The three officials serving on the United Nations Independent Special Commission of Inquiry for Timor-Leste today completed the first of two visits aimed at looking into the violence that exploded in the country earlier this year, causing dozens of deaths and forcing 15 per cent of the country’s entire population to flee their homes.
At a departure news conference, Commission Chairman Paulo Sergio Pinheiro of Brazil said its aim was to “to provide an honest, truthful, narrative of the establishment of the facts” of the shootings of April and May and their causes.
The violence broke out after the government dismissed some 600 soldiers who had been on strike, claiming discrimination in promotions and benefits. A total of 37 people were killed and an additional 155,000 were forced to flee their homes and seek shelter in makeshift camps or with host families.
Mr. Pinheiro said the three commissioners – himself, Zelda Holtzman of South Africa and Ralph Zacklin of Great Britain – would return in September and complete their report to the Secretary-General Kofi Annan by the first week in October.
He noted hat the body aims to gather facts. “We do not have power to summon individuals, no power to prosecute or to judge anyone,” he said, stressing that the experts did not form a court or a tribunal.
But he added that their recommendations “will include some measure of accountability for individuals or institutions for the crisis that erupted in April and May.”
During their visit, commissioners met the Timorese President, the Prime Minister, and the former Prime Minister, leaders of political parties, military leaders, police authorities, church leaders, the diplomatic community, the UN country representative and the UN country team and leaders of other institutions.
The Secretary-General, in a report on Timor-Leste released today, underscored the importance of ensuring that perpetrators answer for their crimes. “Reconciliation must be based on truth, and on the accountability of those with responsibility for violations of human rights, whether criminal or political,” he said. “The Independent Special Commission of Inquiry will, I am confident, offer a good basis for this in relation to recent events.”
The report also called on officials of the small country to foster understanding and get beyond past discord. “It is time for the Timorese leadership to rise above both recent conflicts and older divisions, going back to the 1970s, to enable the Timorese people to look together to a better future,” Mr. Annan said. “The east-west tensions which have emerged in the violence may not be deeply rooted, but they have acquired a reality which now needs to be addressed through the active efforts of the political and religious leadership if community reconciliation is to be achieved, especially in Dili.”
In another development today, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Timor-Leste, Sukehiro Hasegawa, visited Becora Prison, east of Dili, to assess the conditions of the detention facilities and the well-being of the prison inmates.
He said he found that the basic needs of inmates were met but that prison facilities need improvement.
Mr. Hasegawa’s visit to Becora Prison followed a period of unrest and insecurity that has led to an increased number of arrests and detentions over the last few weeks.
While there, Prison Manager Carlos Sarmento told the UN envoy that there was a need for further improvement of existing prison facilities. Mr. Hasegawa agreed that, “Proper maintenance of detention facilities is vital to ensure that human dignity and respect for human rights are preserved.”