The Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste restored independence in 2002 and embarked upon the major task of nation building and state building. It was in this context that the Timorese justice sector was established and developed. From the lead-up to the restoration of independence through the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET – October 1999-May 2002) and since independence, the UN (peacekeeping missions and UN agencies) and various development partners have been extending cooperation and support to the justice sector.
UNMIT—a multidimensional, integrated UN peacekeeping operation— was established on 25 August 2006 in the wake of a major political, humanitarian and security crisis which erupted in Timor-Leste in April-May 2006. UNMIT has replaced the UN Office in Timor-Leste (UNOTIL) which in turn was the latest in a series of successive United Nations operations or missions deployed in this country since 1999.
UNMIT’s Administration of Justice Support Unit (AJSU) was established as a separate unit in 2007 and is composed of nine national and international staff members. Its most recent mandate emanates from Security Council Resolution 1969 (2011), which emphasizes the importance of a coordinated approach in the justice sector and to strengthen national capacity in judicial line functions, including the training and specialisation of national lawyers and judges. It requests UNMIT to continue its efforts to enhance the effectiveness of the justice sector, while at the same time reaffirming the importance of ongoing efforts to achieve accountability and justice.
Within an integrated framework and in close cooperation with UNDP and other international and national actors, AJSU has been providing technical legal and corrections advice aiming at strengthening the justice institutions and legal framework, including in specialized areas, such as gender justice, juvenile justice, and institutions including the Office of the Prosecutor General, the newly established Anti-Corruption Commission and the Lawyers’ Association, which has the prospect to transform into a full-fledged Bar Association. UN support to strengthen the institutional capacity of the justice system including training of judicial actors at the Legal Training Center, which is supported by UNDP, remain crucial to further develop the rule of law in Timor-Leste. In 2009 AJSU facilitated the Independent Comprehensive Needs Assessment of the justice sector, recommendations of which were incorporated in the government Justice Sector Strategic Plan for Timor-Leste.
AJSU plays a central role in strategic coordination by facilitating the UN Justice Working Group including its corresponding subgroups and the Informal Discussion Forum on Justice to further improve coordination among UN agencies, civil society and international actors, enhance information exchange, identify gaps in assistance and facilitate policy discussions on justice issues.
There has been much progress in the judicial sector - including the recent adoption of the governmental Justice Sector Strategic Plan (2011-2020) and increasing responsibility by national actors in the Timorese justice system with remaining challenges, in particular with respect to the lack of human resources, specialised training, adequate infrastructure, public awareness of the formal justice system and a significant language barrier. The establishment of rule of law remains a priority for the government and UNMIT. Consequently, combating impunity and strengthening accountability must remain the focus of attention. The Joint Transition Plan of the Government of the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste and UNMIT addresses these remaining challenges.