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Maternus Bere indicted for Crimes Against Humanity in Suai Church Massacre and other Laksaur Militia activities

Arrested by PNTL, then released to Indonesia by Timor-Leste political leaders

13 November 2009.  Updated May 2010.

Liga ba versaun Tetum

Links to relevant documents (most recent listed first, in English except where indicated)


On the tenth anniversary of Timor-Leste's vote for independence, the new nation's leaders abrogated its constitution to meet Indonesia's wishes. This page summarizes information and documents regarding the illegal release of Maternus Bere, the Suai militia leader indicted for Crimes Against Humanity, including the Suai Church Massacre of 6 September 1999.

One week later, on the tenth anniversary of that massacre, people gathered in front of the Indonesian Embassy to commemorate the event and urge that Maternus Bere be put on trial in Timor-Leste.

Click on links for referenced documents, and on photos to see them larger. Media articles on this issue in English are available here.  Tetum articles here before 20 September, here afterwards.


During 1999, Maternus Bere (also known as "Motornus") was the Suai Commander of the Laksaur Militia which terrorized the people of the area, including killing more than 30 unarmed civilians and three priests in Suai Church on 6 September 1999. Click here for the CAVR description of the Suai Church massacre, or for the Case Study from Geoffrey Robinson's report East Timor 1999: Crimes against Humanity. He was also named in the executive summary of the Indonesian KPP-HAM report, as well as listed by the Indonesian Attorney General as one to be prosecuted, but he and others were dropped from that list in April 2001 'because we haven't been able to find them.'


The SCU summarized the Covalima Indictment:

The single indictment charges 14 Laksaur militia members including Egidio Manek, the Deputy Commander of the Laksaur militia based in Covalima District and four subdistrict Laksaur Militia Commanders with Crimes against Humanity.

The indictment charges the accused persons with 51 counts of crimes against humanity including extermination, murder, enforced disappearance, rape, torture, inhumane acts, deportation and persecution committed against the civilian population of Covalima district between 27 January 1999 and 15 December 1999.

The charges in the indictment include the Suai Church massacre which occurred on 6 September 1999. Between January 1999 and September 1999, hundreds of civilians had sought refuge at the Ave Maria Church in Suai in fear of the campaign of terror and violence by TNI soldiers, Police and militia. On 6 September 1999, TNI soldiers, Police officers and militia attacked unarmed civilians inside the Church compound killing many people including 3 priests, namely Father Hilario Mendonca, Father Dewanto and Father Franciso, women and children. The dead bodies of the victims were taken to West Timor where they were disposed off by TNI soldiers, Police officers and militia. In November 1999, bodies of 31 victims of the attack, including the three Priests, were recovered from West Timor and returned to East Timor.

The indictment also charges Egidio Manek, the Laksaur Militia Deputy Commander and Laksaur Subdistrict Commanders Maternus Bere, Pedro Teles, Hendrikus Mali and Cosmas Amaral and their subordinates for the widespread or systematic attacks the people of Covalima. This includes the killing of 14 independence supporters in Laktos village in Covalima, the murder and enforced disappearance of 52 civilians committed between 12 April 1999 and 17 October 1999 and the torture and inhumane acts committed against 49 civilians between 27 January and 30 October 1999. The victims were all independence supporters.

The indictments also charges the accused persons for the deportation of thousands of civilians from Covalima district to West Timor in the Republic of Indonesia following the announcement of the results of the popular consultation on 4 September 1999.

All of the accused in this indictment are believed to be in the Republic of Indonesia. Arrest Warrants will be requested from Dili District Court which when received will be forwarded to the Attorney General of the Republic of Indonesia. The arrest warrants will also be forwarded to Interpol as Timor Leste joined the Interpol organisation in 2002.

In February 2003, the UN/RDTL Serious Crimes Unit issued indictment No/ 09/2003, charging Egidio Manek, Maternus Bere and others with "crimes against humanity: murder, extermination, enforced disappearance, torture, inhumane acts, rape, deportation and persecution." Arrest warrants were issued by Timor-Leste judges. Paragraph 235 describes the abduction of Juliana "Alola" dos Santos, the namesake of the Alola Foundation, from the church. Click for legal analysis of Bere's responsibility for Alola's abduction.

