Timor-Leste held parliamentary elections on 12th May 2018, after months of political gridlock. On 28th May 2018, the Supreme Court confirmed that the Alliance for Change and Progress as the winning party . The elections were held peacefully, with minor clashes between supporters during the campaign period.
Timor-Leste held parliamentary elections on 12th May 2018, after months of political gridlock. On 28th May 2018, the Supreme Court confirmed that the Alliance for Change and Progress (AMP) as the winning party with 49.6 percent of the national vote. As reported by regional NGO, FORUM-ASIA and national groups Judicial System Monitoring Program (JSMP) and the Association for Law, Human Rights and Development (HAK Association), the elections were held peacefully, with minor clashes between supporters during the campaign period.
The AMP, a coalition of Xanana Gusmao's National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction (CNRT) and two other parties, secured 34 of the 65 seats in Parliament. A 2017 parliamentary election produced no clear winner, with the Fretilin party winning just 0.2 per cent more votes than CNRT, and forming a minority government. However, Fretilin found itself blocked at every turn by CNRT and its allies. The government finally collapsed in December 2017, forcing new elections.
On 9th May 2018, the JSMP sent its observers to several municipalities, including Aileu, Dili, Ermera, Liquica and Covalima to ensure that the electoral process was conducted in a transparent, fair and accountable manner, in accordance with constitutional and legal requirements. According to JSMP, the election was “carried out well, despite some technical issues relating to voting preparations and some small irregularities that occurred in some of the voting centers and stations”.
Regional NGO, FORUM-ASIA visited the country from 30th April to 3rd May 2018, and its mission report highlighted that national civil society groups had documented incidences of electoral violations and violence during the campaign period. These include: smear campaigns against political figures; online intimidation targeting supporters of rival political parties; physical damage to political parties’ vehicles during campaign events; and clashes between supporters of rival parties.
The 2nd #Pride March in #TimorLeste was an amazing event! Thanks to all the organizers, sponsors and participants for your ongoing efforts to promote equality and inclusion for all. 🏳️🌈 @StateDRL #LGBTI pic.twitter.com/Yp3ytbFgTo— U.S. Embassy Dili (@USEmbassyDili) July 21, 2018
On 20th July 2018, Timorese LGBTQ activists organised its second Pride march and celebration calling for the inclusion of LGBTQ people in the country’s development. This year, youth group Hatutan joins forces with Fundasaun CODIVA, Arco Iris and other partners to hold the event.
On paper, Timor-Leste’s LGBTQ community appears already well-protected from discrimination. The country’s constitution enshrines human rights for all, and its representative to the United Nations has enthusiastically signed a suite of recommendations and resolutions confirming the rights of the LGBT community. In March 2017, Timor-Leste informed the Human Rights Council it was accepting two recommendations made on sexual orientation and gender identity.
However efforts to explicitly guarantee equal rights for LGBTQ people in the constitution’s has yet to materialise. There was a clause against discrimination based on sexual orientation included in the original draft of the Timorese Constitution but it was voted out by 52 out of 88 MPs before the Constitution took effect in 2002. Opponents of the clause variously said its inclusion would create conflict with the Catholic Church and that the country isn’t ready to deal with the issue.
In the 2018 World Press Freedom Index, Timor Leste gained three ranking positions. Nevertheless Reporters Without Borders (RSF) points out that "various forms of pressure are used to prevent journalists from working freely, including intimidatory legal proceedings, police violence and public denigration of media outlets by government officials or parliamentarians". The media law adopted in 2014 continues to be an element of concern, with provisions not in line with international human rights law and standards.
In an article published by the Southeast Asia Press Alliance (SEAPA) on 4th May 2018, the Timor-Leste Journalist Association (AJTL) highlighted how the two cases recorded so far in 2018 were mostly about the authorities impeding the work of journalists in the field. In the first case, on 8th January 2018, GMN TV reporters covering stories were shouted at by police officers at a checkpoint near the Palace of the Government. In the second case, on 24th February 2018, the president of the Authority for the Special Region of Oecusse-Ambeno Arsenio Paixao Bano threatened and banned STL (Suara Timor Lorosa’e) daily newspaper journalists from covering stories relating to a land dispute between the local authority and the local residents.
Article 43 of Timor-Leste’s 2002 constitution guarantees the right to freedom of association, provided that the association does not promote violence and is in accordance with the law.
Article 43 of Timor-Leste’s 2002 constitution guarantees the right to freedom of association, provided that the association does not promote violence and is in accordance with the law. A 2005 decree provides for regulation of the non-profit sector and at times since independence the government has provided financial resources to support the development of a nascent civil society. Under the decree, associations must be formed of a minimum of ten people, ensure that they have ‘the necessary means’ to operate and be registered with the state before it acquires a legal personality. Although most civil society organisations can be formed and operated largely without hindrance, the state has kept a closer watch on the sector since independence. The civil society sector has expanded significantly since independence, with the influx of donor funding, although most organisations are still based in the capital Dili. Labour rights, including the right to form a union, are respected in Timor-Leste although rates of unionisation are low.
Protest rights are explicitly protected in article 42 of Timor-Leste’s constitution, which says that all people ‘are guaranteed the freedom to assemble peacefully and unarmed’ importantly without the need for ‘prior authorization’.
Protest rights are explicitly protected in article 42 of Timor-Leste’s constitution, which says that all people ‘are guaranteed the freedom to assemble peacefully and unarmed’ importantly without the need for ‘prior authorization’. A law passed in 2006 to regulate the freedom of assembly and protest requires organisers to give four days’ advance notice to the police. Article 5 of the law states that protests may not be held within 100 metres of official buildings, official residences, military installations, political party headquarters and key public infrastructure such as airports. Unusually, the law also prohibits demonstrations before 8 am in the morning or after 6.30pm in the evening. The right to protest is largely respected in practice and large-scale demonstrations, such as one opposing Australian encroachment on Timor-Leste’s maritime territory in 2016, are not uncommon on the streets of the capital, Dili. Sometimes, however, security forces have been known to intimidate activists when they seek to protest on sensitive issues, such as the visit by Indonesian president Joko Widodo to Timor-Leste in 2016. Police have also used mass arrests to quell demonstrations they consider ‘illegal’, for instance, a workers protest at which 84 people were arrested in 2012.
Despite constitutional and legal protections, the right to freedom of expression is not yet fully respected in Timor-Leste.
Despite constitutional and legal protections, the right to freedom of expression is not yet fully respected in Timor-Leste. Structural challenges, a lack of financial independence and political interference limit the media’s ability to be completely impartial, challenge authority and hold elected leaders to account. In recent years, journalists have been victims of physical attacks and persecution through the courts as a result of their reporting on corruption and political issues. Since late 2014, journalists in Timor-Leste have expressed concerns about a new press law which they view as seriously damaging to media freedoms. Specific concerns relate to the process for appointment of members of the press council and unnecessarily restrictive rules for foreign journalists operating in Timor-Leste. The recent use of criminal defamation charges against journalists has also raised questions about Timor-Leste’s commitment to freedom of expression.