims’ Association as well as government institution such as Ombudsman for Human Rights (PDHJ) and Centro Nacional Chega! (CNC). AJAR works closely with universities to ensure that human rights education becomes a part of their curricula while seeking alternative ways promote these principles for the younger generation such as the edutainment drama series “Waves of Justice.” AJAR Timor-Leste is also a member of various working groups such as Security Sector Reform Network and the Network for Land to ensure that rights of the victims are considered in the drafting of new laws and policies. In 2017, AJAR was leading the NGO coalition that produced a shadow report on the government’s implementation of the Convention Against Torture principles.”

What are we doing in Timor-Leste?

In 1975, the Indonesian military invasion of Timor-Leste heralded a 24-year period of brutal suppression of the pro-independence movement, causing upwards of 200,000 deaths. During this period, thousands of Timorese children were taken from their homes to Indonesia, to live with military families, and often placed in religious boarding schools. Many Timorese families have for decades been putting flowers on the graves of children they believed had died. With the cooperation and assistance of the governments of Timor-Leste and Indonesia, AJAR has been tracing these “stolen children”, identifying and reuniting them with their families.
The history taught in school mainly focus on the story of veterans from the occupation while largely exclude the history of systematic violence and ignored the voices of survivors. To prevent human rights abuses in the future, AJAR builds Human Rights and Social Justice Schools with the everchanging currliculum, aiming to expose young people to the history of Timor-Leste through the lens of survivors and minority groups, such as but not limited to the LGBTIQ+ community and people with disability.
AJAR works to empower its local partner organisations, most notably its sister organisation Asosiasaun Chega! ba ita (ACbit) to support victims’ groups, women in particular, to raise public awareness about the importance of learning from the past and to advocate for the protection of human rights. In addition, AJAR provides technical assistance to the National Victims’ Association as well as government institution such as Ombudsman for Human Rights (PDHJ) and Centro Nacional Chega! (CNC).

Highlights of Programmes in the Past Year

Promoting awareness and understanding

Research, including interviews with hundreds of victims of serious human rights violations, examined the challenges faced by the pandemic in Indonesia and Timor-Leste. The research, combined with practical assistance, helped victims develop coping mechanisms to survive.
The ‘school of human rights and social justice’ for young students in Timor-Leste continued. This year more than 100 university students attended activities, building their commitment to fight against the recurrence of past violations.

Strengthening linkages and increasing social capital of human rights defenders

By linking the Aceh Truth and Reconciliation Commission with Timor-Leste’s Centro Nacional Chega! or CNC, AJAR facilitated exchanges of knowledge and strategies on truth-seeking, reconciliation, and designing urgent reparations programs. Young people from Papua, and other parts of Indonesia and Timor-Leste, visited the Aceh TRC to deepen their understanding of the work of truth commissions.
As a member of the Global Initiative for Truth, Justice, and Reconciliation, AJAR and partners worked to identify best practices for supporting women survivors of sexual violence, and children born of rape, in Timor-Leste, Nepal, Bosnia Herzegovina, and South Africa. Comparative studies on searching mechanisms in Latin America and Timor-Leste, and peace processes in Aceh and El Salvador were developed.

Contributing technical assistance, along with policy and legal inputs

AJAR contributed to regional and national links to UN bodies. Inputs, along with victims’ testimonies, were provided to UN events on reparations, focusing on empowering Timor-Leste’s stolen children.

Resources

Transitional Justice Fact Sheet: Countries

Transitional Justice Fact Sheet: Countries

Many Asian countries have faced a history of mass human...

Twenty Years On Infographic

EN_InfographicDownload TE_InfographicDownload

Twenty Years On: Timorese Women’s Ongoing Struggle to be Free from Violence

20 years on from the Restoration of Independence and the...

The Learning Consortium Knowledge Series: Learning for Transformation against Violence Against Women and Girls

On February 2021, twenty-two civil society organizations in Timor-Leste came...

Timor Leste’s Children of War: A Promise to Heal

English The Chega! report published by the Commission for Reception,...