Although the court issued the warrants and they were sent to the Indonesian government and circulated by Interpol, more than 300 of the 391 people indicted by the Serious Crimes Unit, including Maternus Bere, have enjoyed sanctuary in Indonesia. Bere lived openly in West Timor. Click here for La'o Hamutuk's summary of the reports and mechanisms which failed to achieve significant justice between 1999 and 2009 (also Tetum).

In August 2009, Amnesty International issued a report We Cry for Justice Impunity Persists 10 Years on in Timor-Leste which called on the UN Security Council to establish an International Tribunal for Timor-Leste.

Maternus Bere arrested and released

In early August 2009, Maternus Bere entered Timor-Leste and was recognized by local people in Suai. The Timor-Leste National Police (PNTL) arrested Bere on 8 August, and he was subsequently transferred to Becora prison in Dili to await trial.

On 30 August, while Timor-Leste was celebrating the tenth anniversary of its independence referendum, high RDTL officials illegally ordered prison authorities to release Maternus Bere to the Indonesian Ambassador to Timor-Leste. To our knowledge, he remains in the Indonesian Embassy or Ambassador's residence in Dili, awaiting transfer to Indonesia, where he is expected to be freed. Indonesian Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda refused to go to Dili for the anniversary celebrations until Bere was transferred to Indonesian control.

The decision to release Bere was reportedly driven by President Jose Ramos-Horta and Prime Minister Xanana Gusmão, with reluctant cooperation from Minister of Justice Lucia Lobato and other officials and civil servants in this blatant political interference with the judicial system. Only a judge can legally order the release an indicted criminal from prison, and no judge was willing to issue such an order.

 In his speech, President Jose Ramos-Horta said in English:

"As the Nation knows, my position is clear and firm on this issue: as an East Timorese and Head of State, as someone who lost brothers and a sister, as someone who almost lost his life, as someone who have crisscrossed this beautiful island of ours in the past 10 years, and know what the vast majority of the people feel and demand today, I am saying let's put the past behind. There will be no International Tribunal."

Most Timorese people don't enjoy the malae confidence and privilege that enables La'o Hamutuk to publicly disagree with the President.

Fortunately, there is empirical data which shows what Timorese people think about justice and impunity for serious crimes. In 2008, The Asia Foundation conducted 1,120 interviews across Timor-Leste. Their recently published report, "Law and Justice in Timor-Leste: A Survey of Citizen Awareness and Attitudes Regarding Law and Justice 2008" (also in Tetum. Here's an excerpt from pages 41-42, about justice and impunity (emphasis added):

Both the 2004 and 2008 surveys sought to better understand Timorese views on punishment and impunity for serious crimes, specifically cases in which an individual has committed murder. While the questions querying such were somewhat different between the two surveys, the overall results are largely the same: Timorese overwhelmingly believe that individuals who have committed murder should be punished without exception. In 2008, 90 percent of Timorese say that there are no instances in which an individual who has committed murder should be able to avoid punishment or paying compensation to the victims, while in 2004 91 percent said they believe a person who has committed murder should go to jail rather than providing compensation or doing both.

Question: "Suppose some person commits murder. Do you think that there are times when this person should be able to 'avoid punishment' or be free from 'compensating' the victim?"

Answer:  No 90%,  Yes, 'avoid punishment' 6%,   Don't know/no response, 4%.

Also on 30 August, President Jose Ramos-Horta gave an extensive speech to the nation as part of the anniversary celebrations. Although he did not mention Bere, he declared that "There will be no international tribunal" and asked the United Nations to disband its only remaining justice process in Timor-Leste, the Serious Crimes Investigating Team (SCIT).

Public outrage

On the same day that Bere was released, three students were arrested for peacefully holding an impromptu press conference calling for justice at the entrance of Hotel Timor. They were released without charges after being jailed for 72 hours.

