Members of the security forces in Timor-Leste accused of human rights abuses still manage to escape justice despite a general strengthening of the judicial system in the South-East Asian nation, according to a United Nations report released today.
Launched 10 years after the Timorese voted for independence, rather than autonomy within Indonesia, the report on human rights developments in Timor-Leste between July 2008 and June this year noted the strides made by authorities in key areas, but stressed that much needs to be done in the area of accountability.
The report spotlighted the case of two officers from the national police force (known as the PNTL) who were accused of assaulting a woman while responding to an incident in November 2008 and sentenced to two and six months suspended imprisonment in June, but remain on active duty.
Also in late April 2006, fighting – attributed to differences between eastern and western regions – erupted when 600 striking soldiers, or one-third of the armed forces, known as the F-FDTL, were fired.
A number of confrontations between the F-FDTL and those who had left the army, some members of the PNTL and civilians culminated in the 25 May armed clashes at the PNTL Headquarters in which eight unarmed PNTL officers under UN escort were killed by F-FDTL members, according to the report.
“More than three years after the 2006 crisis, progress towards holding accountable those responsible for criminal acts and human rights violations remains slow and incomplete,” the UN Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT) report said although there are an increasing number of cases being investigated or awaiting trial.
The UNMIT report noted a separate UN report in 2006 stating that the ensuing violence claimed 38 lives, 69 injured and drove some 155,000 people – 15 per cent of the total population – from their homes.
“As of 30 June 2009, final judgment had been rendered in two cases,” said the UNMIT report, adding that in “the two completed trials, a total of 16 persons were tried, seven of whom were convicted and nine of whom were acquitted.”
The report underscored that the “trials that had been completed were largely fair, complied with international standards, and respected the rights of defendants.” However, it said that obstacles “to enforcement of sentences remained a challenge, and led to public perceptions that some individuals are above the law.”
In addition, little has been achieved to address the many human rights violations that occurred between 1974 and 1999, during the Indonesian occupation of the country, and “in a step which violates Timor-Leste’s human rights obligations and undermines efforts to end impunity, militia leader Maternus Bere, who faces charges of crimes against humanity, was released from pre-trial detention and handed to the Indonesian authorities,” UNMIT said.