Timorese judges presiding over a trial at Dili District Court
Since the independence of Timor-Leste in 2002, the country has faced many challenges. A new democratic system had to be built with scarce resources. The work involved establishing new institutions, building a credible police force, an independent judiciary, a stable economy and a new education system. Currently the country enjoys a high economic growth with an average of 9 % increase annually since 2008. The poverty rate has been reduced by 8 % over the past two years. However, challenges remain, as Timor-Leste charts its way from conflict to development. Together with the United Nations Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT) and a number of other United Nations agencies, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is a major government partner for Timor-Leste.

In August 2010, a Joint UNDP/Department for Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) Mission on Rule of Law, Justice and Security (Joint Mission) recognized the excellent progress made by the Timorese Government, UNDP and UNMIT in the justice sector, security sector reform and police. Through the UNDP country office, with support from UNDP’s Bureau for Crisis Prevention and Recovery and the Regional Service Center in Bangkok , capacity assistance to the government has been extended in several sectors: the return and reintegration of internally displaced persons, gender, governance and the rule of law. In the field of rule of law, the UNDP Justice System Programme (JSP) is helping strengthen Timor-Leste’s justice system by providing capacity development support to the Courts, the Prosecutor General’s Office, the Police relations with the office, the Public Defender’s Office, and the Ministry of Justice, and assisting them to uphold the rule of law and improve people’s access to justice. Among others, significant progress has been made with regards to the institutionalization of the Council of Coordination, the decision making body for the Justice sector, as well as the increase of national judiciary human resources through the legal training center.

The Justice System Programme which was launched in 2003 and will run under its current project document until 2013, is implemented by UNDP under the guidance of the Council of Coordination, comprised of the Ministry of Justice, the Chief Justice and Prosecutor-General of Timor-Leste. The Council of Coordination is the Steering Committee for the project which makes all policy and management decisions and supervises progress. UNDP is responsible for the implementation, monitoring and evaluation of project activities.

As the Chair of the International Dialogue on Peacebuilding and State Building , Timor-Leste is now on the path of peacebuilding while also moving forward on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). These are no abstract notions for the leadership of Timor-Leste, and to make the point, the government refers to “MDG-Suku,” the achievement of MDGs at the community level. Under this concept, every child should be able to access primary education, every villager to receive primary health-care, and every woman to participate fully in economic and political life.

The Minister of Justice, Lucia Lobato praised the role of UNDP and other development partners during her discourse for the Security Council Meeting on the 16 April 2010 (S/PV.6299), where she stressed the link between Justice, Peace and Development: “ Timor-Leste has consistently prioritized the building of strong Justice Institutions, which complement the work done in policing and security sector reform. Justice cannot be neglected in any discussion on long-term security, peace and economic development”.

Also, President José Ramos-Horta is appreciative of the support from UNDP, UNMIT, and the rest of the international community. In an interview with Yasmine Sherif, Senior Advisor and Team Leader for UNDP’s Bureau for Crisis Prevention and Recovery, he defined the meaning of justice by saying: “Justice is more than locking up a convict behind bars. […] Justice means bridging the profound gap between rich and poor. It means refusing to accept discrimination against women or persecution of those of a different ethnicity, religion or belief. And it means showing solidarity towards the marginalized and the poor.”

President Ramos-Horta continued that “this broader meaning of justice – social, economic, political and legal – can only be achieved in an environment of peace, and peace can only be won through peaceful means. To achieve justice in its broader sense we need to have compassion for our enemies and the wisdom to make peace with them.”