UPDATE: Legal Research in Timor-Leste
By Lindsey Greising, Nelinho Vital and Antonio Gil Lobit
Lindsey Greising is a graduate of the University of Minnesota Law School and a member of the New York Bar. She has worked in Timor-Leste in various roles since 2005, including work on an access to justice project for domestic violence survivors as well as providing advice to a local NGO on constitutional law, access to justice, rule of law, child rights, women’s rights, and international human rights law.
Nelinho Vital received his law degree from Indonesia in 2002 and Master of Law in 2011 from Gadjah Mada University. He currently works as the Director for the National Department on Legislation in the Ministry of Justice for Timor-Leste.
Antonio Gil Lobit is a graduate of the University of Granada Law School in Spain and a member of the Royal Council of Spanish Bars. He has worked in Timor-Leste for almost nine years for the Timorese Government. During the last five years he worked as senior legal adviser to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation providing advise on negotiation and drafting of International Treaties and drafting and introducing to the Council of Ministers and the Parliament key pieces of legislation in several areas, including International Private and Public Law, Finances and Administration.
Published July/August 2019
Table of Contents
- 1. History
- 2. Structure of Government
- 3. Legislation of Timor-Leste
- 3.6. Court Decisions
- 4. Legal Research in Timor-Leste
- 4.1. Enforcement
Timor-Leste is a demi-island nation with a fast-growing population of currently 1,183,643 million people according to the most recent 2015 census, which occupies one half (the eastern portion, with a small enclave called Oecusse in the north-center) of the island of Timor just west of Papua New Guinea and north of Australia. While the rest of Indonesia was colonized by the Dutch, the Portuguese landed in Timor-Leste in Oecusse in 1515 and, finding it rich with sandalwood and other natural resources, colonized part of the island for itself. Portuguese colonialism took a relatively hands-off form in which Timor was largely used as a resource producing land for Portugal with little or no integration or development of the local community during its more than 450 year rule. The Portuguese style utilized local kings and kinship groups to consolidate its power— pitting families against other families and providing opportunity only to those few chosen elites. Portuguese colonization was interrupted only briefly during World War II, when the Japanese invaded and overtook the island, brutalizing the local population, and putting innocent Timorese in the crosshairs of the battle which brought Australia to the island to combat the Japanese. The 1974 Carnation Revolution in Portugal changed Portuguese policy toward its colonies, granting them independence. Three political parties were born in East-Timor: (1) the Democratic Timorese Union (União Democrática Timorense-UDT), (2) the association for the integration of Timor in Indonesia (Associação para a Integração de Timor na Indonésia (APODETI)) and (3) the Front for the Liberation of East Timor (Frente de Libertação de Timor-Leste – FRETILIN). In 1975, because of the differences between the political parties and after the proclamation of Independence by the FRETILIN, the country dissolved into civil war. Helpless due to the circumstances, the Portuguese administration left the Country on 28 November. Portugal never recognized neither the declaration of independence nor the Indonesian occupation and thus, during the occupation, Portugal continued being, according to the United Nations, the Administrating Power of a Non-Autonomous Territory. Because of this, Timorese citizens born under the occupation period are considered Portuguese and thus are automatically entitled to Portuguese citizenship.
Ten days later and taking advantage of the situation of the country, Indonesia invaded East Timor in December 1975 with the support of some western countries. Utilizing brutal tactics and local militias, the Indonesians began an occupation which would last until 1999 despite a continual guerrilla war with FRETILIN’s “Falintil” guerrilla fighters. The occupation was marked by mass starvation, political repression, numerous political prisoners who were tortured, significant disappearances and deaths, and constant fighting. One of the most traumatic events which boosted Timorese claims for independence in the international arena was the massacre of Santa Cruz whose images were filmed and spread all around the world. During the massacre, Indonesian forces killed more than 250 unarmed Timorese seeking refuge in the graveyard of Santa Cruz.
Finally, in April 1999, due, in part, to Portuguese pressure and lobbying since 1975 in the United Nations and the European Union as well as changes in Indonesian leadership, namely the end of the rule of the Suharto and the beginning of the opening of the regime with president Habibie, the Timorese people were given the chance to decide their fate in a vote for independence or autonomy. Amid significant intimidation campaigns by Indonesian-supported militias and the brutal Indonesian security forces, the Timorese finally voted in August 1999. Immediately after the vote, in which more than 70% of the population turned-out and overwhelmingly supported independence rather than autonomy, Indonesia implemented a scorched-earth campaign, destroying nearly 85% of infrastructure in the country and reportedly killing thousands of people. The atrocities were only stopped when an international peacekeeping force was brought in.
