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The Prosecutor v. Mateus Lao a.k.a. Ena Poto

Court Special Panels for Serious Crimes (District Court of Dili), East Timor
Case number 10/2003
Decision title Judgement
Decision date 3 December 2004
  • The Prosecutor
  • Mateus LAO a.k.a Ena Poto
Categories Crimes against humanity
Keywords crimes against humanity, Murder
Other countries involved
  • Indonesia
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During Indonesia’s illegal occupation of East Timor from 1975 until Timorese independence in 2005, members of the Indonesian Armed Forces along with a number of militia groups perpetrated attacks designed to terrorise the civilian population of East Timor who supported Timorese independence.

In the context of these attacks, the Accused, Mateus Lao, was a member of the Sakunar militia group. In 1999, he and other members of the militia encountered a family of two adults (including a pregnant mother) and four children attempting to cross from East Timor into West Timor. The father was singled out by the militia, taken away from his family and hacked with a machete by Lao. He died as a result of his injuries. The Court sentenced him to 8 years’ imprisonment for murder as a crime against humanity.

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Procedural history

The Accused was indicted by the Prosecutor on 28 February 2003 for the crime against humanity of murder. The trial hearing commenced on 10 November 2004 and concluded on 16 November 2004.

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Related developments

On 20 May 2008, the President of the Republic of East Timor issued a decree granting clemency to approximately 94 prisoners, including the Accused, Mateus Lao. As a result, Lao is now free on parole.

See ‘East Timor Parole and Pre-Trial Detention’, East Timor Law and Justice Bulletin, 17 July 2008; ‘Ramos Horta Cuts Jail Terms for Militia’, The Age, 23 May 2008; and ‘Freedom to Kill in East Timor’, Asia Times, 25 June 2008.

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Legally relevant facts

The Accused was a member of the Sakunar militia group. He, along with approximately 30 other members of the group, encountered a family including four children fleeing East Timor at the East Timor/West Timor border. The father was taken away by the militia; the Accused proceeded to hack the victim with a machete first on his shoulder and then on his face. The victim died as a result of his injuries (p.3).

The acts of the Accused and the other militia members formed part of a widespread attack by the Indonesian military on the civilian population of East Timor with the purpose of terrorising those who had resisted Indonesian occuption and wanted independence (p. 4). 

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Core legal questions

  • What are the requisite elements of the crime against humanity of murder?
  • Which mitigating circumstances may be taken into consideration?
  • Which aggravating circumstances may be taken into consideration?

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Specific legal rules and provisions

  • Sections 5.1(a) and 14.3(a) of UNTAET Regulation 2000/15.

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Court's holding and analysis

The elements of the crime against humanity of murder are as follows: that the victim died, that his death was the result of injuries inflicted by the accused; that the Accused knew that the wounds were likely to cause death; and that the Accused knew that his acts were part of a systematic attack on the civilian population (pp. 5-6).

The Court took into account the following mitigating circumstances: the Accused had no prior criminal convictions; he is a married man with young children; the Accused acted under the orders of militia leaders (p. 6).

The Court considered that the particular cruelty with which the murder was inflicted, the abandonment of the victim, his being unarmed and that he left behind his wife and four children were aggravating circumstances (p. 7).

The Court sentenced the Accused to 8 years’ imprisonment (p. 8).

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Further analysis

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Instruments cited

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Additional materials