Subject: Times: Law and Order Under Threat, Truth Commissioner

The Times (UK) May 20, 2002

Law and order under threat

By Ian Timberlake

EAST TIMOR risks a return to mob violence unless its police and judicial systems are improved, the head of the country's truth and reconciliation commission said yesterday.

Aniceto Guterres Lopes said that already there were signs of corruption within the court system of East Timor, which became independent yesterday. He added that the country's police had not had enough training and had not been fully accepted by a population still traumatised by years of brutal rule by Indonesia.

"One thing everybody talks about is reconciliation, but they also talk about justice," Mr Lopes said. "The worry is that if there is no justice, people will act on their own. The system must be improved." His comments came as the United Kingdom, 26 other nations, the European Commission, the World Bank and other international agencies are considering the country's financial needs.

"We need a strong judiciary to strengthen and consolidate the rule of law," President Gusmão has told donors, who will determine how much money East Timor receives for health, education and other key sectors, as well as the judiciary.

The United Nations has been helping to administer East Timor since October 1999, when Indonesian troops ended their 24-year occupation of the former Portuguese colony. The UN has, in effect, had to build a nation from scratch. About 1,300 East Timorese police have been recruited and trained by a slightly larger number of international police officers, but Mr Lopes, who also heads the Yayasan Hak human rights group, said that the three-month period of initial training was insufficient because many of the police had served with the Indonesians.

"The police here, maybe, still have the old Indonesian way of thinking," he said. "I'm not certain they can immediately become professional police." East Timorese did not yet feel pride in their police, he said.

A recent government report said that 25 judges and 13 prosecutors had been appointed already. Mr Lopes, who serves with a UN judicial monitoring agency in East Timor, said that many more were needed and those serving lacked experience. The court system had already shown signs of corruption, he alleged.

"Especially among the public defenders," he said, questioning how at least one of the lawyers earning only US $200 (£137) a month had been able to buy a car.

Mr Lopes's truth and reconciliation commission plans to seek the facts behind key cases of human rights violations that occurred between 1974, when colonial rule collapsed, and October 1999. It will also enable community reconciliation between victims and militia members guilty of lesser crimes, such as arson. Murder and other serious crimes will be referred to the courts.

A Western diplomat who closely monitors East Timor called it "a duty for the international community" to continue to assist East Timor's justice system. With enough help, East Timor's courts could have the resources to try Indonesian military officers in absentia for the 1999 violence, the diplomat said.


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