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Timor-Leste making strides in human rights but further efforts needed – UN

Timor-Leste making strides in human rights but further efforts needed – UN

President José Ramos-Horta returns to Timor-Leste
Timor-Leste is making progress in key human rights areas, including adherence to the rule of law, strengthening of the judicial system and addressing past violations, but it needs to do more to consolidate these gains, the United Nations said today.

In a new report released in Dili, the UN Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT) noted that the 11 February attacks against President José Ramos-Horta and Prime Minister Xanana Gusmão constituted a significant security challenge.

“The national authorities responded to these challenges in a way which indicates increasing institutional stability and adherence to the rule of law,” according to a news release issued by the Mission. “The cooperation between the military and police, as well as the successful efforts to apprehend those wanted in connection with the attacks without resorting to use of force, were positive developments.”

However, important challenges remain, according to the report, which covers the period September 2007 to June 2008.

“The notable increase in the number of cases of ill-treatment by members of the security forces reported during the state of exception is of particular concern,” the Mission said.

UNMIT also received reports of death-threats and arrests that did not follow legal procedures. While national leaders made commitments to address such violations, accountability mechanisms remain “weak.”

The report also noted some progress in strengthening the justice system, including the growing number of Timorese judicial personnel and their increased presence in the districts.

“However, effective access to justice remains constrained,” the Mission stated, pointing out that the backlog of cases has grown to an estimated 4,700 criminal cases. In addition, key legislation for dealing with gender-based violence – which continues to be a major concern – has not yet been adopted.

In terms of justice for past violations, the final report of the Indonesia–Timor-Leste Commission of Truth and Friendship was submitted to the Presidents of Indonesia and Timor-Leste on 15 July. The two Presidents issued a joint statement recognizing that gross violations of human rights had occurred, expressing remorse to all those who suffered.

“However, progress towards holding accountable those responsible for criminal acts during the 2006 crisis was slow,” said UNMIT.

Timor-Leste – which the UN shepherded to independence in 2002 – is now at a “human rights crossroads,” noted Louis Gentile, Chief of UNMIT’s Human Rights and Transitional Justice Section.

“The Timorese people and state institutions can continue to build on progress achieved – or can turn back towards a more violent past. The United Nations stands ready to assist them to move forward,” he stated.

The report, which is the second produced by UNMIT on the country’s human rights situation, contains a list of recommendations relating to key human rights developments in relation to the security sector and access to justice.