Subject: RA: Assembly prepares to draft constitution

Radio Australia

TIMOR: Assembly prepares to draft constitution

21/09/01 17:28:00 | Asia Pacific Programs

Audio file:

East Timor's Constituent Assembly has been sworn in this week following a peaceful election at the end of August. All but two of the country's 16 political parties won seats in the new assembly which now has just 90 days to write a constitution for the country's future governance. So the political bargaining is underway on crucial constitutional issues like how the future government will be structured, presidential powers and what legal rights women will have. There's pressure on the politicians to draft the constitution in close co-operation with the wider community.


Begins with music: FITZGERALD: A radio drama series being broadcast on an East Timorese community station urging the public to get involved in drafting the constitution.

It's part of a push by civil rights groups to get the community involved in the making of a new constitution rather than leaving it solely to the politicians.

Already this week the views of 38-thousand East Timorese have been presented to the Constituent Assembly.

They were collected as part of a six week long consultation on the constitution conducted by the United Nations Transitional Administration, which is known as UNTAET.

In an emotional written statement to UNTAET, Constitutional Commissioners Father Armindo Brito and Genoveva Alves, explained what the constitution means to East Timorese people.

"For 450 years the people of East Timor lived under Portuguese law. Black or white sweet or bitter we have tasted it. In the last 25 years we lived according to Indonesian law. In daylight and in darkness, life or death we survived it. Now the people of East Timor want to show the world we want to live under our own law. A law which we ourselves are creating according to our history, culture and dignity."

FITZGERALD: The United Nation's Katerina Amitzbell says East Timorese so far have grabbed the opportunity to participate in drafting a law which will guide their country into the future.

AMITZBELL: Some of the main issues that people discussed were obviously the language, then the national symbols, the flag, justice, human rights, violation of women's rights, prohibition of polygamy, came out very strongly, then about systems of government which was really heavily discussed whether there should be a presidential system, semi-presidential system. Also natural resource management, there was a great concern for the support of the national and local economy. Some people said they didn't want any foreign import if the goods could be produced locally. They want a democratic system in distributing land and also that foreigners should not be able to buy any land in East Timor, that came up many, in many, many public hearings.

FITZGERALD: The Constituent Assembly members are under pressure to base their deliberations on the UN's findings, and pressure is also coming from women's groups who've assembled 8000 signatures which they are about to present to the Assembly supporting a ten point log of claims.

Jesuina Soares Cabral of the Lao Hamutuk community group says the signatures call for the constitution to bar discrimination against women, and to guarantee basic rights like personal safety, freedom of speech and children's and labour rights.

FITZGERALD: Jesuina says women want the constitution to spell out women's rights, particularly on the traditional East Timorese dowry system, which is called locally "barlaki". She says it's currently being used by some men as a way of purchasing women.

Women's groups are also pushing for the constitution to pave the way for a change in East Timor's traditional inheritance laws which bar women from receiving inheritance.

In this community radio piece released to raise awareness about the importance of the constitution a woman is discussing need for law reform so she can inherit her father's property.

FITZGERALD: Although almost 30 per cent of seats in the assembly have been won by women, the proposals to change customary law on women's rights are likely to provoke a heated debate.

Aderito de Soares an East Timorese human rights lawyer and a Fretilin member of the new Assembly says the choice of a national language and the role of the president are also likely to be key sticking points.

He says with most land ownership records destroyed in the post referendum violence two years ago, constitutional provisions on land ownership are also likely to be difficult to draft.

DE SOARES: About land issue, land property, for me it is a huge, huge problem there and the new government will have a very big responsibility of tackling this issue.

FITZGERALD: Non-government organisations are lobbying for an extension of the Constituent Assembly's 90-day term to write the constitution.

Aderito de Soares agrees the 90-day period is far too short and may need to be extended past December.

DE SOARES: It is a huge task even after we adopt the constitution in the future to continue doing this kind of education so people really understand what is the constitution. I think learn from other experience like Fiji, I think they have a very wonderful constitution, very detailed one, but it was drafted by three people one Fijian, one Fijian that lived in Australia quite long and then one New Zealander. There's three people there they developed this constitution but people have no sense of belonging totally for this constitution. So I think we have this task even after the consultation process must go ahead even after the Constituent Assembly adopted the constitution the new government should also take into account how to communicate, how to really consult.

FITZGERALD: National leader Xanana Gusmao says it won't be possible to draft a detailed constitution in just 90 days, so he's backing the a more basic bill of rights type document.

GUSMAO: For me we will not need a big constitution if we think that basically we'll be the universal police force, not ideological, not problematic. Maybe we'll be able to do that.

Transcripts from programs "AM", "The World Today", "PM", the "7:30 Report" and "Lateline" are created by an independent transcription service. The ABC does not warrant the accuracy of the transcripts. ABC Online users are advised to listen to the audio provided on this page to verify the accuracy of the transcripts.

21/09/01 17:28:00 | Asia Pacific Programs

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