Ruben “Aru” Barros Soares

For the past couple of days, I have been noticing a haunting Google search leading a reader to my blog.

“ruben barros soares staf unamet”

Towards the end of August, every Timorese family who lost loved ones before or after the Referendum must start to remember.

Barros Soares, known as “Aru”, was one of 14 UNAMET staff violently killed by Timorese militia and/or Indonesian military for helping to set up the UN-sanctioned vote on the “special autonomy” offer.

The son of the head of his village, he was working as a language assistant in Bobanaro district. For this, he was brutally murdered.

On September 2, 1999, militia members gathered outside of his house in Raifun village, Maliana. According to witnesses, he had just returned from work, taken a shower and was about to call his family, who he was worried about, as they were gathered at the UNAMET compound in Dili.

With Indonesian TNI members present, according to the Special Crimes Prosecutor they

dragged Ruben B. Soares outside of the house… Militia members, including Vitalis Fernandes aka Vitalis Afonso and Marito Lelo Bere Moreira began attacking him. During the attack, militia member Vitalis Fernandes aka Vitalis Afonso stabbed Ruben Soares several times. Ruben B. Soares attempted to defend himself. During the attack, militia members Joao Baptista aka Joao Gomblo, Marito LeloBere Moreira, Salvador Soares aka Salvador Leo Marobo and Dodo, Humberto Lopes, Martinho Afonso and Manuel [LNU] stabbed Ruben B. Soares. In addition, militia member Manuel [LNU] smashed the head of Ruben B. Soares with a rock. Ruben B. Soares died from the injuries received during the attack.

In the conviction of the militia responsible, it came to light militia broke into the house where Ruben was hiding, searching room to room to find him.

When caught, he struggled, and was cut with a machete. “He tried to protect himself and received cuts in his arms and clothes… His fingers were cut off.” He “got a machete in his stomach and at that moment he screamed ‘I am going to die.'”

Even with this injury, one witness said “as he knew a bit of taekwondo” Barros Soares attempted to save his brother-in-law and coworker from the same attackers. He was “speared” and stabbed five times more by three different people. Then he was bludgeoned with a rock on his head and died.

One of his many attackers was convicted of murder and sentenced by the Special Crimes Tribunal to 10 years and 6 months imprisonment.

I asked last year (in “The UN Dead”), and I will ask again. What has the UN done to compensate these families’? To formally recognize their loss?


2 thoughts on “Ruben “Aru” Barros Soares

  1. In the method of killing, there are some similarities to the recent killing of a civilian by an F-FDTL member on sunday in laivai
    see this bizarre translation of what occurred from Diario 1 September 2010:

    “The Parliamentary Committee B President Duarte Nunes said he was sad,
    because young gang in Laivai maltreated an F-FDTL soldier and the F-FDTL solider friends came to helped him and maltreated a young man to death.”

    What happened to the militia member who was convicted of the killing of Barros Soares? I presume he has been released from prison in one of many “Happy Anniversary of Independence” commutations of sentences/pardons by their excellencies the presidents.

  2. The comment below came from Mark Harris. I would be a total jerk to question his and many others’ dedication to East Timor and these issues.

    So thank you to Mark. Most of the information he shares is either not easily publicly available, or at least not in one place.

    As Mark points out, the UNAMET Timorese staff who were killed are commemorated in DKPO events. But as I noted before, they are included in a list of those killed in car accidents.

    And a private meeting with Ian Martin in 2002 is obviously a comfort, and I am sure the families did indeed appreciate it, but was anything done by the UN to remind the world, not just East Timor, of their sacrifice on the 10th anniversary of their deaths?

    As for the issue of justice, only one man was convicted – and as Mark observes is probably out of jail. The indictment and witness statements confirm that the Indonesian military was accomplice to this murder. One wonders whether these military may be operating now in West Papua for example.

    As Mark suggests, no recognition, no justice is enough. Nothing can be done to bring people back… Which is what this haunting Google search reminded me in the first place.

    Dear RaiKetak,

    I read your posting with much interest, particularly as I had briefly known Ruben in 1999 as a referendum observer in Maliana.

    In your latest blog-posting you reiterate your question of what the UN has done to compensate UNAMET staff killed in 1999 and formally recognise those victims. I believe that the Human RIghts and Transitional Justice section and Serious Crimes Investigation Team of UNMIT can best answer those questions, and hopefully would if you approached them. But, at this time when many remember and reflect on the referendum, I also wanted to offer my own personal recollections having working for the UN for several years in Timor-Leste from 2000 onwards, including with the Serious Crimes Unit.

    As far as I can remember, almost all, if not all, of those familes of the 14 UNAMET staff killed or who died in 1999 were financially compensated by the UN organisation with monthly compensation payments, which I believe continue for several years, possibly until the spouse or other recipient dies. If I am not mistaken, this is not applicable to only Timor victims’ families but also other UN missions as the compensation was assessed and approved in New York.

