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The Public Prosecutor v. Joanico Gusmao

Court Special Panels for Serious Crimes (District Court of Dili), East Timor
Case number 07/C.G./2003
Decision title Judgement
Decision date 14 April 2004
  • The Public Prosecutor
  • Joanico Gusmão
Categories Crimes against humanity
Keywords crimes against humanity, Murder
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Indonesia had illegally occupied East Timor since 1975 despite the will of the Timorese to gain independence. The Indonesian Armed Forces, together with a number of militia groups, carried out a nationwide campaign intended to terrorise and punish independence supporters.

The Accused was a member of the Laksaur militia group who had perpetrated widespread and systematic attacks against the Timorese people. The Accused was charged with the murder of a known independence supporter, whom he murdered by stabbing in the back with his sword during an attack on the village in which the victim lived. The Accused plead guilty and was sentenced to 7 years’ imprisonment by the Court for the offense of murder as a crime against humanity. 

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Procedural history

The Accused was indicted by the Public Prosecutor on 3 March 2003 for one count of murder as a crime against humanity. Consequently, on 27 January 2004, a preliminary trial hearing was held in which the Accused admitted to the facts in the indictment and pleaded guilty to the charge. 

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Legally relevant facts

During Indonesia’s occupation of East Timor, the Indonesian Armed Forces formed militia groups whose purpose was to support autonomy within Indonesia. The Accused was a member of the Laksaur militia group, responsible for perpetrating widespread and systematic attacks against the people in the district of CovaLima (p. 13).

On 5 September 1999, members of the Laksaur militia, including the Accused, attacked a village. The Accused forcefully entered the home of a known independence supporter and killed him by stabbing him in the back with a sword (p. 14).

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Core legal questions

  • Are superior orders a defence excluding criminal responsibility?

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Specific legal rules and provisions

  • Sections 5.1(a) and 21 of UNTAET Regulation 2000/15.

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Court's holding and analysis

That the Accused acted under the orders of his superiors in the Laksaur militia group is not a defence excluding criminal responsibility, but can be used as a reason for mitigation at sentencing (p. 17). The Court sentenced the Accused to 7 years’ imprisonment (p. 18).

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Instruments cited

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Additional materials