Constituent Assembly adopts Serious Crimes articles
JSMP Dili, 31/01/02
Assembly yesterday adopted three new articles to the East Timorese
constitution who all relates to the process of bringing perpetrators of
previous serious crimes in East Timor to justice. The articles, however,
surprisingly limits the process quite significantly compared to the system
already established by the United Nations Transitional Administration in
The assembly decided to continue the Special Panels for Serious Crimes, who are composed of one East Timorese and two international judges, until to all cases under investigation prior to 20 May 2002 are finalized. While the panels today are able to try violations of international criminal law whenever they took place, the assembly decided to limit the jurisdiction of the panels to only cover crimes committed between 1 January 1999 and 31 December 1999.
Crimes either committed prior to 1999, or were investigations are initiated after 20 May 2002 are to be heard by the ordinary courts of East Timor. The Assembly, however, limited the ordinary courts to only hear crimes against humanity cases, while cases of war crimes, genocide and torture under international law was left out.
The Dili based NGO “The Judicial System Monitoring Programme (JSMP)” fear that the limitations of the adopted articles derives mainly from confusion over legal terminology and lack of knowledge of the system currently in place for trying Serious Crimes in East Timor. The end result may be that some of the most severe crimes will not be tried, or tried in a court system already overburdened with cases and where the lack of resources may seriously endanger the defendant’s right to a fair trial.
In another surprising decision, the assembly adopted a regulation establishing the right of the East Timorese Parliament to revise the mandate of the Reception, Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The suggestion was raised by Chief Minister Mari Alkatiri, and will limit the independence of the commission drastically.
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JSMP is a new human rights project set up by the East Timorese Jurists’ Association and the Timorese/international organisation La'o Hamutuk. JSMP aims to assist the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor, the East Timorese public and the international community by making recommendations for ongoing reform of the fledgling judicial system of East Timor.
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