    In the case of Ruben, I can confirm that from 2000 or 2001 his wife and son directly received monthly payments. I can also confirm that in Maliana, the other two families of UNAMET victims, including Ruben’s brother-in-law Domingos who you refer to, also received such financial compensation. Most, if not all, other cases from 1999 UNAMET victims are the same, if I am not mistaken.

    One can only assume that such financial compensation serves only to support families and not serve commemoration and remembrance. However, the compensation also served as a form of recognition from the UN, as I was told by some families of victims, including Ruben’s. In this respect, I recall that Ian Martin, former SRSG during UNAMET, met directly with the families of UNAMET victims in 2002 at the UNTAET HUman Rights Unit. The sacrifice and contributions of their loved ones was discussed for several hours. Others may recall details of those meetings and subsequent positive outcomes, including formal recognition.

    I can also confirm that the names of all UNAMET victims and other UN staff who died in TImor-Leste since 1999 are routinely read out in UN commemorations for peace-keepers and other such commemorative events, usually in the presence of Timorese political leaders.

    In Maliana, I personally recall that the Ruben’s father and sister ( Domingos’ widow) travelled from Maliana to meet Ian Martin and appreciated such recognition by the UN. If my memory serves me well, Ruben and Dominggos’ joint funeral was held in late 2000 in Maliana in which the bodies were formally blessed and given a proper burial. UN staff, including myself, were present and formal recognition was given to the staff members in speeches and other support. Earlier that day, the families, including widows and children, as well as other widows from Maliana led the funeral procession from a Batugade grave-yard back to Maliana in UN vehicles.

    Further, the UN provided support to the Bobonaro district commemoration monument in front of the Maliana Police station, which commemorates not only those three UNAMET victims from 1999, but also, as importantly, the more than two hundred victims in Bobonaro district alone. The UN was formally present at the opening of the monument and, from my personal recollections, participated in the 8-9 September commemorations from 2000 onwards, which were, importantly, led and organised by district political, community and religious leaders. Such a commemoration was held in September 2009 for the tenth year remembrance. It should also be noted that in 2000 the UN and an international donor also funded and supported the building of a 1999 widows’ cooperative in Maliana market to provide economic, social and educational support to the victim’s families, which was managed by Ruben’s father. Due to more than 50 families of victims in Maliana alone, the cooperative was intended to support all familes of victims not only UNAMET families, particularly as other widows had learned that the UN would compensate those UNAMET familes.

    I am unsure of which other monuments and commemorations have been established in other districts. In Suai, however, a large memorial tomb was constructed with UN and British, Irish and other international donor funds (detail can be found on the plaque) close to Suai church in downtown Suai. The exhumed bodies and remains of more than thirty victims were returned by helicopter from Dili to the site in September 2004 to be buried along with the bodies of the many other victims from Covalima district. Those buried included a small number of UNAMET victims, but the focus was on all victims. I recall that then President Gusmao, then SRSG Sharma and one or two of the two Bishops participated in the commemoration. The UNAMET victims were not obviously singled out in such an event, for obvious reasons, but the UN Serious Crimes Unit and the Human Rights Unit provided logistic, financial and other organisational support for the district event.

    Lastly, a national memorial to the victims of 1999 organised by the SCU was formally inaugurated by political leaders and UN officials in 2005 when the SCU was first closed down (press releases likely are still on the web). The UN and international donors supported setting up the peace monument which is on the seafront around 500m to the east of the Government Palace. The monument has a plaque commemorating the 1999 victims but also those unidentified remains of victims from 1999 which were buried in a separate location. But again, the logic would have been that it is better to commemorate all victims rather than a specific group, for obvious reasons.

    As far as I know, there is no official RDTL national monument to 1999 victims, or victims of 1974-1999, possibly precisely for the reason of how to commemorate and identify victims. Most districts and some localities do seem, however, to have local monuments and/or local commemorations established, as in Maliana, Balibo, Suai and Liquica, by district leaders, and not only dedicated to 1999 victims. I am sure you will find details with CAVR or a PhD thesis written on this somewhere on the web.

    With reference to your text, a worthy question for your blog is what became of the ‘attacker’ who was convicted of Ruben’s and Domingos’ murders on 2 September 1999 in Dili’s Special Panels in 2004. With the penchant for pardons and commuted sentences in recent years, the former militia leader is possibly back in the community or even back in West Timor. It would be interesting to know how Ruben’s family, friends and the community perceive this, and whether or not a 10 year sentence for crimes against humanity -murder (maybe pardoned or commuted) actually provided any sense of justice or closure or reconciliation, almost eleven years to the day after his death.

    I hope that this lengthy response clarifies your question; my recollections may be inaccurate or stink of UN spin and others may have different opinions, angles and criticisms. Of course, finanical compensation, monuments, commemorations and official speeches may or may not only in part help families of victims. Indeed, such gestures cannot replace loved ones and ongoing grief, or, for many, their legitimate demands for justice.

    Mark Harris

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