We attended two biti boot meetings one at the aldeia and one at the village level. They were good because through reconciliation we could confess everything that we had done fighting, burning houses including the one belonging to the head of the village. Through the process we could apologise and they forgave us. We fixed the roof it wasn’t a punishment but a sign of reconciliation. After reconciliation we felt better, because in the reconciliation process we agreed that nobody could say that we are refugees the case is closed.
I feel very happy with the process because now we can live in peace. Before I couldn’t really talk to the [deponents]. I wanted them to declare what they did. I felt I said what I needed to say. Now I feel more free. I feel close to the deponents.
The Community Reconciliation Process
One of the Commission’s core functions was promoting reconciliation in Timor-Leste. This objective informed the design of all Commission programmes and the way such programmes were implemented. The Commission adopted a holistic, integrated approach to promoting reconciliation in Timor-Leste, involving all levels of society in its work. It also approached the goal of reconciliation from a variety of angles through the broad range of programmes it undertook during its operational period. It was understood by the Commission that, if it was to be truly effective, work on reconciliation must engage individuals, families and community groups from all sides of the conflict, reach to the highest levels of the national leadership, and continue for many years to come.
The Commission’s main reconciliation initiative at the grassroots level was its programme on the Community Reconciliation Process (CRP). This was a novel and previously untested programme designed to promote reconciliation in local communities. It aimed to achieve this through reintegrating people who had become estranged from their communities by committing politically-related, “less serious”, harmful acts during the political conflicts in Timor-Leste.* The underlying belief of the programme was that communities in Timor-Leste, and those who had harmed them in less serious ways, were ready to reconcile with each other. The CRP procedure was based on the philosophy that community reconciliation could best be achieved through a facilitated, village-based, participatory mechanism. This mechanism combined practices of traditional justice, arbitration, mediation and aspects of both criminal and civil law.
Accordingly, the Commission was given a mandate by Regulation 2001/1019 to organise community-based hearings. At these hearings victims, perpetrators and the wider community could participate directly in finding a solution to enable perpetrators of “harmful acts” to be reaccepted into the community. The regulation set out the basic steps to be followed in a CRP but did not spell out the precise procedure, allowing flexibility for the inclusion of elements from local traditional practice.
The CRP was a voluntary process. Hearings were conducted in the affected community by a panel of local leaders, chaired by a Regional Commissioner with responsibility for the district where the hearing was held. At the hearing the perpetrator was required to admit fully his participation in the conflict. Victims and other members of the public were then given the opportunity to ask questions and make comments on the perpetrator’s statement. Hearings were often an extremely emotional experience for the participants and could continue all day and into the night. After all relevant actors had spoken, the panel brokered an agreement in which the perpetrator consented to undertake certain actions. These could include community service or the payment of reparations to victims. In return for performing these actions the perpetrator was reaccepted into the community. Traditional practices, or lisan† were incorporated into the procedure, varying according to local custom.
Before a hearing could be conducted, the Office of the General Prosecutor (OGP)20 was required to consider the case and agree that it could proceed through a CRP rather than be prosecuted in the courts. Following the hearing the drafted reconciliation agreement could, after judicial consideration, become an Order of the Court. If the Court approved, and the perpetrator carried out his or her obligations, immunity from civil or criminal action would be granted.
The results of the CRP programme indicate that it has made a real contribution to community reconciliation in Timor-Leste, and the reintegration of perpetrators of past wrongs into their communities. 1,371 perpetrators successfully completed a CRP, many more than the initial target of 1,000. Many more requested that the CRP programme continue. Perpetrators, victims and other participants have reported to the Commission that the CRP programme contributed significantly to the maintenance of peace in their communities and to settling past divisions. Perhaps the most important indicator of CRP’s success, however, is that, despite predictions of revenge attacks on perpetrators for their role in the violence of 1999, Timor-Leste has enjoyed a high level of peace and stability during the difficult initial years of nation building.
In summary, during the operational period of the CRP programme:
- The Commission received a total of 1,541 statements from deponents requesting to participate in CRP, all of which were forwarded to the OGP.
- Cases involving 1,371 deponents were successfully completed through CRP hearings.
- The OGP did not grant approval for 85 cases to be proceeded with by way of CRP. These cases were retained by the OGP.
- Thirty-two cases were adjourned during the hearing because credible information came to light which indicated that the deponent might have been involved in a “serious criminal offence”, or because communities refused to accept the deponent.
- These figures show that nearly 90% of all cases received proceeded to completion. The remaining 10% were cases where the deponent did not attend the scheduled hearing, the hearing was adjourned or the OGP did not consent to them proceeding by CRP.
* During the design of the CRP, community consultations were held at which community members expressed the strong feeling that they could not reconcile with those responsible for more serious crimes, such as murder, rape and torture, until they had been formally prosecuted and tried.
† Lisan (Tetum) is a combination of beliefs, customs and traditions of East Timorese people. Lisan varies from community to community and is generally an important aspect of community life, especially in rural areas. It is often referred to as adat in the Indonesian language.
Please refer to the Chega! Report and Executive Summary for more details.