NGO Forum writes Security Council on Rushed Constitutional Process
Dear East Timor supporters,
The East Timorese NGO Forum sent the following letter to members of the United Nations Security Council on 17 March. The letter expresses serious concern over the rushed electoral and constitutional process being pushed by UNTAET's Political Affairs Office. The NGOs are demanding the establishment of a mechanism for thorough consultation throughout East Timor on the constitution, and for adequate time and resources to be allotted for this critical process. Clearly, this process is a crucial step in East Timor's struggle for self-determination. We ask for your immediate assistance in lobbying the UN Security Council through your national governments and in passing this letter to others.
-- Pamela Sexton, La'o Hamutuk
East Timor National NGO Forum
East Timor, Dili
Members of Security Council United Nations UN HQ in New York
Dear Members of the Security Council,
We are writing to you on behalf of the East Timorese NGOs to inform you of our serious concerns regarding the constitutional and electoral process. We ask that you consider our recommendations as we strongly believe that this will assist in the fulfillment of your responsibility towards the East Timorese people.
Under Security Council Resolution 1272 (1999) of 25th of October 1999, you gave UNTAET all executive and legislative powers, including the administration of justice in East Timor. In the execution of those powers, UNTAET was due to consult and cooperate closely with the East Timorese people in order to carry out its mandate effectively.
The current transitional process is the last stage of a process which began with the Popular Consultation, and which will end with the adoption of the constitution. The adoption of the Constitution will be the final step for the East Timorese people to fulfill their right to self-determination, through internal self-determination.
A Constitution is a complex document embodying fundamental choices about the type of country an independent East Timor will be. This Constitution has to be a living document, which reflects how the East Timorese as a people see themselves, relate to each other, and finally, after many centuries, govern themselves.
So, how are the East Timorese people to make those fundamental decisions? By ensuring that a legitimate constitutional process established.
To achieve this legitimacy, we need to establish a process that will provide the East Timorese people with a real opportunity to have their views on the key issues reflected in the drafting of the Constitution. This process will need to balance the urgency of East Timor becoming an independent country with the essential need for the Constitution to be a document reflecting the aspirations of the East Timorese people.
For this to happen, the East Timorese people have to be provided with the information on the choices that have to be made, information on what a Constitution is, information on the options available to them on the fundamental issues. They will then need time to consider and debate so that they are able to form opinions, time to hold discussions in order to seek consensus where opinions are divided, and finally time to officially record their views. None of this can happen in three months.
The proposed timeframe being pushed by UNTAET and some East Timorese leaders would only allow consultation on the constitutional process to take place over a period of approximately three months due to the rush to hold the election on the 30th of August. This is forgetting that the very purpose of the election is to establish a Constituent Assembly that will draft the Constitution. The Constituent Assembly will not be in a position to carry out any further consultation on the Constitution with the East Timorese people. It will be under enormous pressure to deliver the document that will declare the independence of East Timor. The Constituent Assembly will have 90 days within which to prepare and adopt the Constitution. At the same time, it is envisaged that the Constituent Assembly would be the only body with East Timorese representation, able to perform legislative functions.
All the legitimate constitutional processes that have taken place in recent years were carried out over a period of three to four years. The consultation process for the South African Constitution lasted over three years. A three-month process would rob the East Timorese of their right to contribute to the future of their country and it will alienate them from the very document that should voice their aspirations.
A legitimate process can happen within a reasonable timeframe.
A draft regulation establishing a Constitutional Commission is being debated in the National Council. The proposed regulation provides for a nine-month consultation period together with a further three months to finalize the report and draw up recommendations for the drafting of the Constitution. It is still a very ambitious and tight timeframe, but it is one which, we believe, can produce a legitimate process, taking into account the size of East Timor and the determination of its population to actively participate in this process. In effect, it represents no more than a three-month addition to the initially proposed timetable.
The proposed Commission will have a critical task, and it is therefore essential to ensure that this body is provided with the mandate and the capacity to effectively carry it out. The proposed structure and composition of the Commission will ensure that the constitutional process is treated with the seriousness and the comprehensiveness that it deserves and that the East Timorese people deserve.
Consultation is not a simple process. To be effective, the Commission will need to ensure dissemination of information on the questions to be decided, that adequate time for reflection and discussion to form opinions is provided, and finally to establish a mechanism through which these views can be formally expressed and recorded.
At this critical juncture, we ask that the Security Council fulfils its responsibility towards the East Timorese people as the body entrusted with assisting them to realize their rights to self-determination.
This requires that the UN Security Council ensures that:
* a Constitutional Commission is established as a formal and effective mechanism for consultation throughout East Timor on the Constitution;
* the Constitutional Commission is adequately resourced to carry out its functions within the limited time available to it;
* the timeframe provided for consultation with the East Timorese people is at least 9 months with a further three months for reporting.
We believe that such steps are essential if the UN Security Council is to fulfill its mandate towards the East Timorese people.
1. Manuela L. Pereira Executive Director of FOKUPERS, Forum for
Communication for East Timorese Women
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