A. Background

1. On 20 May 2002, the Democratic Republic of East Timor declared its independence. Conditions in the country have improved substantially since the violence that surrounded the referendum on independence in August 1999. During this normalization period, some 223,000 persons out of an estimated 250,000 initially displaced have returned from Indonesia to East Timor. Significant numbers of former refugees, including prominent opposition figures, have returned to assume senior positions in government and their place in civil society. East Timor has begun the process of constructing a nation, including the promulgation of laws and the creation of administrative and judicial structures. The judiciary and police are generally able to maintain security and administer due process of law. The Constitution restates a wide range of human rights protections, and the Government has committed to acceding to many major human rights conventions. It has also decided to ratify the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. Only minor incidents of physical aggression against returnees who are believed part of the 1999 violence have been observed. Strongly supported by the political leadership, a spirit of reconciliation and forgiveness has been observed vis-à-vis perpetrators of lesser crimes. The formal institution and functioning of an independent "Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation", aimed at reconciling autonomy supporters with their communities, marks a further significant step towards fostering accountability and respect for human rights.

B. Application of the Cessation Clauses of the UNHCR Statute and the 1951 Convention

2. For most individuals, objectively speaking, there appear no impediments to return to areas that now form part of East Timor and the great majority of returnees have done so. The High Commissioner assesses that changes in East Timor, measured against the benchmarks noted above, are of a fundamental character.

3. The High Commissioner is further of the opinion that refugees from East Timor, who fled as a result of events prior to 25 October 1999, can avail themselves of the protection of their country of nationality or habitual residence and should in principle no longer continue to be regarded as refugees.

4. Accordingly, the "ceased circumstances" clauses contained in Paragraph 6A (e) and (f) of the UNHCR Statute and Article 1C (5) and (6) of the 1951 Convention are applicable to these persons.

C. Legal and Practical Consequences

5. In the absence of special circumstances demonstrating an ongoing need for international protection, the competence of the High Commissioner will cease to apply to persons falling under paragraph 3 above, on 31 December 2002.

6. Former refugees who remain outside East Timor after this date and who do not fall under the exceptions outlined in paragraphs 8 to 12 (below) will not normally be entitled to international protection. Their continued stay in the asylum country will depend upon the authorization of the concerned governments. Such persons should be encouraged to deal directly with the asylum country regarding their legal status and rights in that country.

7. Authorities of asylum countries, in collaboration with UNHCR offices in their respective countries, are urged to ensure that procedures are available to review individual claims on the basis of the principle of rebuttability of the applicability of the general cessation clauses.

D. Review of Individual Cases

8. In accordance with basic principles of refugee law, reaffirmed by the UNHCR Executive Committee in Conclusion No. 69 (XLIII)(1992) on Cessation of Status, the cessation clause should not apply to refugees who continue to have a well-founded fear of persecution. While States generally apply the general cessation clauses on a group basis, it should be highlighted that individual members of the group may request reconsideration on grounds relevant to their individual case(s) that would justify continuation of refugee status.

9. In addition, in accordance with Article 1C(5) and 1C(6) of the 1951 Convention, individual refugees may have "compelling reasons" arising out of previous persecution for refusing to re-avail themselves of the protection of their country of origin (East Timor). While this provision refers specifically to refugees within the meaning of Article 1A(1) of the 1951 Convention, it is general practice to extend similar humanitarian consideration to refugees within the meaning of Article 1A(2) of the 1951 Convention. This exception to general cessation is intended to cover cases where refugees have suffered atrocious forms of persecution and therefore cannot be expected to return to their country of origin.

10. Against this background, persons with an ongoing need of international protection may include, but are not necessarily limited to, individuals (other than third country nationals) who are:

a. Separated children transported from East Timor to other locations;

b. Civil servants of the former Indonesian administration in East Timor;

c. Former members of the armed forces of Indonesia;

d. Former residents of East Timor who suffered under atrocious forms of persecution and therefore cannot be expected to repatriate; and

e. Former habitual residents of East Timor during the period 1975 to 1999 who have continued international protection needs because of their ethnic background.

11. Moreover, authorities of asylum countries should endeavour to ensure that acquired rights, which individuals concerned may possess, would be taken into account. Due regard should be given to avoid unnecessary individual hardship, particularly where the loss of refugee status might lead to an automatic loss of residence and therefore disrupt any successfully initiated integration process or family unity in the host country. Consistent with Executive Committee Conclusion No. 69, it is recommended that authorities be requested to consider new arrangements for persons who cannot be expected to leave the country of asylum for particularly compelling reasons, such as their long stay in that country resulting in strong family, social or economic links or for those former refugees whose children would risk becoming de jure or de facto stateless. Such arrangements may include the granting of legal immigrant status through temporary or permanent residence or naturalisation.

E. UNHCR Assisted Voluntary Repatriation and Material Assistance.

12. After 31 December 2002, East Timorese wishing to return to East Timor from Indonesia will have to travel by their own means.

13. For East Timorese residing in States other than Indonesia, such persons may be informed that in connection with the application of the cessation clause, those for whom no other solution is available may be afforded an opportunity to repatriate on an individual basis, subject to available resources. Should UNHCR assistance be necessary for individual repatriation outside of Indonesia, UNHCR offices may be contacted for further details. Where UNHCR has no presence in the country of asylum, those persons whose refugee status has ceased, and who are in need of repatriation assistance, should be advised to consult the UN Resident Co-ordinator in their respective country.

F. Role of UNHCR in Indonesia and East Timor.

14. UNHCR in Indonesia will focus on facilitating local integration for individuals originating from East Timor who remain in Indonesia and who opt not to return to East Timor. These activities are conducted in accordance with UNHCR' s mandate to seek permanent solutions for the problem of refugees pursuant to Paragraph 1 of the UNHCR Statute and UNHCR's competence to promote the prevention and reduction of statelessness in accordance with United Nations General Assembly Resolution 3274 (XXIX) of 10 December 1974.

15. UNHCR in East Timor will continue to monitor the safe return of East Timorese and related human rights issues which may arise in the reintegration phase of return.