Subject: UNHCR: Summary report of inquiry into Atambua killings

(Introduction and conclusions only) Full report at:



Inspector General's Office

8 December 2000


1. Three UNHCR staff members - Mr Samson Aregahegn (Supply Officer), Mr Carlos Caceres-Collazo (Protection Officer), and Mr Pero Simundza (Telecommunications Operator) - were killed in Atambua, Belu District, Nusa Tenggara Timor (NTT) Province, Indonesia when the UNHCR office there was attacked on 6 September, 2000.

2. The terms of reference for an internal inquiry were promulgated on 28 September. The inquiry was to: establish the sequence of events; establish the context in which events unfolded, how this was interpreted, what actions and decisions were taken and with what consequences; and draw conclusions and make recommendations accordingly. The focus of the inquiry was to be the actions and responses of UNHCR. Identifying the perpetrators of the crime was outside its scope. The Inspector General was to conduct the inquiry and to decide the composition of a team to assist him. A summary of the report to the High Commissioner was to be prepared: this is that summary.

3. In addition to Mr Nicholas Morris, the UNHCR Inspector General, the inquiry team comprised Mr Luc Stevens from his office and Ms May Bagasao and Mr Pierre Obuchowicz. Ms Bagasao is one of the founders of the Manila-based NGO Community and Family Services International (CFSI). Mr Obuchowicz is an independent consultant, who worked for ICRC for 13 years.

4. The inquiry team visited Jakarta, Denpasar, Dili, and Manila between 14 October and 2 November, and worked in Geneva thereafter. The team did not visit West Timor, which was in security phase 5 (evacuation), but met officials from West Timor in Denpasar. In the course of the inquiry, the team interviewed over 110 colleagues and staff of other UN organizations and NGOs, as well as members of the diplomatic community in Jakarta. Over 100 of these interviews were face-to-face, a few were by telephone, and some information was obtained through e-mail exchanges.

5. With the exception of those killed, who are identified by their given names herein (i.e., as Carlos, Pero and Samson), colleagues are identified by their functional title. Where appropriate because of frequent references, this is abbreviated for convenience after the first usage. A key to abbreviations is provided at Annex, with a map. In references to interviews, "Team" is used for one or more members of the inquiry team. All members participated in some key interviews; others were conducted by one or more of the team. The term "militia" is used to describe East Timorese who used violence against refugees and others (in interviews with the team, those who attacked the UNHCR office were described as "militia"). All dates are in the year 2000 unless otherwise indicated. Times are in the 24-hour, four figure format.


82. This report has perforce focused on what went wrong within UNHCR, and what UNHCR could and should have done that might have prevented the tragedy. Many things went right. The repatriation of so many persons to East Timor was a remarkable and necessary achievement in the face of, at times, almost insurmountable odds. Many sound security measures were in place, and even reinforced in the days before the tragedy. The great majority of those interviewed, from outside and inside UNHCR, believe that UNHCR in West Timor took their security, and that of their partners, very seriously.

83. That UNHCR should have taken further measures does not, of course, alter the fact that the tragedy was not of UNHCR's making. Responsibility lies with the perpetrators and instigators of the attack, and with the Government, which demonstrably failed to discharge its primary responsibility for the safety and security of UN personnel.

84. The inquiry highlighted for the team acts of considerable bravery by UNHCR staff and by the local population, some of whom risked their own lives to save those of UNHCR and other humanitarian workers. Recommendations are being made outside the framework of this report to ensure that where possible due recognition is given by UNHCR to those concerned.

85. While outside the immediate scope of the inquiry, the team considers that the instinctive decisions to evacuate all who so wished were commendable, as was the handling of the immediate post-evacuation period, and the support given to the international colleagues most affected by the events. Initial support to national colleagues so affected was good. There appears, however, to be a need for standardized procedures, and where necessary contingency plans, to ensure administrative support for all staff where evacuations are prolonged. As staff may become dispersed and responsibility fragmented otherwise, a single person should have overall responsibility for this support throughout the period of evacuation.

86. Each of the inquiry team, from our different perspectives, began work with an incomplete understanding of the context and events, but a feeling that there probably had to have been evident and basic failures on UNHCR's part for three colleagues to lose their lives in the circumstances as we then understood them. We finished our work with, we believe, a good understanding of a context that was highly complex, and of what happened and the circumstances. We now see that why it happened was less obvious, and less the result of simple failures, than we expected. Given the time available and the constraints, ours is not the complete account. It is, we believe, as fair an account as was possible.

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