JURIST >> WORLD LAW >> East Timor 

Constitution, Government & Legislation | Courts & Judgments | Human Rights
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Following Portuguese withdrawl from East Timor in 1976, Indonesia militarily integrated East Timor as its 27th province. The annexation was never recognized by the United Nations, however, and the territory's status was the subject of talks between the UN, Indonesia and Portugal. In a "popular consultation" of the East Timorese people organized by the UN Secretary-General in August 1999, the people rejected a special autonomy for East Timor within the unitary Republic of Indonesia and chose to begin a process of transition toward independence.

On October 25, 1999, the United Nations Security Council, by resolution 1272 (1999), established the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) as an integrated, multidimentional peacekeeping operation fully responsible for the administration of East Timor during its transition to independence.

Resolution 1272 mandated UNTAET to provide security and maintain law and order throughout the territory of East Timor; to establish an effective administration; to assist in the development of civil and social services; to ensure the coordination and delivery of humanitarian assistance, rehabilitation of humanitarian assistance, rehabilitation and development assistance; to support capacity-building for self-government; and to assist in the establishment of conditions for sustainable development.

UNTAET consisted of a governance and public administration component, a civilian police component of up to 1,640 civilian police and an armed United Nations peacekeeping force, of equivalent size to INTERFET. In addition, humanitarian assistance and rehabilitation components were incorporated within the structures of the Transitional Administration.

Soon after, the Transitional Administrator, in consultation with East Timorese political leadership, established the National Consultative Council (NCC), a political body consisting of 11 East Timorese and four UNTAET members, to oversee the decision-making process during the transition period leading to independence. The NCC was consulted on and consented to a series of urgent regulations required to establish effective administration in the Territory. These included: setting up a legal system, re-establishing a judiciary, setting an official currency, creating border controls, taxation, and creating a first consolidated budget for East Timor.

In February 2000, marking the complete deployment of UNTAET, command of military operations was transferred from INTERFET to the United Nations Peacekeeping Force. UNTAET also began a process of reorganizing itself to resemble more closely the future government of East Timor and to increase the direct participation of the East Timorese. Eight portfolios were created: internal administration, infrastructure, economic affairs, social affairs, finance, justice, police and emergency services, and political affairs. The first four were headed by East Timorese and the other four by senior UNTAET officials. The process of transformation and institution building would later lead to the establishment, in August 2000, of the East Timor Transitional Administration (ETTA) headed by the Transitional Administrator.

Running parallel to efforts towards maintaining peace and security in East Timor were measures aimed at developing a functioning judicial and legal system. An East Timorese Prosecutor General's Office and a Defender Service; 3 District Courts; a Court of Appeals, and prisons in Dili and two other locations were established in the course of 2000.

In October 2000, a National Council (NC) was established to replace and expand on the former National Consultative Council (NCC) as the nucleus of a future assembly. It comprised 36 members from East Timorese civil society - businesses, political parties, NGOs, and the territory's 13 districts. East Timorese were appointed to five of nine cabinet portfolios.

A regulation concerning the election of the Constituent Assembly, scheduled for 30 August, was promulgated on 16 March 2001 that formed the basis for the preparation of the electoral roll. On the same day civil registration of all residents began and by 23 June 737,811 people had registered.

On 30 August 2001, two years after the Popular Consultation, more than 91 per cent of East Timor's eligible voters went to the polls again; this time to elect an 88-member Constituent Assembly tasked with writing and adopting a new Constitution and establishing the framework for future elections and a transition to full independence.

Shortly thereafter, 24 members of the new all-East Timorese Council of Ministers of the Second Transitional Government were sworn into office. The new Council replaced the Transitional Cabinet created in 2000. The Constituent Assembly and a new East Timorese Government were to govern East Timor during the remaining transitional period before its independence as a democratic and sovereign State.

East Timor's Constituent Assembly signed into force the Territory's first Constitution on 22 March 2002 and following presidential elections on 14 April, Xanana Gusmao was appointed president-elect of East Timor. With both these preconditions for a hand-over of power met the Constituent Assembly will transform itself into the country's parliament on 20 May 2002.

The United Nations will continue to maintain a presence in East Timor throughout the post-independence period to ensure the security and stability of the nascent State. A successor mission, to be known as The United Nations Mission of Support in East Timor (UNMISET), will adopt a milestone-based approach towards its gradual withdrawal from the Territory and will support the East Timorese authorities in the areas of stability, democracy and justice, internal security and law enforcement and external security and border control.

