25 May 2013

President proposes reactivation of traditional law in Timor-Leste

Image source: W. L. Wright 2006
ETLJB 25 May 2013 - According to an English translation of a report by Diario Nacional (DN) on 24 May 2013, the President of the Republic, Taur Matan Ruak, has proposed the reactivation of traditional law in East Timor. 

DN reportes that a member of the National Parliament,
Jacinto Rocke, stated that  “I think Mr. President’s idea is good because in the past our ancestors applied traditional agreements to resolve problems that happened in their village, and now sometimes the Courts do not put on trial some problems that happened in a village but allows them be resolved through traditional agreements in that village.”  He added that personally he agreed with the idea of reactivating the traditional law. 

However, on a previous occasion some years ago, at the opening of a conference on traditional law in East Timor conducted by The Asia Foundation, which he described as "a voyage to the past" the then President (now Prime Minister), expressed his view on traditional law including the following statements:

"Whereas contemporary written laws warrant a permanent and global concept of values, traditional laws lack resolve in their expression because they are unwritten and may change according to the narrator’s interpretation, although still maintaining a dynamic of its own.

Common or traditional laws also represent the stage of evolution of a society and usually correspond to societies based on feudal relationships both in the social and religious (non-formal religions) aspects; both aspects are combined with the political and economic ones and add to another which refers to castes as the lower echelons of society, slaves and those who practice witchcraft and whom are usually denied rights."

"One factor arises from the status held by the agents of justice and the other from the extremely powerful influence resulting from the interpretation of the facts, usually explained by resorting to the supernatural and often denying the realistic content of the values of justice (or overriding reality itself)."

"It should also be mentioned that, at times, when the injured party disagrees with the decision and believes it to be unjust, they may react in various ways, even commit murder, as a form of personal revenge."

ETLJB respectfully agrees with the observations made by Xanana Gusmao about traditional justice systems in East Timor and urges the greatest caution in the consideration of any proposal to "reactivate" it. Laws in a democratic society are created by the lawful processes enshrined in the Constitution; enacted by the legitimate representatives in the legislative organs of the state and enforced by the executive and judicial organs.
 Source: TLMDC Translation of article in Diario Nacional 24 May 2013; 2005 ETLJ 3 On the occasion of the International Conference on Traditional Conflict Resolution & Traditional Justice in Timor-Leste  Edited by Warren L. Wright

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