EXTERNAL AI Index: ASA 21/90/97
UA 391/97 Death penalty 12 December 1997
EAST TIMORLuis Maria da Silva (57)
Francisco da Costa (36)
On 11 December 1997, two East Timorese men were sentenced to death after being
found guilty of participating in an ambush on a truck carrying members of the
Indonesian security forces. This is the first time the death penalty has been
handed down by the courts in East Timor since its occupation by Indonesia in
1975. As many as 53 others are also believed to be on trial for their alleged
involvement in this and other attacks. Some of these may also face the death
penalty if convicted.
Francisco da Costa and Luis Maria da Silva were tried by the Baucau District
Court. It is reported that they were charged with murder, separatist activities
and illegal possession of firearms. According to information received by
Amnesty International the two men were defended by court appointed lawyers
because the families of the two men were afraid to appoint their own lawyers.
This, and other longstanding concerns about the Indonesian judicial system,
raises fears that their trial may not have met with international standards
for fair trial. The two men are reported to have lodged an appeal to the High
The attack by Falintil (the East Timorese Liberation Army) took place on 31
May on the road to Quelicai, Baucau. A grenade was thrown into the truck causing
an oil drum to explode. Thirteen people in the truck were burned to death
and a further four were shot as they tried to escape.
The attack was one of a number by the East Timorese armed opposition against
military and civilian targets which took place in the run-up to, and immediate
aftermath, of the Indonesian parliamentary elections. Over 100 people were
arrested in operations by the authorities to find those responsible for this
and other attacks. Only those currently on, or facing trial, remain in
detention. The elections created a high level of tension in East Timor because
they were seen as a symbol of East Timor’s incorporation into the Indonesian
state which is rejected by many East Timorese.
At least 42 people, including police and members of the Falintil, are believed
to have been killed during the attacks. At the time Amnesty International
acknowledged that the armed opposition had committed human rights abuses and
called on them to abide by international humanitarian standards, but expressed
its fear that the operations by the authorities to apprehend those believed
to be responsible resulted in further human rights violations including
arbitrary detention, torture and ill-treatment.
There has been continued resistance, both armed and peaceful, to Indonesia’s
presence in East Timor since their occupation of the territory in 1975. In
its attempts to crush the resistance, the Indonesian authorities have been
responsible for grave human rights violations including extrajudicial killings,
"disappearances", the imprisonment of prisoners of conscience, arbitrary
arrests, torture and ill-treatment.