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The Special Panels for Serious Crimes – Dili, East Timor

On May 20, 2005 the Special Panel for Serious Crimes (SPSC) completed more than four years of trials arising from crimes committed during the 1999 violence following the referendum in which East Timorese voted overwhelmingly for independence from Indonesia.
Although the work of the SPSC was cut short by a decision of the United Nations to end the UNMISET missions of which it was a part, it completed 55 trials, most involving relatively low level defendants. In the course of these trials, 84 individuals were convicted and 3 acquitted. Detailed reports about many of these cases can be found at the website of the Judicial System Monitoring Programme, which monitored the activities of the Special Panel on an ongoing basis.
By arrangement with the SPSC and its coordinating Judge, the Honorable Phillip Rapoza, the U.C. Berkeley War Crimes Studies Center agreed to provide continuing public access to electronic copies of official versions, provided by the Tribunal, of indictments, motions, and judgments from these 55 cases. Our goal is to ensure continued public access to these important records.

Serious Crimes Unit – Dili, East Timor Prosecution Section for The Special Panels for Serious Crimes

Through a further agreement with the Deputy Prosecutor General for Serious Crimes, Mr. Carl Da Faria, the U.C. Berkeley War Crimes Studies Center also agreed to take over and maintain the website of the Serious Crimes Unit (SCU), which was responsible for prosecuting these cases.

The website includes a database compiled by the SCU staff that provides information on all of the cases prosecuted in the Serious Crimes process. The original files from the SPSC and SCU were handed over to the government of East Timor and it is uncertain if, when, or under what conditions public access will be provided to them. Although the last activities of the SPSC and SCU came to an end on June 30, 2005, it is vitally important to preserve the legacy of their efforts and achievements in a form easily available to researchers, practitioners, and the general public.

The trials before the Special Panel for Serious Crimes in East Timor form an important part of the ongoing global enterprise aimed at providing accountability for major violations of international humanitarian law. They also provide a cornerstone of the historical record of the 1999 violence in East Timor. Although they received scant international media attention while they were being conducted, the jurisprudence of these trials, the historical documentation they contain, and their contribution to contemporary efforts towards achieving international justice, deserve serious public attention.

Special Reports and Papers

The trial monitors and other researchers periodically produce special reports and papers providing thematically coherent, in-depth analysis. All past reports can be browsed and downloaded through the Special Reports Archive.

Current Reports on East Timor:

The Commission on Truth and Friendship

The Commission on Truth and Friendship of Timor Leste (East Timor) and Indonesia (CTF) was the first bilateral truth commission established by 2 countries to deal with the aftermath of a conflict. The CTF had been preceded by prosecutions in Timor Leste before the Special Panels for Serious Crimes, and in Indonesia before the Jakarta Ad Hoc Human Rights Court, for the violence that occurred in 1999 in conjunction with a referendum in East Timor that paved the way for independence. In addition, a Timorese national truth commission (CAVR) had published a massive report and there had also been an investigation and report by the Indonesia National Human Rights Commission (Komnas HAM) and by a UN Commission of Experts.

In regard to the task of analyzing the evidence from previous trials and investigations, the Commission requested the assistance of David Cohen, Director of the War Crimes Studies Center, as its Expert Advisor for international legal issues. With the assistance of a research team including Ms Leigh-Ashley Lipscomb of the WCSC, as well as members of the ELSAM NGO in Jakarta and student interns at Berkeley, Cohen prepared 2 reports for the Commission that analyzed in great detail the evidence supporting charges of crimes against humanity in East Timor.

To read more about WCSC’s role in the Commission, click here