31 July 2009

Judge Phillip Rapoza heads back to East Timor for third time

By: O Jornal Staff 07/30/2009 - For the third time in 8 years, the Justice system of East Timor is calling and Judge Phillip Rapoza is answering the phone.

Rapoza, is being asked by the United Nations to work on a task force that will conduct "an extensive evaluation of East Timor's Justice System," and will be taking "a working vacation" to offer his legal expertise in one of the world's newest nations.

"I am honored that I have been asked by the United Nations to return to East Timor to lead the team of experts that will conduct this important evaluation" he said in a prepared release.

"These are challenging times, but I know that the Timorese have a strong desire to develop and improve their justice system. I am grateful that I will have this opportunity to assist both the Timorese and the United Nations in the pursuit of that goal. It is incredibly rewarding to be able to serve others in this way."

Rapoza, the Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Appeals Court, will not only serve on the task force but lead the evaluation of East Timor's justice system.

He says despite violence which has erupted in the past there, he has no fears. "I have no such concerns," said Rapoza. "Although Timor Leste has experienced a number of difficulties in recent years, safety is not an issue."

The team will be looking at Timor's court system and will focus on the judiciary, the prosecution service, public defenders and the private bar. The team will also assess the Timorese prison system. Following the evaluation, the task force will prepare a report summarizing its findings and will make recommendations to both the United Nations and Timorese authorities.

Rapoza will leave the United States for East Timor on Saturday and will return by the end of the month to continue his duties as Chief Justice of the state Appeals Court in Boston.

This will be the third go around for Rapoza.

He says that the one thing that he cherishes about being in Eat Timor, are the people.

"What I have missed the most are the Timorese friends that I made while serving there," he said. "The people of Timor Leste should be an inspiration to all of us. They have demonstrated a remarkable resilience and a commitment to their country's advancement despite the many challenges that they have faced."

Between 2003 and 2005, Rapoza was on an unpaid leave of absence from the Appeals Court to serve in East Timor as chief international judge on the Special Panel for Serious Crimes, a war crimes tribunal established by the United Nations. The tribunal conducted trials in cases involving crimes against humanity and other serious offenses committed during Timor's struggle for independence.

Chief Justice Rapoza returned to Timor in July 2006 to head the rule of law section of a special UN mission in that country following an outbreak of fighting between the country's army and national police force. Timor remains a hotspot for violence as demonstrated by last year's assassination attempts on both Timorese President Ramos Horta and Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao. Rapoza's team will be monitoring the proceedings of those charged with that crime.

Rapoza is quickly becoming known as an international justice after working in several countries in addition to East Timor.

He lived in Haiti for two months in 2005, where he headed a UN Criminal Justice Advisory Team that included participants from around the world. Similarly, he has traveled several times to Cambodia, where he has been involved in a variety of programs in support of the Khmer Rouge war crimes tribunal, which was established with UN support. In addition to being Vice-President of the International Penal and Penitentiary Foundation, which is headquartered in Switzerland and which promotes studies in the field of crime prevention and the treatment of offenders, Rapoza is a member of the Board of International Consultants for a UN initiative dealing with revised standards for the treatment of prisoners in Latin America. He also serves on the Advisory Board of the International Expert Framework, which is drafting rules of criminal procedure for trials conducted before international criminal tribunals.

Chief Justice Rapoza has also been very active in judicial affairs in the Portuguese-speaking world. He developed the "Justice Across the Atlantic Program" between Portugal and the United States and in 2002 was awarded the rank of Commander (Comendador) in the Order of Prince Henry the Navigator (Ordem do Infante D. Henrique). At the time, President Jorge Sampaio noted that he had made the award to Rapoza "for promoting closer relations between the judicial systems of our two countries." In 2007, Rapoza received the Brazilian Medal of International Merit "in recognition of your contribution to strengthening the ties of friendship and cooperation between the judicial systems on the American continents." Since 2007, he has served on the Advisory Council of the Portuguese-American Legal Dialogue Initiative at Catholic University of America School of Law in Washington, D.C. In 2008, Roger Williams University School of Law awarded Chief Justice Rapoza an honorary Doctor of Law degree in recognition of his judicial service, his work in the international community, and his contributions within the Portuguese-speaking world.

Rapoza is a Dartmouth native and an active member of the Fall River Chapter of the Massachusetts Prince Henry Society, serves on the Advisory Board of the Center for Portuguese Studies and Culture at the UMass Dartmouth, and has received the Distinguished Public Service Award from the Portuguese-American Leadership Council of the United States.
Rapoza is the son of Othelia Rapoza and the late Armand Rapoza.

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