Press Release, Timor-Leste, February 2006


Palo Alto, CA, February 9, 2006 – The Benetech® Initiative today released a statistical report detailing widespread and systematic violations in Timor-Leste during the period 1974-1999. Benetech’s statistical analysis establishes that at least 102,800 (+/- 11,000) Timorese died as a result of the conflict. Approximately 18,600 (+/- 1000) Timorese were killed or disappeared, while the remainder died due to hunger and illness in excess of what would be expected due to peacetime mortality.

The magnitude of deaths in Timor-Leste has long been a subject of contentious debate, and Benetech’s results help to place the debate on a factual basis. These estimates are the most accurate and scientifically rigorous ever made for conflict-related mortality in Timor-Leste. They are based on a database of three independent sources: narrative statements, a retrospective mortality survey, and a census of public graveyards — all of which were developed jointly by Benetech’s Human Rights Data Analysis Group (HRDAG) and the Commission for Reception, Truth, and Reconciliation (CAVR in Portuguese), the truth commission for Timor-Leste. By collecting new data and using well-established statistical and demographic methods, HRDAG assisted CAVR to become the first official truth commission in the world to draw on a household survey and public graveyard records.

HRDAG is led by Dr. Patrick Ball, and is composed of other human rights statisticians, outreach experts and computer programmers. The report, written by HRDAG statistician Romesh Silva and Dr Ball, includes and extends the statistical chapter of the CAVR report. The CAVR’s final report was presented by Timor-Leste’s President Xanana Gusmao to the United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan on January 20th, 2006 in New York.

In partnership with the CAVR, HRDAG has injected new scientifically-defensible analysis into the debate about crimes of policy during the Indonesian occupation of Timor-Leste. HRDAG’s analysis describes the patterns of abuses reported to the CAVR in approximately 8,000 narrative testimonies which describe arbitrary detentions, torture, rape and massive property destruction. These analyses were integrated into the CAVR Report alongside multi-disciplinary research including legal reasoning, history, anthropology and sociology.

Dr. Ball says “The terrible violence in Timor-Leste has long been hidden from the world’s attention. Even recently, as press coverage of the CAVR’s report began, there have been political debates about the scale, pattern, and responsibility for the violence. Our analysis helps shift the debate from politics to science, moving from data, to knowledge, to official recognition of the crimes, and ultimately to accountability.”

Benetech, a local nonprofit based in Palo Alto, California, creates technology that serves humanity by blending social conscience with Silicon Valley expertise. In the human rights area, Benetech’s HRDAG (Human Rights Data Analysis Group) is using science and technology to engage established, international human rights norms and answer hidden questions about massive political violence. HRDAG, in accordance with its legal agreement with the CAVR, will publish anonymized versions of the data used to conduct the analysis. See

About Benetech

Benetech develops sustainable, technology-based solutions to address pressing social challenges in areas such as disability, human rights, education and literacy. As a non-profit, Benetech specifically pursues endeavors with a strong social, rather than financial, rate of return on investment, bringing commercial technology and private sector management techniques to bear in creating innovative, non-traditional solutions to challenging social issues. More information on Benetech and its projects can be found at or by calling (650) 644-3400.

Our work has been used by truth commissions, international criminal tribunals, and non-governmental human rights organizations. We have worked with partners on projects on five continents.