17 April 2009

SRSG Atul Khare: No democracy without rule of law in East Timor

16 March 2009 Dili -- Timor-Leste will soon be marking the 7th anniversary of its restoration of independence in 2002. During the last seven years, this country has witnessed important developments and reforms on its way towards firmly establishing rule of law and democracy. An independent and efficient judiciary which provides access to justice for all is a key element of rule of law and an important contribution to peace and stability; only it can ensure that individual and societal grievances are redressed, peacefully, through legal channels.

Rule of law may exist in the absence of democracy but democracy without the rule of law cannot. Establishing a culture of democracy and a truly democratic system takes many years and can only be achieved if the rule of law is one of the guiding principles that lead the process.

Global events are again bringing the timeless issues of stability, justice and impunity back in the forefront of global debate. In the long-term there can be no stability without justice and a well-functioning justice sector is in this regard the most important element. A justice sector does not need to be technically perfect to function but it must be seen by the people as being fair and only influenced by the letter and spirit of the law and not extraneous sentiments or influences.

When I first arrived in this country, seven years ago in the middle of 2002, judicial institutions were dysfunctional, given the lack of infrastructure and adequate human resources, in particular trained judges, prosecutors and public defenders.

Despite ongoing challenges, for the nascent justice system to combat impunity and instill public confidence in the justice system, some concrete progress has been noted. More Timorese justice personnel are being trained and are increasingly taking on line functions. Access to justice has been improved with districts courts functioning also outside Dili and the Prison service has improved, just to mention a few areas. Throughout these years Timor-Leste has made steady and significant progress to strengthen the Justice sector and its institutions, and despite the crisis of 2006 and the attacks in February 2008 demonstrated its commitment to rule of law and democracy. The country has also ratified all major international human rights instruments and recently adopted important legislation, such as the criminal code, which is broadly in line with international standards.

Strengthening the institutions and building capacities in the justice sector is a key element of UNMIT's mandate. The UN family in Timor-Leste has been continuously supporting the authorities in their efforts by providing technical advice and mentoring, an effort that has also benefited from strong support of bilateral partners.

In this process national ownership and leadership as well as coordination between the different institutions remain pivotal to improving access to justice in a sustainable manner. Whereas some progress has been made there are still many challenges ahead.

In an effort to fight against impunity, investigations concerning crimes against humanity and other serious crimes committed in 1999 need to be completed and prosecutions need to be pursued. The same holds true in respect of 2006 COI cases.

Pending key legislation, such as the Civil Code, the Law on Domestic Violence and a Juvenile Justice law to be adopted swiftly and efficiently implemented thereafter.

There is also a need for additional human rights education and raising legal awareness, with particular emphasis on women's rights and gender based violence, an undertaking in which civil society organizations will play a crucial role.

In order to overcome these challenges, given the reality of Timor-Leste, it is important to have a common vision and to develop a strategic plan.

The fact that the Ministry of Justice has taken the initiative to provide an opportunity for consultation among the different justice institutions and to develop a common vision for the next ten years demonstrates national ownership and should be seen as a major step forward. This might appear to be very ambitious, but the most important step has already been taken.

I would like to congratulate Her Excellency the Minister of Justice for this engagement and the leadership provided to this strategic planning process. The Security Council has also acknowledged the importance of an Independent Comprehensive Needs Assessment for the Justice Sector, supported by UNMIT, which will complement the ongoing planning process.

Both will be useful tools to identify gaps and highlight priorities which shall lead to enhanced coordination, help the development partners to channel their support in a concerted and strategic manner, for the development a more efficient and effective justice sector, enjoying the fullest confidence of the people of Timor-Leste.

My office and the UN family in Timor-Leste stand ready to provide continued support to this process.

(Edited version of the speech of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Timor-Leste Dr. Atul Khare at the Strategic Plan for the Justice Sector Workshop hosted by the Ministry of Justice of Timor-Leste on 16-17 April 2009)

East Timor Law Journal - Towards the rule of law in Timor-Leste!
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