The UN Security Council established the United Nations Transitional Administration in Timor-Leste (UNTAET) on October 25th, 1999 to embark on the new journey of administering Timor-Leste during its transition to an independent democratic country. UNTAET handed-over authority in 2002 to Timor-Leste’s first democratically elected government. This stability was to be short-lived as a political crisis broke-out in February 2006 when some police and military members led a revolt, resulting in the ouster of the then Prime-Minister Mari Alkatiri from FRETILIN Party, the shooting of Jose Ramos-Horta, the attempted assassination of Xanana Gusmão, and the displacement of hundreds of thousands. Requested by the Timorese Government, an International Stabilization Force (ISF) composed of Australian and New Zealand military forces were deployed in the Country together with a contingent of the Portuguese Army. In August, the Security Council through resolution 1704(2006) approved the establishment of a new mission in East Timor, the United Nations Mission in Timor (UNMIT), which was the 5th mission of the UN in the Country (the 3rd since independence). The UNMIT was composed of more than 1,500 police and military peacekeepers to prevent the situation from exploding again.
After the 2007 Parliamentary and Presidential elections, the country was reorganized with Ramos-Horta taking the presidency and Xanana Gusmão moving to Prime Minister at the head of a coalition government of five parties (PD, PSD, FRENTE-Mudança, UNDERTIM and ASDT) known as the Aliança Maioria Parlamentar (AMP). FRETILIN become the opposition party. The UN forces remained until December 2012, and the situation has been generally peaceful since.
Presidential and Parliamentary Elections (both President and Parliament are directly elected by Timorese citizens) have been held in 2012 and 2017. Despite the rule of FRETILIN and CNRT since 2002, the 2017 parliamentary elections resulted in five political parties meeting the four percent threshold to gain representation in the National Parliament. FRETILIN, CNRT, PD, PLP and KHUNTO gained representation in Parliament, with PLP and KHUNTO being represented for the first time. No party received an outright majority in the elections, with FRETILIN heading CNRT by barely 1,500 votes and thus, even if FRETILIN was invited by the President to form a Government, its program and budget proposal has been rejected by the Parliament, driving the country into new parliamentary elections in May 2018.
The latest elections gave victory to a coalition created by Xanana’s CNRT, Taur Matan Ruak’s PLP and KHUNTO, being invited by the President to form a Government. The VIII Constitutional Government sworn in June 2018 with Taur Matan Ruak as the new Prime Minister. After several failed negotiations regarding the swearing in of some of his candidates as members of the new Government, Mr. Xanana decided not to be part of the Government, remaining in charge of the boundary negotiations with Australia, which are in its final phase.
The economy is largely supported by oil revenues – the Petroleum Fund of Timor-Leste was valued $16.2 billion at the end of 2015 (IMF2016). Last year Timor-Leste and Australia seemed to have reached an agreement regarding the boundaries of the Timor Sea (which are in dispute since the restoration of Independence) as well as to the exploitation of some of the greater oil well in the area. Mr. Xanana’s long heralded project consists of creating an industrial region based on oil on the south of the country (Tasimane project). To do so, a pipeline shall connect the wells in the Timor-Sea with the through a underwater pipeline but Australia aims to drive the pipeline to Darwin in the Northern Australian Territory.
The 2018 United Nations Development Program (UNDP) 2018 National Human Development Report finds an HDI (Human Development Index) of 0.585 for the entire population and 0.600 for the Youth Population. The report establishes that through multisectoral investments and progressive policies in health care, education and the economy, Timor-Leste can be projected to achieve large human development gains with a high human development index of 0.88 by 2050, a level that is enjoyed by the 20 countries with the highest human development scores in the world today.
As a result of its tapestried and turbulent history, Timor-Leste’s legal and political systems are not yet fully functioning. A Portuguese colony for more than 450 years with renewed ties through the CPLP (Community of Portuguese-speaking Language Countries) and Portuguese as an official language (together with Tetum and English and Indonesian Bahasa as working languages), Timor-Leste draws significant law from its former colonizers, currently being a civil legal system and not a common law one.
