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(Photo provided courtesy of the American University Washington College of Law, War Crimes Research Office)

(Photo provided courtesy of the American University Washington College of Law, War Crimes Research Office)

The Prosecutor v. Mateus Tilman

Court Special Panels for Serious Crimes (District Court of Dili), East Timor
Case number 08/2000
Decision title Judgement
Decision date 24 August 2001
  • The Public Prosecutor
  • Mateus Tilman
Categories Human rights violations
Keywords attempted murder, destruction of property, Murder
Other countries involved
  • Indonesia
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During Indonesia’s illegal occupation of East Timor from 1975 until 2002, a number of crimes were perpetrated against independence supporters by members of the Indonesian Armed forces and pro-autonomy militia groups.

The Accused, Mateus Tilman, was a member of the Ablai militia group. In September 1999, acting on the orders of the militia leader and joined by other individuals, the Accused proceeded to the home of a suspected independence supporter and that of his daughters. The homes were set alight using a petrol can, supplied by the Accused. As the residents started to flee, the unfortunate ones were attacked by the group with machetes and arrows, including a 12-year-old boy. Others escaped with burns.

The Special Panels for Serious Crimes convicted the Accused of attempted murder and sentenced him to 4 years’ imprisonment. His defence of duress was not accepted as the Panel found that he could have refused to join the militia or escaped thereafter. 

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Procedural history

On 30 November 2000, the Public Prosecutor indicted the Accused, Mateus Tilman, with charges of attempted murder, serious maltreatments and destruction of property

The preliminary hearing commenced on 29 January 2001 and concluded on 27 February 2001. On 29 January 2001, the Court decided to consolidate count 3 (serious maltreatment) in counts 1 and 2 (attempted murder of the same individuals). On 27 February 2001, the Accused did not enter a guilty plea and made a statement to the effect that, although he was present at the scene of the crimes, he was not aware of what the other members of the militia were going to do. He denied responsibility for the maltreatment and attempted murder of the victims concerned.

The trial commenced on 29 May 2001 and concluded on 5 June 2001.

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Related developments

On 22 March 2003, Tilman was granted conditional release. 

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Legally relevant facts

The Accused was a member of the pro-autonomy Ablai militia group (para. 19).

On 2 September 1999, a group composed of the Accused, the miltia group leader marcal, his son, and another individual proceeded to the home of Artur Laranjeira and his daughters, all deemed to be independence supporters. It was the intention of the group that they would kill the reisdents and burn their homes down. To this end, the Accused and the others carried machetes and a can filled with petrol. On arrival, the home of Laranjeira was set alight, as was that of his daughters. When the residents fled their homes they were attacked: Laranjeira with machetes, the 12 year old grandson of Laranjeira with an arrow through the neck, and one of the daughters with a machete. Some suffered severe burns as a reuslt of fleeing through fire. Some succeded in escaping without injury (para. 19).

The Accused personally struck Laranjeira with a machete and set one of the homes alight (para. 34).

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Core legal questions

  • Where a number of individuals acted together in order to bring about the realisation of a crime, from what facts and circumstances may the aim of the group be deduced?
  • Can the Accused be considered to have been acting under duress in light of the fact that he was guarded by the militia leader?
  • Absent proof that the Accused personally perpetrated the murder and attempted murders of which he is charged, how is his mode of liability to be characterised?
  • How is attempt defined in relation to the commission of a crime?

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Specific legal rules and provisions

  • Sections 8, 14.3(a), (c) and(d) of UNTAET Regulation 2000/15.
  • Articles 53 and 340 of the Penal Code of Indonesia.

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Court's holding and analysis

The aim of the group can be understood from the orders given by the militia leader who directed those present to burn the houses and kill the residents within who were independence supporters. The Accused and his co-perpetrators acted upon these orders and carried them out precisely. (para. 40).

The defence of duress is not open to the Accused. He could have resisted joining the militia as many other persons did (para. 44) and, once joined up, he could have escaped. That he was guarded by the militia leader during this time is of no consequence as he was not guarded 24 hours a day and he was free to leave the area (para. 43).

The Accused is responsible pursuant to Section 14.3(c) of UNTAET Regulation 2000/15 for having facilitated the commission of the crimes by aiding, abetting or otherwise assisting in their attempted commission. The Accused carried a petrol can and a machete during a siege manoeuvre against unarmed civilians thereby playing a crucial role in the commission of the crimes (para. 47).

An attempt is to take the step necessary to produce the desired consequences. For an act to constitute an attempt, it must be immediately and not merely remotely connected with the commission of the offence. It must be more than mere preparation for the commission of the offense (para. 55).

The Accused was convicted of attempted murder (para. 68) and sentenced to 4 yeats’ imprisonment (para. 76). 

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Further analysis

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Instruments cited