East Timor rights situation improving despite abuses: UN report

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[JURIST] The human rights situation in East Timor has continued to improve over the last year, despite the need for further reform, according to a report [text, PDF; press release] released Tuesday by the UN Integrated Mission In Timor-Leste (UNMIT) [official website]. The report, Facing the Future, chronicles the human rights situation in the country between July 2009 and June 2010. In it, UNMIT pointed out several areas in which the Timorese security forces and judiciary have improved in accountability and respect for human rights, despite the need to improve to fully meet international standards. UNMIT also pointed to several pieces of recently enacted legislation to emphasize the improvement in the rights situation, including that against domestic violence, providing for the protection of witnesses and creating commissions to deal with corruption and children’s rights. The report also lauded the conduct of Timorese authorities during the trials of those accused of staging attacks against the president and prime minister in 2008, which “conformed to human rights standards and upheld the rights of the defendants,” despite highlighting several weaknesses in the process. In describing the human rights situation in East Timor, the press release stated:

Timor-Leste was doing far better than average in a number of human rights areas and that continues to be the case. For example, we recorded no cases of torture or enforced or involuntary disappearances during this reporting period. This is something that all citizens, including members of the security forces and the national human rights institution, … can be proud of. … 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.

Despite these improvements, the report also found several areas that still require improvement, including the ongoing reliance on international officials in running the judiciary and the continued issue of bringing to account those responsible for gross human rights abuses while East Timor was under Indonesian control. Additionally, UNMIT cited the slow progress of cases against members of the security forces for rights abuses and the limited ability of victims to bring the perpetrators of past violations to justice.

In March, a Timorese court sentenced 24 individuals [JURIST report] for the attempted assassination of the country’s president and prime minister in 2008. The individuals, former government and military officials displaced after civil unrest resulted in a change in government in 2006, had been accused of attacking President Jose Ramos-Horta and Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao [BBC profiles]. The attempted assassinations led to the declaration of a state of emergency [JURIST report] in the country, in an attempt to quell the long-standing tension between the government and former members of the military. Much of the conflict within East Timor stems from the country’s attempts to gain independence from Indonesia in 1999, following a 25-year occupation. In August 2009, Horta, who won the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize for his work in attempting to resolve the Timor-Indonesian conflict, rejected a call for a criminal tribunal [JURIST report] to investigate abuses during the Timorese bid for independence, saying that such a tribunal would harm reconciliation between the two nations.

Read more detail on JURIST – Paper Chase

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