Source: U.N. Transitional Administration in East Timor

Courts & Judgments

UNTAET regulations require the establishment of an independent judiciary in East Timor. Section two of the Court Law provides that judges perform their duties "independently and impartially" without "improper influence." Similarly UNTAET regulations established a Prosecution Law that requires that all public prosecutors discharge their duties impartially.

In March 2000, UNTAET created a civil law court system with 13 district courts and 1 national Court of Appeal. The law later was amended to include a court system of only four district courts and one national Court of Appeal. In June 2000, UNTAET established a public prosecutor's office. ETTA made progress in creating a legal basis for the justice sector, but continued to face serious challenges in recruiting and training a sufficient number of qualified judges, prosecutors, and defense lawyers. The judiciary's shortage of personnel largely accounts for UNTAET's inability to process criminal cases against most detained suspects within a reasonable time.

In March 2000, UNTAET established a special Serious Crimes Panel within the Dili District Court to serve as a de facto international tribunal to prosecute those Indonesian and pro-Indonesian East Timorese persons responsible for the mass killings in 1999 and other serious human rights abuses. However, the UNTAET Serious Crimes Investigation Unit was understaffed and underfunded, limiting its ability to investigate the 10 priority incidents related to the 1999 atrocities. In an effort to overcome these difficulties the Serious Crimes Investigation Unit was reorganized in December and additional resources have been allocated. However, insufficient staff and funding for a weak justice sector continue to slow down prosecutions.

The Crimes Panel, which consists of two international judges and one East Timorese judge, has exclusive and "universal" jurisdiction to adjudicate cases of genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, murder, sexual offense, and torture that occurred between January 1 and October 25, 1999. In June UNTAET created a corresponding Serious Crimes Prosecution Division under the General Prosecutor. This unit then incorporated an internationally staffed Serious Crimes Investigation and Prosecution Unit that originally was created during the early part of the year under the office of Human Rights Affairs. UNTAET also adopted international definitions of genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, torture, and command responsibility into a criminal code for the Serious Crimes Panel.

Source: U.S. Department of State

Human Rights

The U.N. Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) generally respected the human rights of East Timorese in 2001. The arrival of the Australian-led International Force in East Timor (INTERFET) forces and withdrawal of Indonesian forces in September 1999 largely brought to an end the decades-long pattern of numerous, serious human rights abuses by Indonesian authorities and their East Timorese allies; however, many serious problems remained. East Timorese Indonesia-backed militias based in West Timor, Indonesia, at times crossed into East Timor and threatened, robbed, attacked, and occasionally killed local villagers. There were eight militia incursions during the year, but no militia personnel were killed in East Timor in clashes with the UN-PKF. One Indonesian soldier, dressed in civilian attire, was killed by UN-PKF in July after he reportedly fired across the border into East Timor. There were isolated attacks and instances of harassment of returning refugees who were suspected of being former militia members, and National Council of Timorese Resistance sponsored security groups at times were involved in such abuses. The vast majority of the prison population is composed of pretrial detainees, despite explicit protective regulations. However, by December the number of pretrial detainees for serious and ordinary crimes had been greatly reduced from the previous year. On occasion the independence of the judiciary was questioned, and the judiciary's resources remained extremely inadequate. Until its dissolution in the month proceeding the August elections, the CNRT continued to benefit from its close relationship with UNTAET and at times allegedly misused its political influence for employment advantages. By the end of the year, 192,592 internally displaced persons (IDP's) had returned to East Timor from West Timor and other areas of Indonesia, but many others remained in West Timor. During the year, the Government of Indonesia announced that it would end aid to the refugee camps in West Timor and revoked refugee status for the individuals remaining; however, it had not done so by year's end. Domestic violence against women is a significant problem and customary practices discriminate against women. By year's end, most children had returned to school. However, the educational infrastructure, while significantly improved since September 1999, suffered from inadequate facilities, poorly trained teachers, and lack of educational materials. Protestants and Muslims occasionally are harassed, and in March a mob burned the mosque in Baucau. Ethnic-Chinese businessmen faced some extortion and harassment, and non-Portuguese speakers reported discrimination in government hiring. Local leaders sometimes forced suspected militia members returning from West Timor, Indonesia, to engage in compulsory labor. In the past, there have been unconfirmed reports of trafficking in women and children from Indonesia to East Timor.

Source: U.S. Department of State

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