Moreover, Timor-Leste has a significant tradition of informal law administered by local leaders and family heads. Due, in part, to the fact that the formal system is still too underdeveloped to reach the widely dispersed populations of the country, these traditional systems remain active and influential. While largely unwritten, a few such systems have more recently been codified through various efforts to standardize and ensure that they meet basic principles. The Timorese Civil Code, for example, includes traditional figures such as “casamento barlakeado” (traditional Timorese marriage). Traditional “trials” under the informal system are headed by the cultural, family or other local leaders in the community, and involve a truth-telling system that is relatively informal in its organization. Often, the goal is not retribution but, rather, reconciliation and community harmony. Currently, there is no legislation which regulates the intersection of informal and formal law— and the Constitution explicitly recognizes respect for cultural history and traditions— opening another level of complexity to the legal system and creating issues of double jeopardy and conflicts of law.
As a burgeoning democracy, with a history of donor and international support, Timor-Leste is developing strong political structures. The country’s political system is a parliamentarian republic. The President, who is elected every five years by direct ballot rather than party list, fills a largely figure-head position, but does wield important power as the formal head of the military and security forces (nevertheless it is to consider that the security forces and the army are directed by the Government through the relevant line ministries). S/he also retains power to veto legislation. Parliamentary seats are also awarded based on party votes in open elections every five years, with a requirement that at least every third candidate on all party lists be a woman. All Timorese citizens aged 17 and older are allowed to vote. After the Parliamentarian elections, the President is to propose either the candidate of the most voted party or the most voted coalition of parties to form a Government. The elected candidate names the Government and takes the political program of the Government-to-be to the Parliament to be approved. If the Parliament rejects the program twice the proposed Government is not sworn in and the President is to propose the next candidate out of the second most voted party or coalition of parties.
Timor-Leste utilizes a civil law system and is developing its courts systems quickly due to an influx of international advisers and donor support. However, as a still developing country with an illiteracy rate of more than 50 percent— few of whom received formal education under the Portuguese and Indonesians— Timor-Leste still lacks the necessary human capital to staff its legal system, and lacks funds to ensure its success. New courts are being created but they are not yet enough as to be efficient and cover the whole country. Also and, due to the inexperienced and understaffed nature of courts, case backlog is quite common. Courts include the four “District Courts” and one Court of Appeals. The District Courts each hear cases from about four surrounding districts (of thirteen total) and include: Dili District, Suai District, Baucau District and Oecusse District. The Court of Appeals hears appeals brought from the District Courts in addition to serving the functions assigned to the Supreme Court of Justice in the Constitution, until such time as the SCJ is established. In addition, the “Camara da Contas” has been established which brings reviews of government offices. Also, the Anti-Corruption Commission has been established, which is a semi-judiciary institution, bringing reviews of Government officials and members of the Government.
While the Constitution, in Article 123, establishes various courts, few are currently set-up as Timor-Leste still lacks necessary capacity to run numerous courts. The Constitution provides for: The Supreme Court of Justice and other courts of law; The High Administrative, Tax and Audit Court and other administrative courts of first instance; and c) Military Courts. Currently, only the District Courts and the Court of Appeals exist: The Court of Appeals is serving the functions of the Supreme Court of Justice. The High Administrative, Tax and Audit Court was established in 2011 through Law no. 9/2011, of 17 August.
The Constitution further legislates such that: “Courts of exception shall be prohibited and there shall be no special courts to judge certain categories of criminal offense. There may be Maritime Courts and Arbitration Courts. The law shall determine the establishment, organization and functioning of the courts provided for in the preceding items. [And, t]he law may institutionalize means and ways for the non-jurisdictional resolution of disputes.”
The Constitution also forbids both death penalty and life sentence. It is also forbidden to authorize extraditions to Countries in which the individual could be sentence to any of them.
Proceedings are conducted in either Tetum or Portuguese, with translation provided in either language as necessary. All persons are entitled to a defense, and the Timorese Office of the Public Defender, in addition to a few and growing number of private lawyers, serve this role. Requirements to perform as a private lawyer are currently listed in Law No. 11/2008, of 30 July, which has been thoroughly reviewed through Law No. 1/2013, of 13 February.
As a civil law country, court decisions are not binding as law; however, they may be looked to for guidance. And, the country utilizes the Portuguese “Fixativa Resultada” in which the highest court may pronounce a decision binding in some cases on lower courts. In addition to hearing cases, the Timorese courts, specifically the Supreme Court of Justice (which the Court of Appeals currently covers), are empowered to provide judicial review of legislation. This review can be requested by the President. Moreover, the Courts are to approve election results and, if necessary, settle election disputes as referred to the court by the CNE.