The morning after Bere was turned over to Indonesian custody, a Presidential Delegation from the United States met separately with Timor-Leste's President and Prime Minister and raised concerns regarding the government's approach to justice and accountability for serious crimes in 1999, including the release of Bere.

That afternoon, solidarity activists from around the world met with President Jose Ramos-Horta in his office. He said that the arrest of Maternus Bere could have been a case of mistaken identity, and did not give any other reason for his release.

On 31 August, the UN Secretary-General's spokesperson in New York mentioned Bere's release at the daily press conference:

"...  the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights is seeking urgent clarification of reports that Martenus Bere, a former militia commander alleged to have been implicated in a 1999 massacre in Timor-Leste, was released on Sunday by the Timor-Leste authorities

"Bere is alleged to have been involved in directing an attack which resulted in at least 40 people, including women, children and priests, being killed in a district of Timor-Leste on 6 September 1999.  If the reports are true, his release is contrary to the Security Council resolutions which set up the UN mission in Timor-Leste and seriously undermines the global principle of accountability for crimes against humanity.

"The UN's firm position is that there can be no amnesty or impunity for serious crimes such as war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.  In that context, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights strongly opposes the release of someone for whom an arrest warrant of this nature has been established."

On 1 September, UNMIT made an initial statement:

"The United Nations’ general position -- and as repeatedly stated by the Secretary General -- is that there must be no impunity for serious crimes such as crimes against humanity. Accountability is an essential foundation to consolidating the rule of law and protecting human rights ­ it goes hand in hand with building lasting peace and prosperity. Concrete steps need to be taken to ensure full accountability, to end impunity and to provide reparations to victims in accordance with international human rights standards and principles

"UNMIT is not in a position to comment on the specific circumstances in relation to the case of Maternus Bere, since UNMIT does not have responsibility over the prisons in Timor-Leste nor does it have at this stage sufficient information on his status."

From 2 to 4 September, victims and families of victims from all 13 districts of Timor-Leste met in Dili to form a new national association. People from across the country cried out for justice and expressed sadness and disgust that their leaders had sacrificed justice and the rule of law in the interests of diplomacy. Representatives from Covalima (Suai) repeatedly asked how they could explain this to their neighbors and families, but did not receive a useful answer.

On 2 September, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights wrote to President Jose Ramos-Horta (unofficial Tetum translation) expressing her "deep concern" that the decision to release Maternus Bere "is extremely regrettable as it has grave consequences for the prospects of accountability for the serious crimes ..."

On 4 September, Amnesty International made a public statement: Timor-Leste: Failure to prosecute indicted militia leader reinforces urgent need for an international tribunal (also Tetum).

Click on any photo to see it larger.

On the morning of 6 September, the anniversary of the Suai Church massacre, a few people dressed in black brought flowers and candles to the front of the Indonesian Embassy in Dili, where Maternus Bere is believed to be residing. Over the next two hours, they were joined by more than 100 people, expressing their prayers, sorrow and anger that the government they had believed was independent was violating its own laws and Constitution to satisfy Indonesia's desires.

Later the same day, more than 100 Timor-Leste citizens signed an open letter to their leaders (also Tetum) protesting Bere's release and asking the leaders to explain its legal basis.

On Monday, 7 September, the release of Bere became a controversy in Timor-Leste's National Parliament (Tetum). Fretilin and PUN (also Tetum) made statements, and Fretilin's walkout removed the quorum and ended the parliamentary session.

The following day, Parliament rejected President Ramos-Horta's request to travel (Tetum) to the United States and Europe to protest his involvement in Bere's release, as announced by Fretilin. At the same time, Prime Minister Xanana Gusmão was in Suai, attending the memorial for the massacre there ten years ago.

On 9 September, the anniversary of the massacre at Maliana police station, the President threatened to resign unless Parliament reversed their decision by 5:00 that afternoon. Under intense pressure, Parliamentarians gave in (Tetum), with 31 Members authorizing the President to travel, 10 opposed, 5 abstentions, 1 no vote, and 18 absent.

