ICTJ has supported efforts in Timor-Leste to address the legacy of human rights violations left by a civil war and 24 years of Indonesian military occupation. 


Image of a community reconciliation event in Timor-Leste.

A community reconciliation event in Timor-Leste.


Background: Justice Denied

Following a brief civil war, Portuguese Timor was invaded by Indonesia in 1975. Over the next 24 years, East Timorese suffered displacement, sexual violence, torture and other abuses. More than 100,000 people died due to conflict.

In 1999, shortly after the fall of Indonesia's Soeharto regime, 78.5 percent of East Timorese voted for independence in a UN-organized referendum.

The vote sparked systematic violence from Indonesian security forces and their Timorese militia, resulting in more than 1,400 deaths and the destruction of most of East Timor’s infrastructure.

UN-authorized troops intervened, and the UN Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) was established. In May 2002, Timor-Leste became an independent state.

The UN set up a special judicial process to investigate serious crimes committed during the conflict and indicted close to 400 suspects. As of early 2011, however, only 86 convictions have been made, and most indictees remain free in Indonesia. The Indonesian government has offered little co-operation. In addition, Timorese state institutions have suffered from a lack of political will and judicial capacity to conduct investigations and prosecutions.

In 2002, the Commission for Reception, Truth, and Reconciliation (CAVR) began investigating the violations committed between 1974 and 1999 and recommended measures to prevent future abuses. CAVR presented its final report in October 2005, followed by a popular illustrated version in 2010.

Indonesia and Timor-Leste established the bilateral Commission for Truth and Friendship (CTF) in 2005 to establish the truth about 1999’s events. The CTF’s 2008 report stated that Indonesian forces were responsible for much of the 1999 violence.

Both the CAVR and CTF recommended reparations for victims and a mechanism to search for disappeared persons. Though both were endorsed by Parliament in 2009, little progress has been made on either.

ICTJ's Role

ICTJ has worked in Timor-Leste since 2002, advising the CAVR on its establishment and final report, and advising policy makers on implementation of key CAVR and CTF recommendations.

We work to ensure the voices of NGOs and victims' groups are heard in the national dialogue on transitional justice.

  • Publications: ICTJ researched conflict victims’ views on justice and assessed the work of the Serious Crimes Investigation Team. These publications have been used in domestic and international advocacy efforts, including a submission on Timor-Leste to the UN Human Rights Council Universal Periodic Review in 2011.
  • Advice and technical assistance: As part of a working group (that includes local and international partners) we advise Timorese policymakers on implementing CAVR and CTF recommendations. We have also provided technical assistance on revisions to the draft reparations and Institute for Memory laws currently under consideration by the National Parliament.
  • Victim advocacy and gender justice: ICTJ works with HAK Association as it builds a nation-wide association of victims. HAK’s members have taken an active role in public consultations on the draft reparations and institutional laws, and succeeded in involving victims in the consultation process.

ICTJ also empowers victims through collaboration with local NGO partners and the Ministry of Social Solidarity.