26 April 2013
U.S. Department of State Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2012: Timor-Leste
ETLJB 26 April 2013 - There follows some extracts from the United States Department of State Country Reports on Human Rights Practices in East Timor. The permalink for the complete report on East Timor is at the foot of this post.
Principal human rights problems included police use of excessive force during arrest and abuse of authority, arbitrary arrest and detention, and an inefficient and understaffed judiciary system that deprived citizens of due process and an expeditious and fair trial.
Other human rights problems included poor prison conditions, warrantless search and arrest, uneven access to civil and criminal justice, corruption, gender-based violence, and violence against children including sexual assault.
The government took concrete steps to prosecute members of the security services who used excessive force or inappropriately treated detainees. However, public perceptions of impunity persisted.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life - There were no politically motivated killings by the government or its agents during the year; however, on July 16 a member of the National Police of Timor-Leste (PNTL) shot and killed a young man, allegedly without provocation, while responding to election-related unrest in Dili. The PNTL suspended the officer immediately and opened an investigation that continued at year’s end.
In April the government indicted six Defense Force (F-FDTL) soldiers on charges related to the 2010 beating to death of a civilian in Laivai, Lautem. Their trial had not begun at year’s end.
- There were incidents of cruel or degrading treatment of civilians by police and military personnel. In September 2011 a new law governing the use of force by the police came into effect. It limits the situations in which officers may resort to physical force and the use of firearms. Despite the new law, parliamentarians, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), the UN Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT), and the Office of the Ombudsman for Human Rights and Justice received complaints about the use of excessive force by security forces. There were 10 incidents of alleged unlawful discharge of a firearm by PNTL officers, including four by off-duty officers. Most complaints involved beatings, use of excessive force during incident response or arrest, threats made at gunpoint, and intimidation.
On April 1, nine uniformed members of the F-FDTL allegedly and unlawfully searched and mistreated a man in Covalima, leading to his hospitalization. The case was under criminal investigation at year’s end.
On June 4, three members of the Public Order Battalion of the police beat a young man in Dili at the time of his arrest. After his arrest, the man claimed other officers beat him at the police station.
NGOs accused police of using excessive force while responding to protesters during a May 1 labor strike. After some of the demonstrators threw stones, police tried stopping the event using tear gas and arresting 85 people. At least four protesters were hospitalized, and many complained of police brutality when interviewed by UN personnel.
In August 2011 a detained woman accused members of the PNTL of beating her while in custody in Baucau District. The PNTL denied the accusation, but an official investigation opened by the Ministry of Justice continued at year’s end.
Arbitrary Arrest or Detention - The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention; however, there were many instances in which these provisions were violated, often because magistrates or judges were unavailable to issue warrants or make determinations on detentions.
Arrest Procedures and Treatment While in Detention - The law requires judicial warrants prior to arrests or searches, except in exceptional circumstances; however, violations of this provision often occurred. The extreme shortage of prosecutors and judges outside of the capital contributed to police inability to obtain required warrants.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial - The law provides that judges shall perform their duties “independently and impartially without improper influence” and requires public prosecutors to discharge their duties impartially. A wide array of challenges in the judicial system constrained access to justice. Among the challenges were concerns about the impartiality of some judicial organs, a severe shortage of qualified personnel, and a complex legal regime based on different legal sources, including Portuguese-era, Indonesian-era, and interim UN administration-era law. An additional constraint is that laws are written in Portuguese, a language not spoken by the majority of the population.
Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence - The law prohibits such actions, and the government generally respected these prohibitions in practice.
A 2003 land law broadly defines what property belongs to the government and faced criticism for its alleged disregard for many private claims. The government evicted some residents of land defined as public property, inciting criticism of the law from local human rights groups.
Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government - The law provides for criminal penalties for official corruption; however, the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials engaged in corrupt practices. By law the Anti-Corruption Commission (CAC) is charged with leading national anticorruption activities and has the authority to refer cases for prosecution. The government established the CAC in 2010, taking responsibility for corruption cases from the Office of the Ombudsman for Human Rights and Justice. The Office of the Prosecutor General, which has ultimate authority for all criminal prosecutions, may also direct the CAC to investigate specific corruption cases. During the year the Office of the Prosecutor General brought more than 50 corruption cases to court.
In July a court sentenced Minister of Justice Lucia Lobato to three and a half years in prison after being found guilty of misadministration of funds. The Court of Appeals denied her appeal in December and increased the length of her sentence to five years. Authorities also indicted former minister of state administration and territorial administration Arcangelo Leite on charges of abuse of power. His case was dismissed, but the prosecutor appealed, and a decision from the Court of Appeals was pending.
There were accusations of police corruption. Some of the accusations involved bribes accepted by the border police along the extensive land borders with Indonesia, and bribes accepted by police from brothels that engaged in trafficking in persons.
The law requires that the highest members of government declare their assets to the Court of Appeals, but the declarations do not have to be made public. President Taur Matan Ruak declared his assets publicly in August and encouraged all members of government to follow his example.
The law stipulates that all legislation, Supreme Court decisions (when the court is established), and decisions made by government bodies must be published in the official gazette. If not published, they are null and void. Regulations also provide for public access to court proceedings and decisions and the national budget and accounts. In practice there were concerns that public access to information was constrained. For example, the official gazette was published only in Portuguese, although the law requires publication in Tetum as well.
Women - Rape and Domestic Violence: Gender-based violence remained a serious concern. Although rape is a crime, punishable by up to 20 years in prison, failures to investigate or prosecute cases of alleged rape and sexual abuse were common, as were long delays. Authorities reported that the backlog of court cases led some communities to address rape accusations through traditional law, which does not always provide justice to victims. The definition of rape under the penal code appears broad enough to make spousal rape a crime, although that definition had not been tested in the courts.
In 2010 the Law against Domestic Violence was enacted to provide protection and defense to vulnerable groups, including women, children, the elderly, and persons with disabilities, against all forms of violence, exploitation, discrimination, abandonment, oppression, sexual abuse, and mistreatment. During the year the PNTL received 153 reports of domestic abuse and referred them to the prosecutor general for investigation and prosecution.
Domestic violence against women was a significant problem, often exacerbated by the reluctance of authorities to respond aggressively. The PNTL’s Vulnerable Persons Units (VPUs) generally handled cases of domestic violence and sexual crimes. Women’s organizations assessed VPU performance as variable: some officials actively pursued cases, while others preferred to handle them through mediation or as private family matters. VPU operations were severely constrained by lack of support and resources. Police at times came under pressure from community members to ignore cases of domestic violence or sexual abuse. The PNTL disciplinary code allows the PNTL to impose disciplinary sanctions on police who commit domestic violence in their own homes. The government and civil society actively promoted awareness campaigns to combat violence against women, including rape.
Discrimination: Some customary practices discriminate against women. For example, in some regions or villages where traditional practices hold sway, women may not inherit or own property. Traditional cultural practices such as payment of a bride price also occurred. Women were disadvantaged also in pursuing job opportunities at the village level.
The constitution guarantees equal rights to own property, but in practice traditional inheritance systems tended to exclude women from land ownership. Parliament debated and passed a national land law, which included more specific rights for women’s ownership of land, but the legislation was vetoed by the former president for unrelated reasons.
Societal Abuses, Discrimination, and Acts of Violence Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity - The law makes no reference to consensual same-sex sexual relations. Gay men and lesbians were not highly visible in the country, although there were some openly gay public personalities. There were no formal reports of discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, due in part to limited awareness of the issue and a lack of formal legal protections.
Other Societal Violence or Discrimination - Societal violence or discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS was not a problem. There was no pattern of violence against other groups not covered above.