Due to the lack of resources in this developing country, a thriving database of jurisprudence has been slow to develop. However, some decisions can be found online at the Court of Appeals’ website. All decisions are published and available in hard copy from the Court of Appeals in Dili. In addition, relevant NGOs working in the justice sector produce case summaries relevant to their work which are published online. The Justice System Monitoring Project (JSMP) and The Legal Assistance for Women and Children (ALFeLa) both consistently publish works through the e-newsletter, ETAN. The East Timor Law and Justice Bulletin also posts court reports from JSMP.
Legislation in Timor-Leste is made by either the 1) Parliament or 2) Government. The line ministries of the Government as well as the Presidency of the Council of Ministers (which is under the Ministry of the Presidency of the Government) draft “Decree Laws” and “Government Decrees" in areas constitutionally assigned to them, which are then sent to the Council of Ministers for discussion and, eventually, approval. After the approval by the Council of Ministers the “Decree Laws” are sent to the President of the Republic for Promulgation and then to the Official Gazette for publication. Legal instruments only enter into force after publication in the Official Gazette. “Government Decrees” do not need promulgation and thus, after the approval by the Council of Ministers, they are sent to the Official Gazette directly. The Government also draft and pass “proposals of Law” in areas constitutionally assigned to the Parliament. The “proposals of law,” after being approved by the Council of Ministers are sent to the Parliament for discussion and, eventually, approval. When approved they become Laws of the Parliament, which are sent to the President for promulgation and to the Official Gazette. The Parliament also discusses and, eventually, approves Laws drafted by the various Committees relevant to the legislation. These laws are then sent for full vote of the Parliament. Approved legislation is sent to the President for promulgation or veto.
The Parliamentary Committees include the:
- Committee on Constitutional, Justice, Public Administration, Local Power and Anti-Corruption
- Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defense and Security
- Committee on Public Finance
- Committee on Economy and Development
- Committee on Infrastructure, transportation & Communication
- Committee on Health, Education and Culture, Veterans and Gender Equality; and
- Committee on Ethics
All legislation must be published in the Official Gazette (Jornal da República), which is posted online, mainly in Portuguese. This can be opened at the Ministry of Justice’s website or at the website of the Office of Legal Affairs (under RDTL Legislation), where many laws are available in English and/or Portuguese.
The Legis-PALOP+TL legal database, an electronic platform that brings together legislation, jurisprudence and tenets from Angola, Cabo Verde (Cape Verde), Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique and São Tomé and Príncipe, is also to include the legal system of Timor-Leste (East Timor).
In addition to formal rule of law systems, local or community-based systems remain extremely relevant and powerful in Timor-Leste. The Law 3/2009 on Community Leadership and their Election governs leadership, elections and functions of local “councils.” The Law provides for elections of local “suco” councils, which must entail at least three women (one of whom is a youth) as well as elections for smaller administrative “aldeia” (village) leaders. The positions are to be held for six years, with the possibility of two terms. The local leaders have traditionally played a role as head of a community and de facto judges of family and community disputes. In addition, they receive funds from the Ministry of State Administration for their work, and provide governance for local issues such as community projects, awareness-raising activities, local development projects, and other work as necessary. Through the Law 9/2016, of 8 July, Law on Sucos, the Government, aiming to establish what the law calls the “local powers”, is moving forward in order to regulate and specify the competences of the Sucos as well as its institutions of Government and competencies in detail. Funding aspect of the Sucos are also regulated in the law.
Few councils have written codes, and the central government retains significant power in governance issues. Thus, for example, while official legislation requires domestic violence cases to be tried in the formal courts, many cases are still brought in local tribunals— thereby creating issues of double jeopardy and conflicting punishment. Informal courts are forbidden by the Law.
It should be noted, however, that Timor-Leste is currently engaging in a “decentralization” or “municipalization” and “deconcentration” process which tends to decentralize the tasks of the Central Government giving autonomy to the ruling organs of the “municipios”. The Decree-Law 4/2012, of 15 February, amended by the Decree Law 36/2915, of 16 September, establishes the bases for the decentralization process, which has been complemented by the Decree Law 3/2016, of 16 March, amended by the Decree-Law 9/2018, of 9 of April, on the Status of the Administrative Offices of the Municipalities, the Municipality Authorities and the Technical Governmental Task Force for the implementation of Decentralization.
The Constitution is the most persuasive legislation in the country. It does, however, specifically incorporate— and make supreme— all international treaties to which Timor-Leste is party. It also makes reference to respect for local or traditional cultures and laws. Due to a concerted effort by the government, the legacy of the UN transitional authority, and the investment of numerous donors and international advisers, Timor-Leste now has a relatively comprehensive legislative framework, though its implementation remains weak in many areas.
