MEDIA MISREPRESENTATIONS OF THE CAVR REPORT

Press release from the Technical Secretariat of the Commission for Reception, Truth, and Reconciliation (CAVR)

MEDIA MISREPRESENTATIONS OF THE CAVR REPORT

Although not yet officially released, the 2500 page CAVR Report ‘Chega!’ has been the subject of several prominent reports in the media based on leaked versions of the Executive Summary and particularly its section on Recommendations. Stories on the Report have been carried by AFP, AP, the Japan Times, the Singapore Straits Times, Sydney Morning Herald, Lusa,Timor-Leste press and Bali Times – to name some.

Regrettably some of these stories contained serious misrepresentations of the Report which can largely be traced to a Lusa Report of 20 December. For example, a front page report in the Bali Times, 23-29 December 2005, was headed: ‘Under Indonesia, 183000 perished in E.Timor, claims Report’. The report’s byline was Lisbon, Portugal.

The purpose of this email is to ensure that these errors are not repeated and become ‘fact’ and that they do not damage the credibility of the Report.

They were:

  1. The statement that at least 183,000 died during the Indonesian occupation of Timor. This statement contains three errors: (a) the representation of the figure of 183,000 as a minimum; (b) the suggestion that that figure represents the number of people who died rather than those who died from conflict-related causes; and (c) the suggestion that the period covered was the period of the Indonesian occupation rather than the period of the Commission’s mandate.
  2. The statement that the Report found that 70% of deaths “occurred at the hands of” the Indonesian security forces and their Timorese auxiliaries. The Report actually says that the Indonesian security forces etc were responsible for 70% of killings and disappearances.
  3. The statement that the Report identified “more than 8000 victims”. This is presumably a reference to the number of statements taken (the number of victims identified by the statement-taking process alone being far higher).
  4. The statement that “the first victims, 3000 according to the Report, date from (the) period of the civil war”. The chapter on Killings in the Report clearly distinguishes between the total number of deaths during the civil war, including those of combatants (the context in which CAVR cited ICRC’s estimate of 3000) and the smaller number of deaths that occurred as a result of violations committed during this period. The conflation of the two figures in the Lusa report was probably the basis for Prime Minister Alkatiri’s justified scepticism about the supposed use of the 3000 figure in the Report (see Lusa, 21 December).
  5. The statement that the Commission had found that at least 84,200 people had died from hunger and illness during 1977 and 1979 “as a result of forced transfers of the population to camps under strict Indonesian military control”. The figure represents the estimated minimum number of “excess” deaths from hunger or illness during the whole mandate period in all circumstances and not just as a result of transfers to Indonesian-controlled camps.
  6. Statements that the Report is a “government probe” and that the President has said its findings and recommendations should not be made public. The Report is not a Government report but the work of an independent statutory authority whose Commissioners were legally required to act impartially and objectively. The President has not suppressed the Report and will make it publically available in due course. A Post-CAVR Technical Secretariat was established by the President on 20 December to disseminate and socialise the Report and its related products in the first half of 2006.

DEATH TOLL ESTIMATE AND METHODOLOGY

CAVR’s estimate of the minimum total number of conflict-related deaths is 102,800 (+/- 12,000). This figure includes both killings and deaths due to privation. The figure of 183,000 is CAVR’s upper-bound estimate of total conflict-related mortality. The methods used by CAVR are fully described in the Report and will be available when the Report is officially released. In summary, CAVR analysts used new empirical data analysed by well-known statistical methods to estimate the level of conflict-related mortality in Timor-Leste during the Indonesian occupation. CAVR analysts used three new data sources and two independent techniques to calculate the estimates, and their work was reviewed by international experts. Conflict-related mortality in (a) killings and disappearances and (b) deaths due to hunger and illness (“deprivation”) which exceed the total that would be expected if the death rate due to hunger and illness had continued as it was in the pre-invasion peacetime period.

CONCLUSION

Public confusion about the Report is understandable because access to its contents remains very restricted and discussion has been conducted largely in a vacuum and dominated by public comment by the President and those challenging his policy on justice. It is a matter of regret, however, that this confusion has been further compounded by mis-reporting.

It is to be sincerely hoped that the official release of the Report in due course, accompanied by a clear public presentation of its main findings and methodology, will serve to reduce further misrepresentations.

Kindly pass this on to others you think should see it.

Pat Walsh
Advisor, Post-CAVR Technical Secretariat
4 January 2006