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The Prosecutor v. Joao Sarmento

Court Special Panels for Serious Crimes (District Court of Dili), East Timor
Case number 18a/2001
Decision title Judgement
Decision date 12 August 2003
  • The Public Prosecutor
  • Joao Sarmento
Other names
  • SAME Case
Categories Crimes against humanity
Keywords crimes against humanity, deportation, Murder, persecution
Other countries involved
  • Indonesia
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During Indonesia’s illegal occupation of East Timor from 1975 until 2002, independence supporters were the object of attack by local militia groups who favoured Indonesian autonomy. The Accused, Joao Sarmento, was a member of one such militia group, the Tim Sasurat Ablai. During his involvement in the militia, he was involved in the murder of a number of independence supporters and the forcible transfer of approximately 15 000 villagers from East to West Timor. In particular, he pleaded guilty to two counts of murder; one involved the stabbing of a villager who refused to be deported, and another the murder of a boy as his mother attempted to shield him from the militia. He was sentenced to 8 years and 8 months’ imprisonment by the Special Panels. 

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Procedural history

On 7 August 2001, the Public Prosecutor indicted the Accused, Joao Sarmento and three other individuals, Benjamin Sarmento, Romeiro Tilman and Domingos Mendonca for crimes against humanity. Specifically, the Accused was charged with three counts of murder, one count of deportation or forcible transfer and one count of persecution. See

The preliminary hearing commenced on 13 February 2002 and concluded on 14 February 2002.

On 30 June 2001, the Accused’s case was severed from that of his co-Accused following the guilty pleas entered by Benjamin Sarmento and Romeiro Tilman.

On 4 August 2003, the Accused pleaded guilty to two counts of murder and one count of deportation or forcible transfer. The Public Prosecutor withdrew the remaining charges against the Accused. 

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Legally relevant facts

The Accused was a member of the Tim Sasurat Ablai militia group. In April 1999, he and a large number of fellow militia members attacked the vilage of Orluli. In the course of this attack, the Accused beat Luis Boco Siri, an independence supporter, with other militia members. Siri died as a result of his injuries (paras. 65-66). After the death of Siri, the Accused joined other militia members in beating up Agapito De Araujo (para. 67).

In September 1999, militia members including the Accused beat Lorenso Tilman, a villager who refused to board the trucks that would transport him to West Timor. The Accused stabbed him in the back with his spear, killing him (paras. 71-72).

The Accused was also involved in the deportation of approximately 15 000 villagers from East Timor to West Timor in September 1999. He threatened the villagers that if they refused to leave, they would be killed by the militia (paras. 75-76, 79).

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Core legal questions

  • What is the legal distinction between deportation and forcible transfer of population as crimes against humanity?

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Specific legal rules and provisions

  • Sections 5.1(a), (c), (d) and () of UNTAET Regulation 2000/15.

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Court's holding and analysis

 The double formulation of the crime against humanity of deportation or forcible transfer refers to the character of the displacement: deportation is the forced removal of people from one country to another, whilst population transfer concerns the compulsory movement of people from one area to another within the same state (para. 95). However, the two crimes share common elements: the unlawfulness of the transfer, and the compulsory nature of the transfer (para. 101).

The Accused was convicted of two counts of murder and one count of deportation as crimes against humanity as a result of his guilty plea (para. 108). He was sentenced to 8 years and 8 months’ imprisonment (para. 123).

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Further analysis

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Instruments cited

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Related cases

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Additional materials