The Timorese Constitution largely codifies its human rights commitments in Part II, including civil and political rights (Part II, Title II) and economic, social and cultural rights (Part II, Title III). These titles guarantee respect for most basic and internationally-accepted human rights. Moreover, § 9 of the Constitution, which incorporates all international treaties to which Timor-Leste is a state party, ensures any additional rights created through treaty commitments but not mentioned in the Constitution would also be protected. These rights are given effect in more detail through specific laws passed by Parliament or the Government.
Part III of the Constitution creates the legal framework for power and governance in the country. The Constitution makes clear that Timor-Leste is founded on universal, democratic principles and separation of powers. (See, e.g. Art. 96).
Under Title II, which governs Presidential powers, “[i]t is exclusively incumbent upon the President of the Republic to: promulgate statutes related to international treaties; [and] Exercise competencies inherent in the functions of Supreme Commander of the Defence Force.” The President is also responsible for appointing and swearing-in the Prime Minister once s/he is designated by Parliament. He may also request the Supreme Court of Justice to review the Constitutionality of laws, and is responsible for declaring war and making peace agreements under authorization of Parliament. The President must also exercise the power to veto laws.
Title III spells-out the role of Parliament. It provides exclusive authority to legislate in specific areas and gives the Parliament power to ratify appointments to Courts. In addition, the Parliament is the monitor and reviews the Government, especially regarding the State budget and the Program of the Government. The Parliament may also approve or denounce treaties. The Council of Ministers (Section 116) defines the general guidelines of Governmental policy as well as those for its implementation; deliberates on a request for a vote of confidence from the National Parliament; and approves bills, draft resolutions, statutes, international agreements that are not required to be submitted to the National Parliament, and actions by the Government that involve an increase or decrease in public revenues or expenditures.
The National Parliament may authorize the Government to make laws in specific areas, which are outlined in Section 96 of the Constitution.
The Government is accountable to the National Parliament for conducting and executing the domestic and foreign policy in accordance with the Constitution and the law. It is incumbent upon the Government to, among other things, ensure public order and social discipline; prepare the State Plan and the State Budget and execute them following their approval by the National Parliament; define and implement the foreign policy of the country; and lead the country’s social, economic and social security sectors.
It is also incumbent upon the Government in relation with other organs:
- To submit law proposals and draft resolutions to the National Parliament;
- To propose to the President of the Republic the declaration of war or the making of peace;
- To propose to the President of the Republic the submission to referendum of relevant issues of national interest; and
- To propose to the President of the Republic the appointment of ambassadors, permanent representatives and special envoys.
The Government has exclusive legislative powers on matters concerning its own organization and functioning, as well as on the direct and indirect management of the State.
The Prime Minister is to be Head of Government and chair the Council of Ministers. S/he is Constitutionally mandated to: lead and guide the general policy of the Government and co-ordinate the activities of all Ministers, and to keep the President of the Republic informed on matters of domestic and
foreign policy of the Government.
The laws of Timor-Leste include a Penal Code and Penal Procedure Code, which form the basis of its criminal law. Other statutes, such as the Law Against Domestic Violence, incorporate the Penal Code by reference and therefore utilize the criminal system.
The Penal Procedure Code is expansive in that it includes all rules for procedure as well as evidence and sentencing. It largely follows the Portuguese tradition. There is no death penalty in Timor-Leste (forbidden by the Constitution, as well as life sentences), with the highest punishment being a term of 30 years in prison. Judges are authorized to give fines or jail sentences as prescribed by the Penal Code and Penal Procedure Code, with significant discretion to weigh evidence and other factors. Chapter II of the Penal Procedure Code lays-out rules for restrictive measures, which allow for pre-trial detention, and Chapter III discusses fines.
Timor-Leste currently has no juvenile justice law. Under the current law, any juvenile under 16 years of age is immune from criminal responsibility, and those 16-21 are to fall within the juvenile justice system, which has not yet been fully established..
The Civil Code of Timor-Leste is expansive— encompassing family law matters, some property issues, contracts, and civil law generally. The Civil Procedure Code of Timor-Leste closely follows the Portuguese tradition. There is no English version available of the Civil Procedure Code, other than a draft law.
The Timorese Parliament passed its Labor Law in 2011, which governs both labor and employment law. The law provides, inter alia, significant maternity and paternity leave, a 13-month bonus salary, mandatory paid vacation, sick and family leave, and many additional protections. It also establishes specific procedures for termination and winding-up as well as procedures and relief for cases of wrongful termination. In addition, it codifies laws regarding rights and procedures for unions. Implementation and awareness of the law remain slow to develop.
