Timor-Leste is a multiparty parliamentary republic with a population of approximately 1.1 million. The country held presidential and parliamentary elections in 2007 that were generally considered free and fair. Former Prime Minister Jose Ramos-Horta was elected president, and former president Xanana Gusmao, as head of a four-party coalition of former opposition parties, became prime minister. The government generally respected the human rights of its citizens; however, some human rights abuses persisted as the country recovered from the political and security crisis of 2006 that led to intervention by the Australian-led International Stabilization Force and establishment of a new UN mission to restore order. Serious problems included: politically motivated and extrajudicial killings; police abuse of authority; and inefficient and understaffed courts that deprived citizens of due process and an expeditious fair trial. Other problems included weak oversight of administration of justice by civil society and a lack of reliable information about government and public policy.
As part of an ongoing effort to support democracy in Timor-Leste since the crisis of 2006, U.S. government programs seek to strengthen the justice system, foster the development of civil society, and assist the government in holding free and fair elections. U.S. priorities are based in part on the findings of a November 2006 Conflict Vulnerability Assessment, which identified serious inadequacies in the justice system as well as weak oversight of government as root causes of the 2006 unrest. By promoting the development of a functioning justice system and strengthening the independence and professionalism of the media, U.S. programs aim to assist in resolving the crisis and, at the same time, lay a foundation for good governance in the country.
The U.S. government supports the Office of the Provedor, an independent state body in its second year of operation, which serves as an ombudsman for handling complaints regarding corruption, poor administration, and human rights violations. In 2007, the Provedor investigated 24 cases, referring seven of these to the Prosecutor's Office. In June 2007 the first class of Timorese judges, prosecutors, and defenders, one-third of whom were women, graduated from the U.S.-supported Legal Training Center. The U.S. government also finances an international judicial inspector to assist the body that provides oversight of the courts. U.S. assistance expands local access to legal aid by supporting legal aid centers that encourage resolution of disputes through mediation within the community in the local language. Legal aid centers also raise public awareness of laws and citizens' rights and responsibilities.
U.S. government programs to develop civil society emphasize the strengthening of independent media and expanding access to reliable news and information on current affairs outside of the capital city. U.S. programs increased access to news and information during the critical period leading up to the elections in 2007 by making use of the broader reach of TV for video programs and expanding radio coverage and programming. U.S. government assistance provided practical training to 90 journalists to research and develop in-depth stories, and provided orientation to journalists on particular topics such as the court system, new laws, environmental issues, and elections. One U.S. government-supported media program enabled Timorese journalist associations to join forces and advocate for a seat at the table in drafting media laws.
The United States supported the 2007 elections, which were the country's first national elections fully administered by the government. Specifically, U.S. government training programs encompassed political party training, voter education, domestic election monitoring, and support to the election management bodies. Promotion of women's political participation is a priority of all programs. Acting on the recommendations of the Conflict Vulnerability Assessment, electoral training also focused on minimizing election-related violence. Despite some logistical difficulties, the elections proceeded in a peaceful atmosphere and with citizen participation of approximately 80 percent.