Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Timor-Leste Puts Judicial Independence at Risk by Dismissing All International Judicial Personnel

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Gabriela Knaul, today warned that the audit of the justice sector and the dismissal of all international judicial personnel from Timor-Leste puts at risk the independence of the judiciary in the country.

“I am troubled that the decision may have been taken in retaliation for court judgments which displeased members of the Government and the Parliament,” Ms. Knaul said, adding that she had already raised the issue with the authorities and urged them to reconsider their decision.

In two separate resolutions dated 24 October, the Timor-Leste Parliament and Government called for an audit of the courts and the immediate contract termination of all international judicial personnel and advisers working in the justice sector.

In another resolution dated 31 October, the Government singled out eight international staff – five judges, two prosecutors and one adviser – and ordered them to leave the country within 48 hours.

“The resolutions represent a serious interference in the independence of the judiciary,” Ms. Knaul said, stressing that the immediate dismissal of international judicial personnel could undermine the proper administration of justice in Timor-Leste, including access to justice and due process guarantees.

“It may also have a chilling effect on national members of the judiciary, affecting their independence,” she warned.

Ms. Knaul also cautioned that this situation may further result in the suspension of trials in cases of crimes against humanity and other serious crimes committed in 1999, as the law requires that the panels set up to consider these crimes comprise of two international judges.

Admittedly, Timor-Leste has made great progress in building its judicial institutions over the past decade, she said, highlighting the essential role played by international judicial personnel in the national capacity-building process.

While the reduction of the number of international judges, prosecutors and other legal professionals is a legitimate path to follow, it should be a process implemented in full conformity with international human rights law and standards, as well as national laws and procedures.

“I urge both Parliament and Government to reconsider their decisions and initiate a dialogue with the relevant partners, including the UN, to address this serious situation and map an appropriate way forward in compliance with Timor-Leste’s international human rights obligations,” she added.

Independent experts or special rapporteurs are appointed by the Geneva-based Council to examine and report back on a country situation or a specific human rights theme. The positions are honorary and the experts are not UN staff, nor are they paid for their work.

(UN Press Release)


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