Strengthening the security and justice sectors are among the advances Timor-Leste has made in the past year to enhance human rights, according to a new report by the United Nations peacekeeping mission in the fledgling South-East Asian nation.
The fourth annual publication, entitled “Facing the Future,” finds that improvements were made in boosting the accountability of officers serving with the Polícia Nacional de Timor-Leste (PNTL).
It also notes that training programmes, increased personnel, improvements to rural facilities and the passage of domestic violence legislation have improved justice mechanisms in Timor-Leste, which the UN shepherded to independence in 2002.
Tensions within the security sector led to deadly riots in April and May of 2006, claiming dozens of lives and driving some 150,000 people – 15 per cent of the population – from their homes.
The new report says that steps have also been taken to boost accountability for crimes committed during those months, with all cases recommended by the Commission of Inquiry having been taken up for investigation. As of this June, five trials have wrapped up and two are under way.
However, it says that trial proceedings have consistently been delayed, while several people who had been convicted had their prison sentence commuted by the President and have returned to active duty.
In spite of obstacles in several areas, the country has the potential to be both a regional and global leader in human rights, said Louis Gentile, Chief of the Human Rights and Transitional Justice Section of the UN Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT).
He said that the country “was doing far better than average in a number of human rights areas,” adding that for the reporting period of July 2009-June 2010, there were no recorded cases of torture or enforced or involuntary disappearances.
“This is something that all citizens, including members of the security forces and the national human rights institutions… can be proud of,” Mr. Gentile stressed.
He said that the Provedoria, or ombudsman, for human rights is playing a key role in promoting and protecting rights.
“The challenge remains of ensuring effective accountability for the small percentage of police officers and military personnel who continue to use excessive force against their fellow citizens.”
The new report highlights rights problems, such as regular reports of ill-treatment and excessive use of force by the PNTL and the armed forces, known as the F-FDTL, as well as limited progress in criminal cases against members of security forces.
UNMIT underlines the need for legal reform to increase access to the formal justice system, noting that the use of traditional justice systems to resolve cases of domestic violence and other crimes also impedes the realization of human rights.
Last week, the PNTL resumed primary responsibility for the country’s Immigration Department, Border Patrol Unit and Interpol Office from the UN as the gradual transfer of security functions continues.
The handover of responsibilities from the UNMIT to the PNTL is part of an ongoing process that began last May to help establish a professional and credible police force in the country.
So far policing responsibilities for 10 districts and six units have been handed over, with only three districts remain under UN policing command.
UN Police (UNPOL) will remain in the districts where the PNTL has resumed responsibilities to monitor, advise and support the national force.