(London) - Candidates in Timor-Leste’s presidential election on April 9 should publicly commit to addressing the country’s human rights problems and propose needed institutional reforms, Human Rights Watch said today.

Human Rights Watch urged all eight candidates to address the ongoing security crisis that has resulted in the killings of at least 38 people since April in the capital Dili and to publicly commit to implementing the United Nations recommendations, made in October, to pursue criminal prosecutions of and administrative sanctions against those responsible for last year’s violence, as appropriate.

“Long-term stability for Timor-Leste depends on transparent and credible prosecutions of perpetrators of last year’s violence,” said Charmain Mohamed, Timor-Leste researcher for Human Rights Watch. “This should be a key campaign message for all presidential candidates.”

The trigger for the ongoing violence was the government’s sacking in April of almost 600 disaffected soldiers. The sacked soldiers (known as “petitioners”) staged a five-day demonstration in the capital, which deteriorated into rioting, torching cars, and looting government buildings. Some members of the police force defected to join the petitioners and openly fought the military. The violence also caused at least 150,000 people to flee their homes in and around Dili, many of whom remain displaced.

In an April 2006 report on police torture and ill-treatment of detainees and prisoners in Timor-Leste, Human Rights Watch highlighted the multitude of problems within the police system. Human Rights Watch called on Timor’s successful presidential candidate to:

  • Ensure through public measures and statements that there is a clear, unambiguous and consistent signal from the top that police use of torture and other ill-treatment, arbitrary detention, and excessive force will not be tolerated.
  • Ensure that legislation, policy and procedures are all in place so that the police operate under a coherent and clear legal framework that specifies police powers and their limits. This should include provisions to hold police publicly accountable in a transparent and credible manner.
  • Support the Provedor’s Office in creating a unit dedicated to oversight of the police.
  • Task the new minister of interior and police commissioner to strengthen the police force’s Professional Ethics and Deontology Unit by providing strong support for the unit’s authority to enforce its decisions, and by penalizing officers who do not comply with its directives.

“Institutional weaknesses in the police, military and judiciary have fueled the current crisis in Timor-Leste,” said Mohamed. “Timor’s next president should immediately address these weaknesses so that the country can meet its international human rights obligations.”

Human Rights Watch also called for presidential candidates to address the ongoing impunity for gross human rights violations perpetrated during the Indonesian occupation by making a commitment to justice and accountability for past crimes. Human Rights Watch noted that Timor-Leste’s Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation (Comissão de Acolhimento, Verdade e Reconciliação de Timor-Leste, CAVR) submitted its final report to parliament in November 2005. The report contained over 200 recommendations for the Timorese government, the United Nations, and the international community on justice, accountability, reparations and reconciliation. To date, however, none of those recommendations have been acted upon.

“The government needs to act on the truth commission’s key recommendations to help ensure that the mistakes of the past are not repeated,” said Mohamed. “Implementing these recommendations will play an important part in building a nation based on justice and the rule of law.”