Grave concerns are held for the direction the Timor Leste government is heading in relation to judges and justice. The rule of law is in serious danger. 14 Dec 2014
PM seeks quicky justice to own liking
Civil Liberties Australia, barristers and lawyers, NGOs and diplomats are seriously concerned that the government of Timor Leste appears to have abandoned the rule of law.
Instead, the Prime Minister and government of TL intend to rule over the courts by shaping a new, trammelled justice system performing on cue to their own liking.
They are creating justice anew over Christmas.
The TL government has expelled all five senior foreign judges resident in the country, two prosecutors and an anti-corruption official, and threatened the tenure of local judges. Those expelled were given 48 hours to get out of Timor Leste.
The intimidation of the judiciary includes a “raid”, led by the Prime Minister and war veterans, on Dili District Courts last month, staged for the media. PM Xanana Gusmao (left) tried to present documents to judges, but was told to take any evidence he possessed to the prosecution service.
Behind this stand-off between the judiciary and the government appears to be legal cases alleging corruption against eight members of the government. The case against the Minister for Finance, Emelia Pires, was due to start imminently when the expulsions were ordered. It could not go ahead because one of expelled judges was listed to preside.
As well, a police commander in charge of criminal investigations allowed people arrested for drug trafficking to leave the country, allegedly at the direction of higher-ups in the government. Some 3kg of drugs went missing after the arrests. The policeman was convicted of a series of crimes and sentenced to nine years in jail recently.
Any evidence he is willing to give in open court could blow open alleged involvement by members of the country’s elite with drugs, drug traffickers from Indonesia and “protection”. If any allegations of “higher ups” involvement in dealing drugs proved true, it would indicate the TL police force is also seriously compromised…as well as the parliament, ministers and MPs.
The TL government has created a quicky “Commission to Audit the Timor-Leste Justice System”.
Approved by the Council of Ministers on 24 October 2014, the audit is to report to the TL parliament “at the beginning of 2015”. It therefore has but a few weeks, basically over the traditional Christmas and New Year holidays, to complete its work.
The task is to undertake, in less than two months, an entire re-vamp of the justice system. The audit’s terms of reference include “timorization” of the justice sector and “to develop new legal diplomas”…whatever that means.
After TL gained its independence, the country decided to base its legal system on Portuguese law, and to import Portuguese legal experts. It now seems TL’s rulers are having second thoughts, realising that with the imported Portuguese law and lawyers came a strong sense of independence from government dictate.
The parliament’s resolution ordering the audit contains these chilling words:
The Anti-Corruption Committee has also been subject to the referred hiring of foreign professionals to train and build capacity among the staff of that judicial body. However, the action of the said professionals has not been satisfactory…”
The government of Timor Leste, while operating historically as Fretilin freedom fighters, apparently believes “freedom” doesn’t mean a judiciary that acts independently.
The TL government claims problems in the justice system stem from conduct by the judiciary in a $30m resources tax case against Conoco Philips and others. But observers believe that claim is a smokescreen.
The NT Bar Association has expressed its concern in detail after one of its senior members, Alistair Wyvill, prepared a detailed report after visiting Dili last month. Wyvill recommended lawyers in Australia should provide strong support to local judges and lawyers in TL who are battling to uphold the rule of law against government assault.
“The recent actions by the Government in forcing the departure of a number of foreign judges and lawyers working in the justice system pose a serious threat to the fact and appearance of the independence of the Timor Leste Judiciary”, Wyvill SC said in a media release, speaking as the president of the NT Bar Association.
Mr Wyvill spent three days in Dili last month talking to local judges, lawyers and others independent of the legal system about the developments.
He expressed concern that it appeared that the intervention may have been motivated by a desire to prevent the prosecution of a number of persons with connections to the Government.
“Obviously, if there was any such connection, it would be a matter of very serious concern”, he said. “Of the gravest concern were the reports I received of threats to the lives of local judges. The Government of Timor Leste must guarantee the safety of its judges if the rule of law is to survive and prosper in Timor Leste.”
At its annual general meeting last month, the NT Bar Association resolved to call upon the Government of Timor Leste:
- to confirm its unconditional commitment to upholding the rule of law;
- to refrain from any action or dealing with the judiciary or with the judges of Timor Leste which is not in accordance with the Constitution and laws of Timor Leste;
- to ensure that any issues of concern which it may have with the actions of any judge are raised and dealt with according to law and with respect for the independence of judges and the judiciary;
- to unconditionally guarantee the safety and welfare of Timorese judges and their families.
The report by Mr Wyvill (left) on relations between the Government and the Judiciary following his visit to Timor Leste is here: