Will the fight against impunity in Timor-Leste pass the test?

23 January 2013

Dili – Avocats Sans Frontières (ASF) is supporting the promotion of international justice in Timor-Leste. One of the key priorities is the improvement of the capacities of lawyers working in this Southeast Asian country, independent since 2002. ASF support is particularly timely as numerous cases of human rights violations will be handed over to the authorities over the next months.

Timor-Leste gained its independence after 27 years of Indonesian occupation and an internal conflict which took the lifes of an estimated 150,000 people. For the past decade, Timorese judicial institutions have been substantially reformed and the legal framework completed.

Regarding international justice, Timor Leste has ratified the Rome Statute in 2002. In practice, however, Timor Leste is facing challenges in addressing international crimes. “Though generally speaking, the legal system is independant, it can be influenced by the authorities”, admits East Timorese lawyer Benjamin Barros. “This has been the case with Martinus Bere, the commander of a pro-Indonesia militia who, in 1999, led an attack on a church during which about 200 people were killed. Despite these charges, he was released by the Government in 2009.”

Another issue related to international criminal justice is the low level of knowledge amongst local lawyers. “This is why, together with our local partner AATL, we organised last December a three-day training course for 35 lawyers in the capital city of Dili”, tells International Justice Project Coordinator at ASF, Luc Meissner. ”Members of ASF’s International Legal Network and a representative of the Coalition for the International Criminal Court (ICC) introduced the trainees to international criminal justice, the role of the ICC and a number of key case studies”.

Training session on International Legal Justice

© ASF/L.Meissner

This training session for lawyers is part of the EU-funded project, launched in 2011, to promote international criminal justice and the role of the ICC in East Timor and five other countries. “We also held a workshop on these issues for NGO representatives, the Ministry of Justice and other stakeholders”, adds Luc Meissner. “Finally, a baseline study will help identify the main issues such as legislative reforms that are necessary in the area of the administration of international justice.”

2013 is a key year in terms of strengthening international justice. The United Nations Integrated Mission in East Timor (UNMIT), present since 2006 to support stability and national reconciliation, came to an end in 2012. “In the course of this year, the East Timorese authorities will need to take over the outstanding cases of serious human rights violations committed in the country in 1999 which the UN’s Serious Crimes Investigation Team was addressing until now. We sincerely hope that the judicial system will be able to ensure accountability for these violations and redress for the victims”, concludes Luc Meissner.

ASF and its partner – an umbrella organization of lawyers in Timor-Leste called AATL (Asosiasaun Advocado Timor Lorosa’e) – have been working together between 2002 and 2009, notably to improve general public knowledge about the justice system and to enhance access to justice for the most vulnerable members of the Timorese society.

Published in Capacity building | International justice | News | Timor Leste | Transitional justice

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