Timor-Leste established in 2017, through the approval of several laws and Decree-Laws, a Social Security system based on the Portuguese one, becoming one of the most advance countries in the region providing for life subsidies for the whole population when they reach the retirement age.
As a country heavily dependent on petroleum funds, Timor-Leste has enacted clear legislation on petroleum issues. It has also adopted a specific law regulating the use and reporting of petroleum dollars. That legislation can be found at: Petroleum Fund Law, Law No. 9/2005 (13 July 2005) (Amended by First Amendment to Law 9/2005, Law No. 12/2011 (19 Nov. 2011) (“The Petroleum Fund Amendments of 2011”)). Moreover, the Ministry of Finance keeps a “transparency portal” related the fund. In addition, the watchdog NGO, “La’o Hamutuk” (walk together), provides extensive analysis and information on the industry in both English and Tetum. Based on the Norwegian Sovereign Fund, the Government is only allowed to make a transfer of money from the Petroleum Fund once a year by law of the National Parliament, together with the law on the State Budget. Also, the amount to be transferred is not supposed to be over the yearly return of the investments made out of the Fund. By so doing, the Petroleum Fund is permanently growing. Even if in the past years the transfer authorized by the Parliament has been well over the yearly return, the Petroleum Fund is currently (2018) over 40 billion US Dollars. The Central Bank and the Ministry of Finance are in charge of managing the portfolio of investments.
Timor-Leste has developed a broad base of business regulations including efficient procedures for registering a business, though implementation remains slow to develop. The current law for the creation of corporate and other commercial societies is the Law 10/2017, of 17 of May, on Commercial Societies. For more information on business law in Timor-Leste, see the World Bank’s website.
Independent only since 2002, Timor-Leste has established, and largely followed, modern election norms. The Timorese election laws are divided into: election of the Parliament; election of the President; finance; and political party law. The laws on elections have been amended several times, producing a large body of law. The Constitution sets terms of five years for both the Parliament and the President, with the President elected first and then calling for Parliamentary elections within a certain timeframe thereafter. These timeframes have been followed in both elections thus far. As a parliamentary system, the election laws govern party lists and financing. Therefore, specific laws focus more largely on party finance and actions rather than those of individual candidates. Currently, the law regulating the elections to the national Parliament is the law 6/2006, of 28 December, amended by the Law 9/2017, of 5 May. The Law regulating the elections to the President of the Republic is the Law 7/2006, of 26 December. The Law regarding the political parties is the Law 3/2004, of 14 April, amended by the law 2/2016, of 3 February.
Two specific and separate bodies responsible for elections have been established by law: the Comissão Nacional de Eleições (National Election Commission) and Secretariado Técnico de Aministração Eleitoral (Electoral Administration Technical Secretariat), which produce policies and guidelines for elections. The STAE is responsible for the general running and procedures of elections— implementing voter registration, ballot collection, etc. The CNE is responsible for the overall monitoring and enforcement of election laws. Complaints can be submitted to CNE, which hears and refers them to the courts as appropriate.
Timor-Leste has passed legislation on tax and customs, but enforcement remains weak in both areas. The ministry responsible for implementation is the Ministry of Finance, which makes all laws and tax information available on its website.
Under the Budget and Financial Administration Law, Law No. 13/2009 (15 Oct. 2009). Budgets are submitted annually by the Government to the Council of Ministers for approval by a majority vote. Following review, the Council of Ministers submits the proposed budget to the National Parliament around October each year. After initial review, Parliament refers the Government’s proposed budget to the Committees, which interview the relevant Ministers, take public comments, and then prepare a report of their findings. The Parliament then reassembles and conducts Parliamentary debate, including proposed amendments.
The Government and Parliament make the state budget available on the government’s webiste. In addition, the “Transparency Portal” is established as a means of increasing transparency, and provides information about state spending. Moreover, Government procurement documents ought to be publicly available, though these systems are not yet completely enforced and functioning.
Although Timor-Leste uses a civil law system, court decisions do have effect in helping set jurisprudence and, in the case of “fixasaun jurisprudensia,” setting precedent. Court decisions are to be available in hard copy from the courts, and may often be made available on the courts’ websites. The Ministry of Justice provides links and posts relevant information on its website. As with other legal documents, court decisions are often published (and translated) on local NGO websites.
When working on or researching law in Timor-Leste, one must note that simply having a law on the books does not necessarily guarantee its enforcement. Because a variety of actors have influenced writing and passing of legislation in Timor-Leste, and because of the numerous pressures for new states to adopt such legislation, Timor-Leste has a relatively broad set of legislation. However, most remains generally under-enforced due to lack of capacity, resources and political will.
