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The Prosecutor v. Agustinho Atolan alias Quelo Mauno

Court Special Panels for Serious Crimes (District Court of Dili), East Timor
Case number 03/2003
Decision title Judgement
Decision date 9 June 2003
  • Deputy General Prosecutor for Serious Crimes
  • Quelo Mauno alias Agostinho Atolan
Other names
  • Quelo Mauno
Categories Crimes against humanity
Keywords crimes against humanity, Murder
Other countries involved
  • Indonesia
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Indonesia’s invasion of Timor-Leste in 1975 marked the beginning of almost 25 years of immense atrocities and human rights abuses, resulting in the deaths of nearly one third of the population of Timor-Leste from starvation, disease, and the use of napalm. Indonesia eventually withdrew in 1999 following international pressure; Timor-Leste achieved full independence in 2002. The Special Panels for Serious Crimes was established to prosecute persons responsible for the serious crimes committed in 1999, including genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, sexual offenses and torture.

The accused was a former farmer and a leader of the Sakunar militia group in the village of Naetuna. He was indicted for the murder of an independence supporter who was beaten and stabbed repeatedly on his orders as part of a raid carried out against a village housing such supporters. The accused pled guilty to the charge. The Special Panel, after establishing the facts of the case and the validity of the guilty plea, entered a sentence of 7 years’ imprisonment after considering that admitting to guilt merits a substantial reduction in the usual sentence handed out by Timorese courts for murder, which ranges from 12 to 16 years. 

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Procedural history

On 17 February 2003, the Public Prosecutor indicted the Accused for one count of murder as a crime against humanity. On 22 May 2003, a preliminary hearing was held in which the Counsel for the Accused lodged a document, in which the Accused pled guilty to the charge.

The matter was referred to the Panel for determination of the validity of the guilty plea and the establishment of the essential facts of the case. The Panel rendered its final judgement on 9 June 2003.

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Legally relevant facts

The Accused was the head of the Sakunar militia group in the village of Naetuna, with 5 fighters under his authority. The Accused, along with other militia members, was ordered to carry out and did carry out an attack on a village housing pro-independence campaigners. Throughout the course of the attack, the accused ordered the beating and stabbing to death of the victim, and participated in his death directly by also personally stabbing him (p. 4).

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Core legal questions

  • What are the elements necessary to establish that the murder took place in the context of a widespread and systematic attack against the civilian population?
  • How are the sentencing practices of the East Timor and international tribunals taken into consideration in determining the sentence?
  • Is the Accused’s entrance of a guilty plea a mitigating circumstance that merits a substantial reduction in sentence?

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Specific legal rules and provisions

  • Sections 5.1 and 10.1 of UNTAET Regulation 2000/15.

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Court's holding and analysis

The connection between the murder and the attack against the civilian population can be discerned from a number of concurring factors, namely the execution of the murder, and the activity and circumstances, which preceded the execution (p. 4). These circumstances include the Accused’s presence at militia meetings where killings and raids of pro-independence supporters were planned, the intention of the militia to obtain revenge against the population of those villages that had supported and sheltered independence campaigners (p. 5).

The Panel considered that the practice of international tribunals is of modest relevance to the present case, which involves only a single instance of murder. The practice of East Timor tribunals, however, is of greater importance. Such practice mandates 12-16 years for murder, tempered according to the individual circumstances of the case (p. 6).

In particular, admissions of guilt merit reduced sentences, around half of the term (p. 7). Consequently, the Panel sentenced the Accused to 7 years’ imprisonment (p. 9).

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Further analysis

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Instruments cited

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Additional materials