On the same day, President of the Appeals Court Claudio Ximenes, who also heads the Superior Council for the Judiciary, held a press conference to announce that the Council had begun an investigation to see if someone had illegal ordered Bere released from prison, a criminal offense punishable by 2-6 years in prison.

On 12 September, human rights activists in Jakarta issued a joint statement (also Bahasa Indonesia) calling for justice for Maternus Bere and other crimes committed in Timor-Leste.

On 14 September, civil society organizations in Timor-Leste issued a joint Statement Against the Government's and the President's Intervention in the Judicial System (also Tetum).

Also on 14 September, members of Parliament from the Fretilin and Kota parties introduced a motion of No Confidence (censure) over what they says is the Government's illegal release of Maternus Bere from Becora prison. The motion was debated in the parliamentary plenary on 12 October.

On 15 September, UNMIT held a press conference (transcript) to release their Human Rights report on Timor-Leste during the past year. The press release concludes: "As Timor-Leste commemorated 30 August, little had been achieved to address the many human rights violations that occurred between 1974 and 1999, though investigations into grave human rights violations committed in 1999 continue. In a step which violates Timor-Leste’s human rights obligations and undermines efforts to end impunity, Militia leader Maternus Bere who faces charges of Crimes Against Humanity, was released from pre-trial detention and handed to the Indonesian authorities."

The debate continued over the next week, with deeper analysis of the implications of freeing Maternus Bere. On 24 September, La'o Hamutuk organized a public meeting on "The Impact of the Maternus Bere case on the justice system in a state under rule of law." More than 80 people attended, hearing presentations from Fernanda Borges (President of Committee A of the National Parliament), Luis Oliveira (Director of the Judicial Systems Monitoring Programme), Fernanda Guimaraes (UNMIT Human Rights and Transitional Justice Unit), and Edio Saldanha (representative of victims' families and the National Alliance for an International Tribunal). A lively discussion followed, including a defense of the decision to free Maternus Bere from a political adviser to President Ramos-Horta. Link to notes from Public Meeting (in Tetum).

On the same day, La'o Hamutuk published our own analysis.

On 2 October, the UN Secretary-General reported to the Security Council on UNMIT during the last nine months. Relevant paragraphs, with links added by La'o Hamutuk:

33. On 8 August, police detained former Lakseur militia leader Martenus Bere on an outstanding warrant for crimes against humanity. Allegations against him include involvement in the Suai church massacre in Covalima District, perpetrated on 6 September 1999, in which as many as 200 people were killed, including women, children and three priests. Having taken up residence in Indonesia, he was arrested by the national police during a visit to Timor-Leste and transported to Becora prison in Dili as a pre-trial detainee. He was released on 30 August to Indonesian authorities at their embassy in Dili, reportedly as Indonesian officials awaited confirmation of the release before attending the popular consultation anniversary celebration in Timor-Leste. The release raises questions of violations of Timorese national law as well as of international standards and principles. The statement issued by my Spokesperson on 31 August reiterated the firm position of the United Nations that there can be no amnesty or impunity for serious crimes such as war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights also sought urgent clarification regarding the reported release and stated publicly that she strongly opposed the release of someone for whom there is an arrest warrant of this nature.

34. The decision generated intense and broad cross-party debate in Parliament, where various Members of Parliament, including from both the opposition and the AMP governing coalition, demanded an explanation of the release. The decision has been described in different ways by Timorese authorities, Members of Parliament and civil society, ranging from a “political decision” to “political interference” in the judicial process. There were also calls for the Minister of Justice and the Prosecutor-General to address Parliament. On 9 September, the President of the Court of Appeal issued a communiqué stating that the release was not ordered by a court decision and that the Judicial Inspector would investigate the matter. On 10 September, the Prime Minister stated publicly, in a national television address, that he was responsible for the decision. On 14 September, the party bench leader of Fretilin introduced a motion of “no confidence” in Parliament, which decided on 22 September to schedule a debate on the motion on 5 and 6 October. The manner in which the case has been handled could have serious consequences for the prospects of ensuring accountability for the serious crimes which occurred in 1999.