In addition to the patchwork of laws and traditions established by Timor-Leste’s many past powers, they also established multiple languages, which can be an issue for research in Timor-Leste. The two official languages of the country are Tetum, a local language spoken by the vast majority of the population, and Portuguese. Due to the basic nature of Tetum, few laws have been translated into the language. Indonesian and English are also working languages of the civil service per the Constitution. It is crucial to note, however, that the only official versions of laws are those in Tetum and Portuguese. Translations are often of poor quality— in one instance, the word “months” in Portuguese was translated to “years” in English— and therefore should be expeditiously consulted, with specific reference to official versions of laws used.
Where there is a conflict in translation between the Tetum and Portuguese, the Portuguese version is controlling.
All legislation is posted on the country’s Official Gazette (Jornál da Republica), however it is not always timely updated. All legislation is also printed and available for purchase at the Gráfika Nasionál in Dili. Official hard copies are generally available before the online versions.
Documents are largely in the official language, Portuguese, with some in the second official language, Tetum. However, due to the UN presence, much has been translated and published in English. In addition, the UN has kept a database of all legislation (in English and Portuguese) (See UNMIT Office of Legal Affairs, Timer-Leste Legal Reference Material) for legislation passed during its tenure from 2002 to 2012, and some from previous eras. Moreover, various non-governmental organizations with a specific interest in an issue area will post, and often translate, that legislation on their various websites. The best way to keep up-to-date on these issues and postings is through the East Timor Action Network (ETAN) e-newsletter, which also posts some information on its website.
In addition to accessing hard copies of documents at the relevant offices or through the Gráfika Nasionál, one can access various libraries in Timor-Leste, though they are not guaranteed to have certain items. The libraries include:
- The Legal Training Center (Centro Formação Jurídica) in Dili, which houses a large collection of legal texts and most codes for Timor-Leste. Their catalogue generally incorporates Portuguese and Indonesian materials as there are currently no specific law books on Timor-Leste other than the legal codes. The Library is available to the public on weekdays and is staffed by a librarian.
- The Ministry of Justice has a small library in its office in Caicoli, Dili, which may be utilized by the public.
- The National Parliament’s collection includes about 1000 documents and is open to the public from 9-12 and 14:30-5:00 weekdays in Rua Formosa in Dili. The Parliament also has a research office, CEGEN (Centre for Capacity Building and Information on Gender Equality), which focuses on gender issues and includes numerous volumes and reports relevant to such work.
- The various universities in Timor-Leste also include libraries and the professors and scholars at those institutions are crucial resources. The National University of Timor-Leste (Universidade Nasionál de Timor-Leste) is located across from the National Parliament in Rua Formosa in Dili, and the professors there prepare “summarios” of laws which are helpful resources.
Older and recent legislation such as Portuguese and Indonesian laws can be found on the Ministry of Justice’s website. Pieces of legislation no longer in effect may also be relevant for determining rights reaching distant times as well as previous cases. In addition, one would be encouraged to check Indonesian and Portuguese GlobaLex for additional information. There is also a comprehensive official legal database for the PALOP countries: LEGISPALOP+TL.
Draft legislation is made available depending on the individual Ministry or office. Most Ministries will post draft legislation on their website for public comment from Parliament or relevant interest groups. The Ministry of Justice posts much of its draft legislation on the Ministry of Justice website. While not recently updated, proposed legislation in Parliament should be available on the website of the national Parliament. (copy and paste URL into browser if clicking isn’t working)
Court decisions can be requested in hard copy, for a little or no cost, at the Court of Appeals office in Dili. The courts post some decisions online on the Timorese Courts’ website. Specific to the work of government oversight, the site also posts some of the decisions and enquiries of the Câmara de Contas (Court of Auditors). The UN also posted selected court decisions until its departure in 2012. They are available on the Ministry of Justice’s website/UNTAET section. In addition, various non-governmental organizations work to provide information on decisions, including some translations when possible. The most comprehensive by far is through The Judicial System Monitoring Programme (JSMP), which conducts thorough monitoring of most cases. It posts its summaries on its website; however, most are available only in Tetum. The Legal Training Center for Timor-Leste also has many useful links.
