This paper is a supplement to Violence against Women in Melanesia and East Timor: Building on Regional and Global Promising Approaches, which addresses the issue of violence against women in the region.
The main report describes all promising approaches identified by the team from across the region, and proposes, through a series of recommendations, an action plan relevant for all countries studied. This supplement provides more country-specific information on East Timor, permitting a more nuanced approach to proposed solutions.
The regional report and the East Timor report, when read together, provide a comprehensive picture of promising approaches for addressing violence against women, recommendations relevant for all countries and specific direction for where to focus efforts in East Timor.
Excerpts from the Report
4 Women’s access to justice
Women seeking justice for acts of violence in East Timor face a number of hurdles, including the complex combination of patriarchal legal systems dating from former rulers, the legacy of corruption, the destruction of infrastructure during the conflicts, and the adherence to customary beliefs and practices that are disadvantageous to women. Despite these challenges, East Timor has made some notable progress toward strengthening women’s ability to access justice.
4.1 Legal reform
Crimes of violence against women are still covered by the penal code inherited from Indonesia. Domestic violence is dealt with as ‘maltreatment of women’, prosecution for rape involves complex procedures and unrealistic requirements for evidence, and rape in marriage is not an offence. Family and property laws are patriarchal and discriminate against women.
The new government of East Timor has engaged in the massive task of reforming the legislation and processes inherited from Portugal and Indonesia and has prioritised certain legislation affecting women. Draft legislation on domestic violence has been prepared and is pending Parliament’s approval of the new penal code. A recent decision from the Government of East Timor to decriminalise the penal code’s defamation law should pave the way for passage of the domestic violence legislation.
The draft legislation is wide-ranging in its provisions and progressive in its reference to principles of gender equality, sexual autonomy and human rights.
4.2 Formal justice system
The police themselves say that ‘domestic violence is a big part of police work’. (Senior Commander, National Investigations Office of the National Police of East Timor [PNTL]) However, a 2005 study of police treatment of women found that police generally take action in domestic violence cases only if the victim is seriously injured and asks for her husband to be charged (Judicial System Monitoring Programme [JSMP] 2005).
Like the other countries of the region, the PNTL has set up special units for addressing violence against women. These units face serious human, financial and logistical constraints but have promoted a greater recognition among the police and the public of the seriousness of these offences and have made some progress in improving the police response.
Victim Protection Units (VPUs) were first established in 2000 with UN assistance, under the command of the National Investigations Office. A national VPU coordinates the work of the 13 district VPUs, which take complaints of violence against women and children, either directly or as referrals from regular police, and are responsible for conducting investigations for cases proceeding to prosecution.
4.3 Traditional and community-based justice
Many women do not feel the traditional adat system of justice meets their needs because it is administered by men and upholds traditional gender roles and values that favour men, yet the great majority of East Timorese women have access only to this form of community-based justice. For this reason, the OPE and women’s activist groups opted to try to make traditional systems more responsive by introducing legislation to make suco (local government) councils and chiefs more proactive in reducing domestic violence and assisting beaten wives.