55. Renewed political dialogue — involving political parties as well as broader civil society — on issues such as the provision of reparations to victims, justice and reconciliation, and implementation of the recommendations of the reports of the Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation and the Commission of Truth and Friendship, is promising. However, victims and their families are still seeking justice and reparations for criminal acts committed from 1974 to 1999. The recommendations of the two Commissions have not yet been discussed in Parliament. The prolonged delay in delivering justice and providing reparations may further adversely affect public confidence in the rule of law. I therefore encourage the Government of Timor-Leste to make every effort to ensure broad-based discussions and follow-up on the recommendations, consistent with the needs and expectations of the Timorese people. It is also my hope that the Governments of both Timor-Leste and Indonesia will ensure that Martenus Bere is brought to justice, taking into account the report of the Commission of Experts appointed in 2005 (see S/2005/458).

On 12 October, the National Parliament debated the censure (no confidence) motion for the entire day, hearing Fretilin's opening statement and the Prime Minister's response that his interpretation of the national interest is more important than following the law and constitution. A lively debate followed, with 43 of the 65 MPs speaking before the dinner break. After reconvening, the Prime Minister responded again, more MPs spoke, and Fretilin concluded the discussion. At 10 pm, Parliament voted along party lines: 25 (Fretilin, Kota/PPT and PUN) in favor of censure and 39 (CNRT, PD, ASDT/PSD, Undertim) opposed. The following day, the Government and Opposition issued press releases with their spin on the debate.

On 13 October, UNMIT completed The Justice System of Timor-Leste: An Independent Comprehensive Needs Assessment, pointing out problems with Protecting Judicial Independence and Respecting the Separation of Powers, as well as with Confronting Impunity and Requiring Accountability. Two weeks later, UNMIT released the report on their website.

On 22 October, the Judicial Systems Monitoring Programme filed a case in the Appeals Court regarding the illegal release of Maternus Bere. The court dismissed the case on 17 November.

The UN Security Council discussed Timor-Leste on 23 October (transcript of entire meeting), having received a report from the Secretary General. Before the meeting, La'o Hamutuk, as well as more than 50 Timor-Leste citizens, wrote to them. SRSG Atul Khare summarized the mission's work. During the meeting, many countries' delegations stressed the importance of justice, rule of law, and ending impunity.

On 29 October, after nearly two months as a guest in the Indonesian embassy in Dili, Bere was returned to West Timor, where he is a free man. Amnesty International protested to Indonesia, while Timorese politicians obfuscated about what and how it happened, and whether they knew or were involved.

On 4 November, the spokesperson for the UN Secretary-General was asked about Bere's transfer at her daily press briefing in New York. She replied "There was nothing the UN could do. We learned of the transfer in the same way everybody else did. We don't have any additional information on that. I have to get more information on it before I can give an opinion on it, or the Secretary-General's opinion on it."  The following day, she added to her comment:

I was asked yesterday about our views concerning reports that Maternus Bere, who was indicted for crimes against humanity allegedly committed in 1999 in what was then East Timor, has gone to Indonesia. The UN Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT) says that it has no information on the circumstances of Bere’s return to Indonesia.

The United Nations position that there should be no impunity, especially for serious crimes, including crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide, is well known. In the case of Maternus Bere, it is our position that Mr. Bere should be brought to justice. We have made this position clear on numerous occasions.

We have seen the media reports indicating that Maternus Bere was transferred to Indonesia late last week. We were not aware of this transfer and have yet to receive official confirmation that such a transfer took place. For us, any act that undermines the rule of law, particularly with respect to accountability for serious crimes, is deeply regrettable.

I'd like to recall that the Secretary-General expressed his hope in last month’s report to the Security Council that “the Governments of both Timor-Leste and Indonesia will ensure that Maternus Bere is brought to justice, taking into account the report of the Commission of Experts appointed in 2005”.

The Timor-Leste Institute for Development Monitoring and Analysis (La’o Hamutuk)
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