Organizations working in specific fields often post legislation, including translations, relevant to their work. Therefore, for instance, one can access many laws and decisions related to the petroleum industry and government functions through the website of organization “La’o Hamutuk” (Walk together). Those resources can be found on its website (scroll down to “Laws and legal documents”). Similarly, Luta Hamutuk (Fight/Struggle Together) posts helpful resources on its website, which focuses largely on economic integrity in the government, especially regarding contracts and procurement. Fundasaun Mahein, which works on oversight of the police and security forces, produces reports and provides information online, including expenditure reports and policies.
The Ministry of Justice has also a periodical bulletin called “Law & Justice” made of articles of civil servants and national and international lawyers, current and former advisers analyzing different legal topics.
A leading scholar on Timorese law, Patrícia Jerónimo, has published works in Portuguese, which can be found at:
- • Jerónimo, Patrícia, "Os direitos fundamentais na Constituição da República Democrática de Timor-Leste e na jurisprudência do Tribunal de Recurso", in Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa et al. (coords.), Estudos de Homenagem ao Prof. Doutor Jorge Miranda, vol. III, Coimbra, Coimbra Editora (2012) pp. 105-131.
- • Jerónimo, Patrícia, Estado de Direito e justiça tradicional : ensaios para um equilíbrio em Timor-Leste (Jan. 2011).
- • Jerónimo, Patrícia, Os direitos fundamentais na jurisprudência constitucional do Tribunal de Recursos de Timor Leste (2011).
- • Jerónimo, Patrícia, Os direitos da criança em Timor-Leste (2012).
Stanford Law School operates the Timor-Leste Legal Education Program, which produces printed materials for legal education in Timor-Leste. The books are free online in English, Tetum and/or Portuguese. While one should not rely solely on the books, which are intended for law students to understand legal concepts generally and therefore may not fully reflect the law in Timor-Leste, they do provide a good basis of knowledge and helpful references to relevant law.
Books, all of which can be found at The Asia Foundation at Stanford Law School:
- Timor-Leste Legal Education Project (2014). Introduction to Property Law in Timor-Leste. Stanford Law School and The Asia Foundation. (In preparation).
- Timor-Leste Legal Education Project (2013). Introduction to Criminal Law in Timor-Leste. Stanford Law School and The Asia Foundation.
- Timor-Leste Legal Education Project (2012). An Introduction to Contract Law in Timor-Leste. Stanford Law School, The Asia Foundation, and USAID.
- Timor-Leste Legal Education Project (2012). An Introduction to Constitutional Law in Timor-Leste. Stanford Law School, The Asia Foundation, and USAID.
- Timor-Leste Legal Education Project (2011). An Introduction to Professional Responsibility in Timor-Leste. Stanford Law School, The Asia Foundation, and USAID.
Working Papers, all of which can be found at The Asia Foundation at Stanford Law School:
- Timor-Leste Legal Education Project (2013). Introduction to the Laws of Timor-Leste: Legal History and the Rule of Law in Timor-Leste (Working Paper). Stanford Law School, The Asia Foundation, and USAID.
- Timor-Leste Legal Education Project (2013). Introduction to the Laws of Timor-Leste: Constitutional Rights (Working Paper). Stanford Law School, The Asia Foundation, and USAID.
- Timor-Leste Legal Education Project (2013). Introduction to the Laws of Timor-Leste: Criminal Law (Working Paper). Stanford Law School, The Asia Foundation, and USAID.
- Timor-Leste Legal Education Project (2013). Introduction to the Laws of Timor-Leste: Family Law: Parentage and Children in Timor-Leste (Working Paper). Stanford Law School, The Asia Foundation, and USAID
- Timor-Leste Legal Education Project (2013). Introduction to the Laws of Timor-Leste: Government Contracts (Working Paper). Stanford Law School, The Asia Foundation, and USAID.
- Timor-Leste Legal Education Project (2013). Introduction to the Laws of Timor-Leste: The Law of Succession (Working Paper). Stanford Law School, The Asia Foundation, and USAID.
- Timor-Leste Legal Education Project (2013). Introduction to the Laws of Timor-Leste: The Law of Petroleum Extraction (Working Paper). Stanford Law School, The Asia Foundation, and USAID.
- Timor-Leste Legal Education Project (2013). Introduction to the Laws of Timor-Leste: Family: Marriage in Timor-Leste (Working Paper). Stanford Law School, The Asia Foundation, and USAID.
- Timor-Leste Legal Education Project (2013). Introduction to the Laws of Timor-Leste: Petroleum Fund Law (Working Paper). Stanford Law School, The Asia Foundation, and USAID.
 This was an increase of 117,000 over 2010 representing a 10 percent rise in five years with an average annual population growth rate of 2.6 percent.
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