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997px-LocationEastTimorDuring the violence in Timor-Leste in June 2006, armed gangs broke into the offices of the Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation (CAVR) in Dili and stole their motorbikes.

The Human Rights Data Analysis Group, then at Benetech®, and other human rights observers wondered whether the mobs would soon return to loot the irreplaceable paper records used by the CAVR to compile their definitive report entitled “Chega!”

The Benetech Initiative contributed to the CAVR findings and released a separate statistical report (PDF) establishing that at least 102,800 (+/- 11,000) Timorese died as a result of human rights violations in Timor-Leste from 1974 to 1999.

The release of the CAVR’s Chega! report was preempted by the violence in Dili. In response to the escalating violence, Australian military forces stepped in to protect the CAVR building and the historical memory of the Timorese. Even if the CAVR electronic records in Dili were destroyed or stolen, the historical memory of the Commission in the form of the interview data given by its 8,000 statement-givers and 1,400 household-survey respondents would not have been lost. The CAVR and HRDAG created secure back-up copies of the CAVR’s interview data outside of Timor-Leste.

Unfortunately, other critical human rights data in Dili have not been saved. In 2006, the office of the Serious Crimes Unit of the United Nations Mission of Assistance to East Timor was looted, and its paper files and electronic records were stolen and destroyed. This unit was set up by the UN Security Council to investigate the violence surrounding the Timorese independence vote in August of 1999.

The Secretary General of the United Nations has deployed a team to Timor-Leste to assess the needs of the UN peacekeeping mission and support police training.

Read Benetech’s Op-Ed thanking the Australian military for defending the CAVR offices and urging the United Nations not to squander the opportunity for accountability in Timor-Leste.

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More Background On The Timor-Leste Project

In December 1975, as the Portuguese colonial administration in Timor weakened, the Indonesian government launched a massive invasion of the eastern part of the small, divided island.

The resulting Indonesian occupation of Timor resulted in a series of abuses against the local resistance movement and the broader civilian population, which lasted until the post-referendum violence following the Timorese independence vote in August 1999. Disappearances, torture, forced displacement and extra-judicial killings were documented.

The Timorese people also suffered a severe famine between 1978 and 1983. Qualitative historical accounts have estimated the total death toll during the Indonesian occupation from a conservative 50,000 deaths to more than 200,000 deaths.

In July 2001, the Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation in East Timor (CAVR) was established by the UN Transitional Authority in East Timor, through collaboration with the National Council and Cabinet after public consultation.

CAVR is an independent statutory authority, mandated to inquire into human rights abuses committed by all sides between April 1974 and December 1999, in addition to facilitating reconciliation and justice for less serious offenses.

Soon after the inception of CAVR, HRDAG began advising the CAVR on its information management processes and guided the development of the commission’s statistical findings. Whereas other truth commissions have benefited from large amounts of existing data on past human rights atrocities, the CAVR did not have existing data at its disposal. The CAVR-HRDAG partnership resulted in the establishment of three datasets that integrated quantitative methods into CAVR’s broader truth seeking activities. These datasets included:

  • The commission’s statement-taking process, which collected almost 8,000 narrative testimonies from people in every sub-district;
  • A census (or complete enumeration) of all public graveyards in the country (encompassing approximately 319,000 gravestones);
  • A retrospective mortality survey drawing on a probability sample of approximately 1,400 households throughout the thirteen districts of Timor-Leste.

In establishing these data, CAVR and HRDAG pioneered a number of new techniques and methods. For instance, no other truth commission had ever undertaken a retrospective mortality survey.

While gravestone information for mortality estimation has been used by historical demographers for mortality estimations, this is the first time that a human rights project has employed such methods. These projects were so large that HRDAG developed automated techniques to link multiple reports of the same death, a key component of multiple systems estimation.

Each of the datasets independently produced valuable empirical results. Comparative analysis among the datasets has corroborated the findings of each. After matching deaths reported across all three systems, HRDAG conducted multiple systems estimation to estimate the pattern and extent of conflict-related mortality and ultimately create a substantial body of documentary evidence to support the human rights findings of the CAVR.

In addition, HRDAG developed survey-based estimates of the extent and pattern of total conflict-related displacement between 1974 and 1999. The combined analysis of mortality and displacement complemented the commission’s historical, legal and qualitative findings on famine and displacement.

Lastly, HRDAG developed a diverse array of descriptive statistical analyses profiling the form, pattern and structure of torture, ill-treatment, arbitrary detention and sexually-based violations that were reported to the CAVR.

The statistical and demographic findings, developed jointly by the CAVR and HRDAG, are presented in CAVR’s 2,500-page final report titled “Chega!” (Portuguese for ‘no more, that’s enough’). In particular, the quantitative findings are independently presented in the chapter, “The Profile of Human Rights Violations in Timor-Leste, 1974-1999.”

Specific statistical findings are integrated into the respective chapters on particular human rights phenomena (such as “Killings and Disappearances”, “Famine and Displacement,” “Sexually-based Violations” and “Torture and Ill-Treatment”) as well as thematic chapters (such as “Accountability and Responsibility,” “Children in Armed Conflict” and “Women in Armed Conflict”).

The final report of the CAVR was presented to the President of Timor-Leste on October 31, 2005. The President of Timor-Leste then tabled the report at a special sitting of Timor-Leste’s National Parliament on November 28, 2005, which coincided with the 30th anniversary celebrations of Timor’s Proclamation of Independence.

Following the CAVR’s mandate, codified in UNTAET Regulation UNTAET/REG/2001/10, the President of Timor-Leste handed the CAVR Final Report to the Secretary General of the United Nations in February 2006. The official release of the CAVR Report is expected to go ahead in August 2006 in Dili.

In February 2006, HRDAG co-published the “Profile of Human Rights Violations in Timor-Leste, 1974-1999” chapter (pdf) and mortality data on the Timor-Leste Data Publication page, per its agreement with the CAVR.

HRDAG is grateful for the generous support it received while at Benetech, from the European Union, United Nations Development Programme, the Oak Foundation, and The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, without which this work would not have been possible.

Media Misrepresentations

Media Misrepresentations of CAVR Report


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