29 August 2009

Timor-Leste Remains Confident in the Justice Sector, Yet Attitudes Toward Domestic Violence Have Worsened

Asia Foundation News Release For Immediate Release Media Contacts: In Dili – Silas Everett
+670 723 0924 severett@asiafound.org

ASIA FOUNDATION POLL: Timor-Leste Remains Confident in the Justice Sector, Yet Attitudes Toward Domestic Violence Have Worsened

Dili, Timor-Leste – August 28, 2009 – Rule of law in Timor-Leste remains in a state of transition since the 1999 referendum that led towards the country’s eventual independence. While there have been a range of notable achievements in the formal justice sector, serious challenges remain for maintaining peace and progress toward prosperity.

“Law and Justice in Timor-Leste: A Survey of Citizen Awareness and Attitudes Regarding Law and Justice – 2008,” conducted by The Asia Foundation, was officially presented to the press corps, civil society representatives, and members of the government in Dili, Timor-Leste today, on the occasion of the ten year anniversary since the popular consultation in Timor-Leste.

The survey, which serves as a key benchmark of the nation’s attitudes towards the nascent justice sector in the years since independence, reveals that confidence in traditional justice mechanisms remains higher (85%) than in the formal court system (76%). Yet confidence in the justice sector has slipped over the last five years. The survey can be accessed in its entirety on the Foundation’s website ( www.asiafoundation.org).

The Asia Foundation conducted the law and justice survey, its second such nationwide perception poll in Timor-Leste, to compare citizens’ perceptions of law and justice in 2008 to perceptions collected in a similar survey five years ago.

It is widely believed that coordinated government and international assistance efforts have improved citizens’ access to justice. However, the results of the 2008 survey suggest that the citizen’s experience of the formal legal system has been uneven.

When asked the question, “Who is responsible for making the rules that govern people’s lives?” respondents say 2:1 that traditional leaders versus state institutions are responsible for making the rules.

The survey also suggests that despite the formal justice systems attempts to curb domestic violence, attitudes condoning domestic violence have worsened. In the 2004 survey, 75 percent of respondents said a man who hit his wife is categorically wrong. In the 2008 survey, only 34 percent felt this way.

However, key findings from the survey indicate that the public has aspirations for the increased presence of courts in their locality. Eighty-five percent of the 2008 survey respondents say they would want an official from the formal court system to come to their area compared to 54 percent of respondents in the earlier survey.

“The survey gives policymakers insight into people’s perceptions about their options and obstacles for accessing justice in Timor-Leste and we can’t progress as a country without knowing that,” says Fernanda Borges, Member of Parliament and Chair of Parliament Committee A - Constitutional Affairs, Judiciary, Public Administration.

With co-funding from the Justice Facility (a bilateral cooperation program between the governments of Timor-Leste and Australia) and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), The Asia Foundation designed the survey to inform policymakers about progress in the justice sector and provide a basis for designing initiatives to increase citizens’ access to justice. Survey interviews and fieldwork were conducted by Insight Consulting, a local organization specializing in social science research.

Over the last ten years, there have been notable achievements in establishing the rule of law, such as increased training for judges, prosecutors, and public defenders, as well as the establishment of a new court of appeals and four district courts. Yet these successes have been met by multiple challenges. Between 2003 and 2006, with the exception of Dili, the ability of the courts to function effectively was greatly undermined by social and political instability. Meanwhile, traditional justice mechanisms that have been in place for hundreds of years have yet to be formally recognized in the official legal system, and instead continue to operate independently.

The complete report and survey findings in English and Tetum are available on The Asia Foundation’s website. Download a copy of “Law and Justice in Timor-Leste: A Survey of Citizen Awareness and Attitudes Regarding Law and Justice - 2008” here:
English - http://asiafoundation.org/publications/pdf/549
Tetum - http://asiafoundation.org/publications/pdf/568

About The Asia Foundation
The Asia Foundation is a non-profit, non-governmental organization committed to the development of a peaceful, prosperous, just, and open Asia-Pacific region. The Foundation supports programs in Asia that help improve governance, law, and civil society; women's empowerment; economic reform and development; and international relations. Drawing on more than 50 years of experience in Asia, the Foundation collaborates with private and public partners to support leadership and institutional development, exchanges, and policy research.

With offices throughout Asia, an office in Washington, D.C., and its headquarters in San Francisco, the Foundation addresses these issues on both a country and regional level. In 2008, the Foundation provided more than $87 million in program support and distributed over one million books and educational materials valued at $41 million throughout Asia. For more information, please visit www.asiafoundation.org.
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