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Assembly Passes Motion to Extend Consitutional Debate

January 10, 2002

Mr. Francisco "Lú-olo" Guterres 
Speaker Constituent Assembly 
Dili, East Timor


Dear Mr. Guterres:

It is with great honor and respect that we write to you now after so many years of struggle to achieve the nationhood you have won. As fellow legislators, we have been following political events as they unfold in East Timor and watching with keen interest the advances you and your colleagues continue to make in the Constituent Assembly.

As lawmakers, we understand the very difficult process of writing a fundamental and complex document such as a constitution. We also understand that, because of the particular hardships confronting East Timor, your challenge is great. Since the beginning of the process, you have had to work under very tight time constraints. You have also had to contend with the legacy of Portuguese and Indonesian colonialisms that for centuries systematically denied your people the right to participate effectively in government. It is with this in mind that we hope you will grant us the privilege of making the following suggestions.

Although the Constituent Assembly recently voted to extend its deliberations on the draft constitution until January 25, we are concerned that external pressures are forcing the Assembly to rush the process. From our end, we want to assure you that we would like the Constituent Assembly to have as much time as it needs to write the best possible constitution for East Timor. In this regard, we propose that you consider further extending the session, perhaps by two months beyond that date. Your Constitution would still be finished well before formal independence. The extra time would enable more thorough discussions and additional consultation within the Constituent Assembly and throughout East Timor. We are not aware of any legal reason for, or particular benefit in, completing the constitution before the UN Security Council meeting at the end of January. Rather, the UN meeting could be used in part to show the Constituent Assembly’s progress to date. In our own country’s history, more than one year passed between the opening of the Constitutional Convention and the ratification of the Constitution, and it took more than three additional years to incorporate the Bill of Rights.

We view a country’s constitution, both yours and ours, as a work in progress that requires flexibility, time, and revision to develop a living document that truly reflects the aspirations of the people it will govern. Thus, we would also suggest that you consider the frequently used practice of a constitutional review process within a few years of initial passage of the constitution. Such a review process could take on any number of forms from the formation of an independent commission to a parliamentary review. Again, we refer to U.S. history, in which the process of electing the President and Vice-President was redefined 16 years after our Constitution was adopted, and the election of Senators was changed more than a century later.

We thank you for allowing us the opportunity to share our thoughts with you. Please let us know if we can be of any assistance to you as you continue the constitution-making process.

We look forward to your response and to further dialogue with you and your colleagues.

Best wishes for the New Year.


Dennis J. Kucinich 
Member of Congress 

Barbara Lee 
Member of Congress

Chris Smith 
Member of Congress 

Anthony D. Weiner 
Member of Congress

Tammy Baldwin
Member of Congress

Bernard Sanders 
Member of Congress 

Lane Evans
Member of Congress  

Sam Farr 
Member of Congress

cc: Honorable Sergio Vieira de Mello, Special Representative of the Secretary General 
Honorable Francisco Xavier do Amaral, ASDT 
Honorable Clementino dos Reis Amaral, KOTA Honorable Mariano Sabino Lopes, PD 
Honorable Arlindo F. Marcal, PDC 
Honorable Armando José Dourado da Silva, PL Honorable Aliança Conceicao de Araújo, PNT 
Honorable Jacob Xavier, PPT 
Honorable Mário Viegas Carrascalão, PSD 
Honorable Pedro Martirez, PST 
Honorable Vicente da Silva Guterres, UDC/PDC
Honorable João Viegas Carrascalão, UDT


Dili, 18 January 2002


East Timor’s Constituent Assembly passed a motion today to extend its deliberations on the draft Constitution beyond the current 25 January deadline.

A proposal was made to extend the deadline to 28 February, but the motion passed did not specify a date. Instead, the new deadline will be debated by a working commission.

Seventy-four Assembly members voted in favour of the motion, five opposed the motion and three abstained.

The Assembly has now passed 129 articles of the 151-article draft Constitution.

E Timor May Delay Drafting Constitution On Advice From US

DILI, East Timor, Jan. 15 (AP) -- East Timorese leaders said Tuesday that they could delay drafting the country's first constitution, after several U.S. Congress members advised the nascent nation to take more time in properly penning the supreme law.

Members of East Timor's democratically elected assembly debated the move Tuesday, with some saying completion could be delayed by at least one month.

The United Nations, which is administering the territory until it achieves full independence in May, had hoped the national charter could be written before Jan. 25, when the U.N. Security Council meets to review progress.

But eight U.S. Congress members wrote to the assembly last week expressing concern that the body was pushing too hard to finish before the end of the month. The letter suggested extending the drafting period by two months.

"The extra time would enable more thorough discussions and additional consultation," it said.

East Timor assembly member Mario Carrascalao said local lawmakers were open to the idea. Some leaders said they were working too fast, sometimes debating up to 13 proposed constitutional articles every day.

"We want to write a good constitution, not follow outside pressure. If we write it quickly, then the government and parliament will be temporary," Carrascalao said.

U.N. officials denied they were putting too much pressure on the assembly.

"There is no deadline for the constitution to be completed," U.N. political affairs chief Colin Stewart said. "If the assembly wants to take more time, then that is better."

Indonesia invaded East Timor in 1975. In 1999, the territory voted overwhelmingly for independence in a U.N.-sponsored referendum. A violent rampage by the Indonesian military and local militiamen killed hundreds and left much of the territory in ruins.

The eight Congress members writing the appeal were: Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, Barbara Lee, D-Ill., Chris Smith, R-N.J.., Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y., Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., Bernard Sanders, I-Vt., Lane Evans, D-Ill. and Sam Farr, D-Calif.