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Diplomacy in Action

Timor-Leste


Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
Report
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Part 1: Political and Human Rights Conditions

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 generally were 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. In February 2008 both the president and prime minister were subject to assassination attempts, highlighting the ongoing precariousness of the country's democratic transition. The government generally respected the human rights of its citizens, but serious problems remained. Human rights abuses included 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 in the executive, lack of accountability for abuses stemming from the 1999 and 2006 crises, and a lack of reliable information about government and public policy.

Part 2: U.S. Government Democracy Objectives

The U.S. Government's strategy in the country is to support democracy by fostering a more transparent and accountable government. U.S. programs seek to strengthen the justice system, foster the independence and professionalism of the media and civil society, promote free and fair elections, and improve the capacity of government to deliver public services.

Part 3: Supporting Top Priorities and Other Aspects of Human Rights and Democratic Governance

The U.S. Government provides technical support to the Office of the Provedor, an independent state body in its third year of operation that serves as an ombudsman for handling complaints regarding corruption, poor administration, and human rights violations. As of 2008, the provedor had investigated 55 cases, referring 17 of these to the Prosecutor's Office. U.S. assistance was also instrumental in formalizing the partnership between the provedor and the prosecutor general to combat corruption. In addition, 16 investigators and prosecutors participated in the first joint provedor/prosecutor general anticorruption training program. The U.S. Government also provides technical support to the superior councils for the judiciary and prosecution, to allow them to oversee the appointment and evaluation of newly entering judges and lawyers.

In 2008 the United States funded 21 staff from the Office of the Prosecutor General, the courts, the Public Defender's Office, and the Ministry of Justice to complete a two-year financial management and training program in an effort to strengthen strategic planning and budgeting functions in key justice sector institutions. Half of the program's graduates were women. In addition, U.S. Government assistance provides citizens, particularly rural women, with access to justice and dispute resolution through support to legal aid and mediation centers. Legal aid centers also raise public awareness of laws and citizens' rights and responsibilities. In 2008 U.S.-supported legal aid providers handled 674 cases, approximately one quarter of which involved women.

U.S. programs to develop civil society emphasize the importance of civil society promoting government accountability and transparency. The focus is on strengthening local research skills to conduct public opinion and other surveys, supporting independent media, and expanding access to reliable news and information on current affairs outside the capital city. U.S. programs have assisted 184 professional researchers from universities, NGOs, and the private sector. Nearly 30 percent of those assisted were women. The U.S. Government also provides technical assistance to print, radio, and Internet news outlets, and U.S. partners trained 311 journalists, nearly half of whom were women. The United States supports media houses throughout the country that provide professional and logistical support to district-based media outlets and journalists. In response to the August 2007 inauguration-related violence, which stemmed from misunderstandings about how elections lead to the formation of government, the United States supported a series of nationwide civic and peace education programs through schools and local NGOs. In 2008 the U.S. Government also began providing technical assistance and training to local NGOs and community-based organizations to improve their capacity to represent communities with regard to government decentralization plans and processes.



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