Subject: Re: Lusa: Government defends restrictions on foreigners

Unofficial translation of Portuguese original posted to this list on 12 March 2003.

Lusa: Government defends restrictions on foreigners

Dili, 10 March (Lusa) - THE East Timorese government defended today the imposition of restraints on the activities of foreigners in Timor-Leste and rejected suggestions of that the proposed law about immigration and asylum presented to the National Parliament violates international rights.

In statements to the Agency Lusa, the Minister of State and President of the Council of Ministers, Ana Pessoa, argued that the proposed law is less restrictive than those in force in several countries and intends to avoid "interference of foreigners" in matters of the East Timorese State.

"Not only does it not violate (rights), according to my understanding of what is stated in the Constitution (of Timor-Leste), that foresees ways that the restriction of rights can be done", she affirmed.

"We know that there are not abstract and absolute rights. The individual right is given up, for example, before the collective one. This proposes merely to stop the interference in internal matters", she maintained.

Ana Pessoa considers it necessary to avoid foreigners promoting, for example, actions of protest in Timor-Leste that can "go against Timor's national policies".

"We want to assume responsibility for the demonstrations that we do", affirmed the Minister of State and President of the Council of Ministers.

"We do not want to assume (responsibility for) demonstrations with one Timorese and 500 internationals, and if it threatens the politics of our State, when the protest is a majority of foreigners, that in their country they do not dare to protest", she said.

For Ana Pessoa, it is "fundamental" that any foreign citizen in Timor "respects the independence and the sovereignty" of the country, avoiding "giving lessons to the Timorese about questions such as human rights". "We know about human rights, because we suffered those abuses personally. We are the first not to forget about human rights, neither our own nor those of others", she emphasized.

The proposed law of the government is being analyzed by the National Parliament, jointly with a second text about this same theme presented last year by the Social Democratic Party (PSD) of Timor.

The document of the government was criticized by some international jurists, in particular facts the strong restrictions applying to the activities of foreign citizens in Timor-Leste.

Lawyers contacted by Lusa suggest that the articles violate the Constitution of East Timor, because the Constitution states that foreigners' rights are conferred by the fundamental law of the country.

Article 11 from the proposed law, for example, refers that foreign citizens are not allowed to "exercise activities of a political nature or interfere, directly or indirectly, in matters of State", also being prevented from "organizing or participating in demonstrations, parades, assemblies and meetings of a political nature". They are not allowed to organize, create or maintain societies or any entity of political character, "even if its goals are only the publicity and the distribution, exclusively between countrymen, of ideas, programs or norms of action of political parties of their own countries".

According to the proposal, the foreigners in Timor cannot "pressure his countrymen or third persons to adhere to ideas, programs or norms of action of parties or political groups of any country".

The foreigners also cannot hold the majority of the capital of a social company of communication, without prior authorization of the government, or of a national company of commercial aviation.

They are not allowed to participate in the administration or social sections of unions and professional associations, or "give religious advice to the Forces of Defense and Security".

Religious, cultural, recreational, sporting, charitable or aid associations that are exclusively or mostly formed by foreigners "are obliged to register in the Department of the Interior".

Jurists contacted by Lusa believe that, given the existence of the principle of reciprocity, the imposed restraints to the foreigners in Timor will end up affecting the rights of East Timorese citizens in other countries.

"It is specially ironic that a country that lived during years depending on demonstrations of his citizens in other countries now prevents foreigners from having any political associations in Timor-Leste", commented a lawyer.

Ana Pessoa rejected the argument of reciprocity, considering that the Timorese regulation "is no more restricted" that those of other countries, "as is the case in Australia".

"If there is an illegal Australian immigrant here, we give him more guarantees than an illegal Timorese immigrant has in Australia", she affirmed.

"Here, he is presented to a judge within 48 hours. The illegal immigrants in Australia do not go to judges and stay for months in detention centers waiting for decisions about their cases", said.

In case of Portugal, Ana Pessoa remembered that Timorese who did demonstrations in Portugal did so "as Portuguese citizens", and that cannot "be compared with the current situation".

"Now, we will have to obey the Portuguese law. If the Portuguese law says that foreigners cannot demonstrate, obviously then the Timorese is not going to demonstrate", she added.

ASP Lusa End

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