The fruits of Timor-Leste’s recent double-digit annual economic growth are not being shared equally, with many rural people in the South-East Asian country being left behind, an independent United Nations human rights expert warned today.
Magdalena Sepúlveda, the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, issued a statement in Dili, the capital, after a six-day visit during which she met with Government officials, civil society groups and communities living in poverty.
Ms. Sepúlveda noted that continued growth in the Timorese economy, despite the global financial crisis, has led to a decline in poverty rates to an estimated 41 per cent in 2009.
But she said that when poverty is defined more broadly to incorporate social, cultural and political exclusion, it remains “pervasive and widespread” in Timor-Leste, which became an independent country in 2002.
“This begs the question of whether the poorest of the poor have enjoyed the benefits of such growth,” she said. “Of the 75 per cent of the population living in rural areas, the majority remains entrenched in inter-generational cycles of poverty.”
The Special Rapporteur pointed out that the richest Timorese enjoy nearly 180 times the level of wealth of the country’s poorest, adding that there seems to be a “two-track development approach” favouring the residents of Dili over others.
But she said the Government had taken positive steps in adopting a new strategic development plan designed to chart a course for the next 20 years, as well as making ongoing efforts to reduce poverty in a country emerging from years of conflict and misrule.
Ms. Sepúlveda called on authorities to spend more on key social services such as education and health care and on agriculture to try to expand the base of people enjoying the benefits of economic gains.
“As it continues the process of consolidating peace and security, Timor-Leste faces a unique window of opportunity to lay the foundations for an equitable and just society for future generations,” she said in her statement.
“Only by investing in human capital, building institutional capacity, and pursuing the progressive realization of all economic, social, political, civil and cultural rights can the Government fulfil its tremendous responsibility. Now is the time to close existing gaps and pull down barriers – gender, geographic, linguistic or otherwise – that prevents the majority of Timorese from enjoying the fruits of development.”
Ms. Sepúlveda, who reports to the Human Rights Council in Geneva, was appointed to her post in May 2008 and works in an independent and unpaid capacity.