Timor-Leste: UN human rights report lauds progress but warns gains still fragile
The United Nations Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT) today released a report showing progress in promoting human rights in the nascent country while calling for further measures to help displaced persons and prevent impunity.
The citizens of Timor-Leste enjoy a range of human rights including freedom of speech, freedom to criticize the government, freedom of assembly and freedom of religion, according to the report, which reviews developments from August 2006-August 2007.
The security situation has largely been brought under control, and this year's presidential and parliamentary elections were largely held in an environment free from violence and intimidation where all sides were able to voice their opinions, the report notes.
It also hails progress in expanding the activities of the Office of the Provedor for Human Rights and Justice and in swearing in national judges, prosecutors and public defenders.
But the 32-page report voices concern about the high number of internally displaced persons who still live in makeshift camps and the lack of progress towards durable solutions to their plight. It points out that gender-based violence is common and a draft domestic violence law has been pending for several years.
Effective access to justice is constrained as the judicial system remains weak, particularly in the districts, according to the report. A considerable backlog of pending cases hampers the work of the courts, impeding the right of victims to legal remedy. Legal mechanisms to address property disputes, which are a serious obstacle to resolving internal displacement, do not yet exist.
The report also points to “serious cases of political bias compromising the impartiality of the police force” and warns that initiatives for the adoption of amnesty legislation risked fostering impunity.
“The ultimate aim of the country's leaders and the Timorese people of a peaceful and prosperous democracy demands further progress, in particular in combating poverty, in reforming the security sector and in strengthening respect for the rule of law,” the report states.
“Timor-Leste still faces considerable challenges. However, the Timorese leadership's stated commitment to human rights will help create an environment from which all Timorese can benefit,” said Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's Special Representative for Timor-Leste, Atul Khare.
Among its recommendations, the report calls for the President to promulgate a new penal code; for the parliament to pass laws on land and property rights; and on the government to adopt a comprehensive strategy to achieve a lasting solution to the problem of IDPs.
The Judiciary is called on to ensure criminal responsibility for crimes committed in April-May 2006. During that period, at least 37 people were killed and 155,000 others, or 15 per cent of the population, were driven from their homes in a spate of violence in Timor-Leste, which the UN helped shepherd to independence from Indonesia in 2002.
“UNMIT stands ready to support the Government and the people of Timor-Leste in this process,” Mr. Khare stressed.