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Child Soldiers Global Report 2008 - Timor-Leste

Publisher Child Soldiers International
Publication Date 20 May 2008
Cite as Child Soldiers International, Child Soldiers Global Report 2008 - Timor-Leste, 20 May 2008, available at: [accessed 28 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Population: 947,000 (463,000 under 18)
Government Armed Forces: 1,250
Compulsary Recruitment Age: 18
Voluntary Recruitment Age: 18
Voting Age: 17
Optional Protocol: acceded 2 August 2004
Other Treaties: GC AP I, GC AP II, CRC, ICC

There were no reports of under-18s in the armed forces. The demobilization process did not include specific programs aimed at assisting demobilized child soldiers.


Violence erupted in April 2006 after almost 600 soldiers – more than a third of the armed forces – were dismissed after protesting over discrimination and poor conditions of work. Up to 38 people died and some 150,000 people were displaced in subsequent fighting.1 In May 2006 an international peacekeeping force was deployed. The UN Office in Timor-Leste (UNOTIL) had its mandate extended as a result of the violence, and was replaced in August 2006 by the UN Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT), mandated to foster stability and support national elections in 2007; it included up to 1,608 police personnel within a civilian peacekeeping component.2


National recruitment legislation and practice

The 2004 Organic Law of the Falintil – ETDF (East Timor Defence Forces) provided the basis for voluntary recruitment, and stated that the defence force was to be "exclusively made up of citizen volunteers" and that "No person under 18 years of age may be recruited for military service in the Falintil – ETDF" (Article 14.2). UN identity cards issued in early 2001 for the national Constituent Assembly elections were used as the proof of age for enlistment purposes. As of 2006 there were 1,435 persons in the force, comprising two infantry battalions and one naval component.3

A 2006 review by the secretary of state for defence examined a range of potential policy aspects, including the introduction of compulsory military service.4 Timor-Leste's initial report on the Optional Protocol stated that this was viewed as highly unlikely to be supported, and that there was believed to be no prospect of amending current provisions concerning recruitment under the age of 18.5

In February 2007, however, a Law on Military Service was passed, which provided for conscription for those aged between 18 and 30. Under the law the duration of service for those selected for active service was 18 months, extendable by a maximum of 12 months "in the event of national service requirements". Although the law provided for exemption from military service for various categories, including individuals with care responsibilities, there was no provision for conscientious objection or alternatives to military service.6 Some 40,000 East Timorese were estimated to be eligible for conscription.7

Disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR):

The pro-independence armed group, Armed Forces for the National Liberation of East Timor (Falintil) had been demobilized in 2000 and officially dissolved in 2001. All under-18 members of Falintil were reported to have been sent back to their homes and schools. The demobilization process, implemented by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), did not include specific programs aimed at assisting demobilized child soldiers.8


In October 2005 the Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation in Timor-Leste submitted its final report to the Timor-Leste president. It contained a detailed account of human rights violations in Timor-Leste between 1974 and 1999, including abuses against children. It found that during Indonesia's occupation of Timor-Leste (1975-99) children, some as young as six years old, were used by the Indonesian armed forces, Indonesian-backed militia and, to a lesser extent, by the pro-independence armed group, Falintil, and its clandestine front. According to the report, children associated with Falintil were the victims of extrajudicial execution, arbitrary detention, torture and other human rights violations by the Indonesian occupying forces. Child members of the pro-Indonesian militias responsible for much of the violence that took place both before and after the August 1999 Popular Consultation on independence were reported to be among those who had suffered the greatest impact since Indonesia's withdrawal from the territory and its subsequent independence. As those seen to have been on "the wrong side", they suffered stigma and many had not returned from West Timor, Indonesia, where they had fled in 1999, for fear of retribution or ostracism.9

The serious crimes process established by the UN to try serious violations of human rights ended its operations in May 2005. The Special Panels established within the national court system had exclusive jurisdiction in relation to grave crimes – war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity – as well as for murder, sexual offences and torture committed from 1 January to 25 October 1999.10 Recruitment and use of children were not among the crimes with which any of the 97 suspects tried by the court were charged. Indonesia refused to co-operate with the serious crimes process and took no further action subsequent to the widely discredited ad hoc human rights court in Jakarta to bring to justice members of the Indonesian armed forces and other Indonesian citizens or individuals resident in Indonesia for crimes committed in Timor-Leste.

At a February 2007 ministerial meeting in Paris, Timor Leste and 58 other states endorsed the Paris Commitments to protect children from unlawful recruitment or use by armed forces or armed groups and the Paris Principles and guidelines on children associated with armed forces or armed groups. The documents reaffirmed international standards and operational principles for protecting and assisting child soldiers and followed a wide-ranging global consultation jointly sponsored by the French government and UNICEF.

International standards

Timor-Leste submitted its initial report on the Optional Protocol in 2006, together with its initial report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC).

The report stated that "Promotion and advocacy of the principles and priorities of the Protocol have occurred as part of broader efforts by Government – especially in cooperation with UNICEF – to promote and advocate the principles and provisions of the CRC. The Government's early accession to both the Convention and its optional protocols has enabled a unified approach to community awareness raising."11

1 Report of the UN Independent Special Commission of Inquiry for Timor-Leste, Geneva, 2 October 2006,

2 United Nations Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste.

3 Initial report of Timor-Leste to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child on implementation of the Optional Protocol, UN Doc. CRC/C/OPAC/TLS/1, 28 June 2007.

4 Secretary of State for Defence, Force 20-20, 2006,

5 Initial report of Timor-Leste, above note 3.

6 Unofficial translation of Law of Military Service by Coalition.

7 "Concern at Timor army conscription", The Australian, 31 January 2007,

8 Initial report of Timor-Leste, above note 3.

9 Chega! Final Report of the Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation in East Timor (CAVR), 2005,

10 Regulation on the Establishment of the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor, 27 November 1999, UN Doc. UNTAET/REG/1999/1, Section 3.

11 Initial report of Timor-Leste, above note 3.

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